What I Learned About Branding From Aristotle Onassis
In 1975, I had the enjoyable experience of being the guest of Jackie and Aristotle Onassis at the El Morocco club in New York City. It was New Year’s Eve, and while I had worked with Jackie previously, I was meeting Mr. Onassis for the first time. I explained my profession in corporate branding to him, and his subsequent advice surprised me. It was completely related to image; not a word he said dealt with financial or investment advice.
“Drink where the rich drink, even if it means sipping one drink,” he said. “Live at an upscale address, even if it is the worst accommodations in the neighborhood. Exercise. Stay tan, even if you use a tanning lamp.” To me, his advice was this: To be successful, act successful and network with successful people. This is good advice for building your personal brand.
Using Your Personal Brand to Engage Others
But Mr. Onassis’s advice relates to more than just your personal brand or image. It also relates to how successful you are at reaching your intended audience—both within your organization and externally. When you think about what your personal image is, it’s really a combination of four things:
- Appearance: How are you dressed? Do you have good posture?
- Personality: How well do you communicate? Is it apparent that you have a good attitude?
- Competencies: Can you easily fulfill what’s required of you?
- Differentiation: What traits or skills separate you from everyone else?
These elements must be suited to your audience and the milieu you—and your organization—operate in.
Over the course of my career I’ve spent time in Hollywood, New York, Washington DC and Silicon Valley. Each place thinks it’s the center of the world and each has its own values, styles and characteristics. If you went down to Google’s headquarters wearing a three-piece suit, you’d be rejected. So just as you need to think about the signals you’re putting out with your personal image, you need to do the same when it comes to your audience. You need to understand, attract, and engage your audience.
If you’re going to operate across these different arenas you need to be sensitive to each audience and understand what resonates with them. Only then will you be successful.