What Tyra Banks Needs to Know About Personal Branding
Posted on September 7, 2016 by Marian Salzman
Originally posted on the Huffington Post.
So, the former host of “America’s Next Top Model” has announced that she’s going to be academia’s next top branding expert. Tyra Banks is heading to Stanford University to co-teach a two-week class for MBA students next May on creating and protecting a personal brand.
This isn’t a case of those who can’t do, teach. Banks has developed a strong personal brand, and she’s more than credible. But building and maintaining a compelling personal brand is far harder than it looks. It’s always been a delicate balancing act, now more than ever, in this post-Gawker age of radical transparency.
It’s also a necessary art—less a matter of selling yourself than educating the world about your value. Okay, it is about selling yourself. That’s not gross; it’s something everyone—your competition—does these days. The financial benefits of getting people to like you and believe in you are obvious.
Look at the massive success of well-branded celebrities like JLo (ageless sex appeal), Beyoncé (the epitome of entrepreneurial girl power), Michelle Obama (coolest First Lady ever, and awesome public speaker to boot), Jessica Alba (working mom and entrepreneur), Jennifer Garner (wholesome mother), Kate Moss (everyone’s favorite bad girl) and Taylor Swift (artists’ rights advocate).
Meanwhile, Ryan Lochte is losing sponsorships right and left after his massive mistake in Brazil (which makes the kerfuffle over Michael Phelps’ smoking habits seem trivial—then again, Phelps owns that and has successfully incorporated it into his personal brand). Something similar happened to Lance Armstrong when he lied about doping. Johnny Depp is watching his star tarnish in the wake of domestic violence allegations (seriously not cool or cute), and Shia LaBeouf has lost his altogether, deciding he “is not famous anymore” and going off the rails with violence and booze, and so has Chris Brown, who one could argue is now better known for assaulting Rihanna than for his music.
This isn’t to say women are better personal-branders—look at Lindsay Lohan, the poster girl for how-to-demolish-a-personal-brand—but it’s interesting that the first people who come to mind when thinking about celebrity branding done brilliantly happen to be females. (Though to be fair, Steve Jobs is still considered the gold standard of personal branding; Richard Branson, Tony Hsieh and Jack Welsh all have excellent personal brands in the business realm; and Jay-Z is doing more than all right. But that’s something for another column.)
Anyway, Tyra Banks is definitely a member of the girls’ club, having gone from lingerie model to reality show icon to CEO of TYRA Beauty. That hasn’t been just luck. In 2012 she completed an executive education program at Harvard Business School. Allison Kluger, the management professor at Stanford with whom Banks will be teaching, approached her about the educational role after seeing her speak at the university.
“I was mesmerized,” says Kluger of the speech, in which Banks described cold-calling Zappos CEO Hsieh for guidance on starting her own company. “She’s a natural.”
Her students had better pay attention. And not just because she has said she’ll call on anyone she notices not listening, but because two weeks is a short time to build a brand, especially when your resume is thin. (At 42, Banks has had some time to accomplish a thing or two.) And they might also want to heed this advice from brand strategist Karen Kang (laid out in her book BrandingPays: The Five-Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand): Think of your personal brand as cake—your accomplishments as seen through a rational lens—and the icing is the emotional appeal that goes on top and makes it sweeter and more appealing.