I’ve just been watching an old John Wayne film, "The Sons of Katie Elder". I hadn’t seen it for a few years and, as I watched, the thing that struck me was that THE FILM IS ALL ABOUT PERSONAL BRANDING.
In case you’ve forgotten the story line, four brothers return to their home town for their mother’s funeral. One (John Wayne) is a notorious gunslinger, another (Dean Martin) is – we later discover – wanted for murder, the youngest is what nowadays would be called a "high school dropout", and the fourth is the humdrum "average Joe" who is just trying to get on with his life.
As soon as they arrive, the trouble starts. An enthusiastic new deputy has heard of the eldest’s reputation, and wants to be the one to bring him in. When he finds out the second is "guilty" of murder (though the sheriff wisely points out that "wanted" and "guilty" are not the same thing) he sets off in pursuit.
In the meantime, the brothers are trying to discover who killed their father and left their mother destitute. The audience, of course, knows that the villain is the same person who is now living on the family’s old ranch. We also know that it’s one of his henchmen who tries to pick a fight in a saloon with the youngest brother (by attacking his father’s reputation), just as we know that it’s the villain’s cronies who later shoot the young deputy and frame the brothers.
Inevitably, when the posse catches up with the brothers, their reputation precedes them. The brothers are driving a herd of horses that they have bought to trade, but the mob knows better, and soon they are in jail charged with both the shooting of the deputy and horse rustling. When the deputy finally dies without naming his attackers, the lynch mob starts to gather…
As I watched I realised that the Wild West was a world where personal brand was everything. It was a world where a moment’s hesitation could get you killed, so people survived by making snap judgements based on other people’s reputations. In today’s business world hesitation may not cost you your life, but it will cost you money, and it could cost you the deal. That’s why recruiters are Googling candidates before interviews. It’s why buyers are Googling reps before their sales meetings. It’s why when I bought my last car I researched not only the car, but the dealer I was buying it from.
So, you can’t afford to have a bad personal brand, that’s clear. What might not be so clear, however,
is that you can’t afford to have a weak personal brand either. Think about it. In every western you’ve seen, when a stranger comes into town, what assumption do people make? The worst. And if it comes to a showdown with the stranger, do they ask him if he’s a good guy or a bad guy? No, they shoot first and ask questions later.
So it is in business. If your brand is weak or inconsistent or contradictory, you won’t get the deal; you won’t get the promotion; you won’t get the job. Why? Because other people will play safe, and rely on (and buy/promote/hire) the reputations they DO know. In the modern world, as in the old west, you have to take control of your personal brand. You have to give people a reason to buy you.
So reach for the skies, cowboy. Saddle up and warm your branding irons – it’s time for a showdown!