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A Brand of One

Vin.jpgPersonal branding has now become a cottage industry. Libraries of books have been written on the subject. Webinars given. Conferences convened. Executive coaches are springing up like wildflowers in spring. I’ve even participated in a few personal branding workshops, myself. I’ve counseled bankers, attorneys and accountants who all work for much larger brands. How do you stand out when you’re one of 300 vice presidents at First Behemoth Bank, and have to wear the same suit as everybody else, and are not allowed to create a social media profile? Individual personal branding challenges can be very interesting but, the truth is, this kind of work makes me a little uncomfortable. A colleague of mine calls brand strategists “shrinks for businesses” and, for the most part, that rings true. But if so, then working with individuals comes perilously close to being an actual shrink. And I just don’t feel qualified for that.

I’m thinking about personal branding, this week, because, at the end of September, the beloved Vin Scully, the best ever example of a brand of one, will be drawing his phenomenal career as sportscaster for the Los Angeles Dodgers to a close.

There have been other notable sportscasters, of course. Red Barber, Harry Caray, Howard Cosell and Chick Hearn come quickly to mind. But today’s crop of talking heads are as interchangeable as CPAs at the world’s largest accountancy. And whereas, in the past, one competent sportscaster was all that was needed to call a baseball game, today’s broadcast booths are filled to the brim with the play caller, the color commentator (hitting) and the color commentator (pitching). Then they bring in guests or go down to the field for sidebars or player interviews. It quickly becomes a chatter fest with everyone interrupting each other to fill air time with banalities and statements of painfully obvious facts. The only time something remarkable happens is when one of them says something so inane it makes you want to throw a beer bottle at your screen.

Or you could relax with Vin Scully, who is only talking to one person … you.

Vin’s voice goes down like a bottomless bottle of single malt scotch that just keeps on aging, getting better every year. Watch, or listen, to a game with him and you feel you’re in the booth right alongside him and having quiet conversation. You talk about the game, of course, but also about the pennant race. Vin will tell you interesting facts about each of the players and about the strategies and tactics different managers are prone to use. But the greatest joy of being “in the booth” with Vin is getting to hear all the stories he has banked from decades in professional baseball – the famous stories and the really obscure but equally fascinating ones.

The only time Vin goes off script, really, is when the camera focuses on children in the stands. He has a grandfatherly fondness for the next generation of fans. Once the shot was of a small boy staring at the field and sporting a way-too-big Dodger’s cap. Vin’s reaction? “Aww. Look at that little fella. He’s waiting for his dreams to grow into his hat.”

Vin-at-Ebbets.jpgVin Scully was 23 when he got the broadcasting job with the Dodgers. He went in, that first day, without fanfare, and did his job. Then, he did it again the next day. And the next and the next. He’s been doing his job for 67 years. To my knowledge, he attended no personal branding workshops during that time.

And yet, if there ever was a brand of one, it is Mr. Vin Scully. How did he do it? How did he pull it off without, apparently, even trying?

In Vin’s case, I think he stands out – he’s differentiated – because his love shows through. If there’s anything you’ll get from spending air time with Vin, it’s that he has a lot of love in his heart. He loves his family, first and foremost. That becomes obvious fairly quickly.

He loves the game of baseball. I mean he really loves it. You can sense how much that’s true when, after telling a brief but delightful anecdote about some game in the distant past, he moves on with, “Let’s get back to this one.” After all these years and thousands of games, he’s far from jaded. He’s still eager to see how today’s game is going to play out.

He loves people – all people. Saint or sinner, you get to “sit in the booth” with him. He’s talking to you and you alone, like he’s your best friend, no matter who you are. Vinny does not judge.

He loves connecting people with baseball. He has the patience to explain even the most impenetrable aspects of the game with small words that we all can understand. He’s happiest when he knows that we all get why this play or that strategy is so very special.

I often feel that the key to personal branding is to just be yourself. Those of us who accept ourselves for who we are tend to have strong brands. That means we have to own our weaknesses as well as our strengths. We have to accept our own humanity. That’s the hard part. Most of us, and I don’t exclude myself here, have a hard time admitting to ourselves that we aren’t perfect. But look at people like Vin Scully or Samuel L. Jackson or Vice President Joe Biden. They don’t worry too much if they’re going to say the wrong thing or look dumb. No crime in that. Just being human, y’know?

Look around at your colleagues. Who seems most comfortable in their own skin? Would you say that person has a strong personal brand?

Vin Scully probably has human weaknesses too. But no one cares because his greatest strength, his love, always shines through with dazzling brilliance.

Best Branding Reads – Week of September 5, 2016

The Pitchfork Effect: When Brand Sponsorship Goes Awry
Ryan Lochte picks up a new sponsorship, becomes their jokesman spokesman

Changing brand names: is the risk worthy of the reward?
Name changing is a high-risk, high-reward proposition. Do not undertake lightly. 

Parent Brand Sub-Brand Relationships
An interesting study in brand architecture: varied relationships between parent brands and offspring brands.

A Hippie Brand And Proud Of It, Subaru Finds Growth Through ‘Love’
I see the strategy but, sorry, I just don’t buy the claim that they’re building love into Subarus.

FedEx Gets a Boost With Office Depot Deal
A good match up of brands. But, oh, how those visual identity systems clash! Store design will be a nightmare.

UT Says Hook ‘Em Horns Doughnuts Are a Trademark Violation
I thought this was the hand sign of the devil. Better lawyer up, Satan!

How To Build A Strong Brand Backstory
A brand story can be a powerful differentiator and an inspiration to decision makers.

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