The May 28 2007 issue of Fortune features an interview with Robert Polet, CEO of Gucci. Polet is an interesting case in personal branding. As former head of Unilever Foods, his appointment at Gucci raised a few eyebrows.
All this will make a good post for some future date, however what caught my eye was Polet’s observations on brands.
First, brands have to be managed for the long term. It is to this that Polet ascribes Gucci’s success. Gucci is 85 years old, and has survived many changes of CEO and designer. For our personal brands, of course, we are unlikely to change the brand’s CEO (you) or designer (you again!). However, it will need to survive changes of employer, career, lifestyle and of course life stage. We have to plan our brands to maintain consistency across all of these.
Which brings us to Polet’s second point, consistency. Brands, says Polet, are like friends. The first time they act out of character, inconsistently with what we have come to expect from them, we forgive them. The second time, we start to wonder if we are comfortable with such an unpredictable friend. The third time, we start to look for a new friend. If your brand constantly shifts, in ways that are unpredictable, then customers and clients will look for more stable friends. Now that doesn’t mean that you can’t change your logo, or freshen up your web site. Indeed it doesn’t even mean that you can never change the service you provide or the industry you work in.
In my MBA workshops on career change I tell the participants that they have to find the logical narrative that ties what they want to do to what they have done. People will always question change; what you have to do is find a coherent narrative that explains how you got from your old brand position to your new one. What motivated the change? What strengths and skills have you transferred? What links your new market to the old? Retell your personal story to show the logic of your change.
Finally, Polet reminds us that our competitors are not always who we might think they are. It would be easy, as fashion industry outsiders, assume that Gucci would see its competitors as Armani, Versace and the other top luxury brands. However, Polet has had to learn from brands with very different positions. H&M, with it’s disposable garments and 8-week fashion cycles, has made changed what consumers expect of ALL their fashion brands. The same applies to your personal brands. If you are a lawyer, you might equally find that your clients’ expectations are changed by how their accountant works with them, or their PR consultant, or even their office cleaner. It behoves us to keep a weather eye on everyone our clients talk to.
The article is a fascinating insight into the mind of a very senior marketer. If you’re reading this before 4 June then go and buy Fortune!