18 Top Tips from the King of Personal Branding

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Here’s a fun question: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Elvis Presley? Perhaps one of his songs, or an image of him, or maybe a catch phrase. Ask enough people that same question and you’ll not only get a quick response — you’ll get a lot of very different answers. The truth is, when you start to analyze what was wrapped up in the Elvis brand it’s remarkably multifaceted. It wasn’t just one or two things. If you start counting them up, there were a lot of things that made up the brand. For this list, we wound up with 18 personal branding strategies.

Today’s culture is permeated in social media. Children grow up swimming in it as naturally and they learn to walk or talk. But before the internet put the ‘reach the world’ in the palm of your hand, things were far less organic. That pop celebrity status of the past was manufactured, molded and manicured.

It doesn’t matter if you like, dislike or are indifferent to Elvis. The fact is that beyond the number one hits, record sales, films and concert attendance statistics … he was, and remains, an icon of self-branding. So, what lessons can we learn from The King of Rock and Roll?

Start with Some Style

1.      How Can You Not Remember a Name Like “Elvis” – Whether it was by design or not, having a unique first name certainly provided some notoriety. You can blame your parents if you wound up with a run-of-the-mill first name. But what you do have control over is the naming of your company or product.

2.      That Weird Lip Curl – Add to that some great hair, a nice smile, and big old sideburns and you’d have to admit there were some interesting things going on with his face. Invest some time with an image consultant, and get some objective feedback. Whether it’s a hair style, facial hair for men, or makeup for women: The primary goal isn’t focused on beauty, but rather emphasizing a unique quality. A fresh look can invigorate you and in turn, your business.

3.      The White Jumpsuit – Go buy yourself a jumpsuit and wear it around town. Ok, maybe not. But do get a statement piece for special occasions. Even long before the bedazzled jumpsuit look, Elvis sported a gold lame suit and a black leather outfit. Again, you don’t have to be a fashionista, but don’t be afraid to be the best-dressed person in the room.

Make a Statement

4.      “Thank You, Thank You Very Much” – There’s that often-imitated catch phrase. There’s also “Elvis has left the building” and his nickname as “The King of Rock and Roll.” Quotes and testimonials translate into thought leadership within an industry. Add some condensed ideas to your website that can be attributed to you. People always remember where they learned something new and interesting … and are often inclined to share.

5.      “TCB” – In Elvis’ world, TCB stood for “Taking Care of Business.” The acronym along with its lightning bolt logo symbolized getting it done “in a flash.” It became the moniker for the band and people who worked for Elvis and was emboldened on rings, jewelry, and even the tail of his airplane. For Elvis staff, it was a corporate philosophy to rally around. As a corporation grows, the culture can make or break the organization. Zappos, the online shoe retailer, is an excellent study in how to successfully manage corporate culture. Can you succinctly communicate what you stand for in a few words? Or better yet, 3 letters?

6.      Elvis Sunglasses – Get a pair. No, not the Elvis style, but a pair that are stylish in your own signature way. While you’re at it get a nice ring and an eye-catching watch. These items should be unique and serve solely as conversation starters. If no one has asked you what you’re wearing lately, then it’s time to consider a trip to the store.

Interesting Habits

7.      Hip-Shaking – Back in 1956, the big new scandal was Elvis gyrating his hips all over television. The police even threatened to take away his blue suede shoes. Nearly 30 years later Michael Jackson would popularize his signature moonwalk dance move. Whether dance is your thing or not, it’s a good reminder of the importance of body language. Be intentional with your persona, but you don’t have to be politically correct to a fault. Sometimes a seemingly controversial habit can still work to benefit you. Don’t forget the simple things like a solid hand shake or an endearing smile.

8.      Pink Cadillac – Almost nothing makes a statement like a fine automobile. So here’s your permission to go get that car you’ve always wanted. Elvis also gave away more than 100 cars in his lifetime. He was known for his generosity: Gifting books, watches, clothes, tickets to shows and leaving extravagant tips at restaurants. Acknowledging others with a small thoughtful gift or a handwritten note is one of the best habits you can devote time to. Kindness and sincerity are qualities we should all aspire to.

9.      The Elvis Sandwich – You know you’ve made it big if you have a sandwich named after you. For Elvis’s favorite was a peanut butter, banana and bacon on toast. What’s the branding message here? It never hurts to make good friends with a restaurant owner. Even if you never get your name on the menu, at least you’ll stay well fed.

A Cast of Characters

10.  The Memphis Mafia – Long before the Hollywood Entourage, there was “The Memphis Mafia” – Elvis’s brotherhood of long-time friends, employees and cousins. They served as his assistants, bodyguards, confidants, and regular companions. Elvis’s manager, Colonel Parker, was another constant figure. Who are the people who make up your world? Actively acknowledge them in your communications and credit their hard work. Having a loyal team around you adds to your own credibility.

11.  Priscilla and Lisa-Marie – Don’t forget the family: Wife Priscilla and daughter Lisa Marie became celebrities in their own right. Elvis’s love for his mother was also well publicized. And to further add to the mystique, Elvis also had a twin brother that died at birth. When you include the other characters in your world, don’t leave out the most important ones – your family.

12.  Elvis Impersonators – An entire industry has grown up around people imitating Elvis, ensuring the longevity of the brand. It’s a world-wide phenomenon with Elvis appearing in any size, shape, color or nationality you could think of: Fat Elvis, Old Elvis, Short Elvis, Asian Elvis, Spanish Elvis … the list goes on. You know you’ve achieved celebrity status when they turn your likeness into a Halloween costume. There’s your litmus test for successful personal branding. It also poses the question: How could you extend your own product lines beyond the original concept.

Famous Places

13.  Graceland – Not only are the people in your world important, but also consider the places. Elvis’s home was named “Graceland” and included the famous “Jungle Room” – his own unique man-cave gaudily decorated in 60’ animal prints and shag carpet. Naming something is an important part of branding. Come up with interesting and clever names for your office or other important locations to give them their own persona.

14.  Las Vegas – Elvis may be more closely associated with Las Vegas than Memphis Tennessee. Where else do you travel? Do you have a favorite beach you visit each summer? Or a mountain resort you ski every winter? What other places can you be known for?

15.  The White House – In December 1970, Elvis flew from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. for an impromptu visit with President Nixon. The short meeting made for a bizarre photo opportunity in the Oval Office. Make a point to visit out of the way places and take a few selfies to share on social media.

It’s Ok to Re-Invent Yourself

16.  Multiple Careers – Each decade saw something new. In the 1950s Elvis began singing, recording and touring – ending the decade out with a 2-year tour of duty in the U.S. Army. In the 1960s he shifted his focus to Hollywood, starring in 31 movies. The 1970s saw a Las Vegas residency with 837 consecutive sold-out concerts … followed by his “Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite” television special drawing an estimated 1.5 billion viewers worldwide. The show was the most expensive entertainment special at the time, costing $2.5 million. The takeaway? It’s OK to re-invent yourself at ANY time. Give yourself permission to do so.

17.  Multiple Music Genres – Elvis didn’t limit himself to only Rock and Roll. Some of his most popular and enduring recordings were actually in the Country and Gospel genres. In business, we’re often told to stay in your lane and stick to what you know best. On the other hand, we also know it’s smart not to be a one-trick-pony. Elvis wasn’t a singer, he was an entertainer. That was the lane he stuck to. Take Apple for example. Apple isn’t a computer company. In fact, in 2007 they dropped the word “computer” to become “Apple Inc.” They’re a technology company. Ask yourself, how wide should your lane be?

18.  The Elvis Stamp – His images were so distinct, that in 1992, the U.S. Postal Service asked the American public to vote for who they liked best for their new postage stamp, young Elvis or old Elvis? 1.2 million ballots were cast with more than 75 percent for young Elvis. Consider the weight a good campaign poster or social media image can carry. When it comes to your personal image, product or company image, it pays to use the best photographers and designers you can find.

Develop Your “Thing”

For many celebrities, careers can grow and fade quickly … or just trot along at a quiet pace. Presley was unique in his ability to leverage his persona, continually adding to it and reinventing himself along the way.

These personal branding strategies aren’t a replacement for good networking skills. Those are all well covered in the multitude of books and articles about “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” But akin to the way a well-crafted resume can help you stand out when seeking a new position, your image should also make an impression. Your personal brand needs “a thing” for people to quickly remember you by. Elvis had several. What’s yours?


About the Author

Will Casserly


Image © United States Postal Service. All rights reserved.