Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An Iconic Lesson:

"Everything I learned about PR, branding and image I learned from Bruce Lee."

That's what I was going to title this entry, but there were a couple of hitches.  First, it's not exactly true, although we WILL be using Mr. Lee as an excellent example for small businesses and non-profits.  Second, it's really long and I wasn't sure it would fit in the little box set aside for the title.

I know what you're thinking, "What in the world can Bruce Lee teach me about branding, PR and image control?"  Answer:  A lot. 

Let's play a quick game.  I will ask you to list five things you think about when I say the name, Bruce Lee.  Don't think about it.  Just the top five things that come to mind.  I played this game with a friend the other day and here is what he came up with:

1.  Kung Fu God
2.  Actor
3.  Enter The Dragon
4.  visionary
5.  Legend

These are all excellent answers.  The fact is, Bruce Lee is an icon.  He epitomizes martial arts and what we would call, "Kung Fu Movies."  When you think of him, you imeidately conjure up images of him with his shirt off, muscles rippling, looking like he's about to kick your ass.  Say Kung Fu to just about anyone and they probably immediatly reply, Bruce Lee.  But how did he become an icon?  And how does that relate to small businesses and non-profits?  I'll tell you.

You WILL become a social media and PR expert!

Be The Brand:

I was chatting with a friend of mine who is releasing a children's book in the next month.  He's been busy doing book signings and preparing for some press junkets to promote the book.  The author's name is Jon Jon Lannen (the title of the book is "The Giraffe That Taught Me How To Laugh")  In an effort to prepare for the upcoming release and possible future ventures, Jon Jon wanted to create a company under which he could pool all of his various money-making activities, including workshops and lectures. 

He related to me that he went to a business coach to try and come up with a name and a brand that would encompass all of work as well as reflect his personality.  He says the coach simply looked at him and said, "Jon Jon, YOU are the brand."  And it's true.  Within specific circles, Jon Jon is well known and simply saying his name will elicit knowing nods.  People know who he is and no explanation is needed for most within the improvisational community, particularly in Denver.

This got me to thinking that there are a number of brands that carry similar weight in the business community at large.  Kleenex, Xerox, Miracle Whip, Coke, Pepsi.  You don't need an explanation of what these things are or what they do.  The same holds true for Bruce Lee.  You know right away who he was, what he did and why he's so well known.

Lessons of Lee:

Yes, there is a bit of a "cult of personality" at work here, but delve deeper and you'll see that Bruce Lee crafted his image in such a way that it was impossible for him to become confused with any other martial arts star then or now.  HE was, and remains, the brand.  Not some company he established, not even the unique style of martial arts he created.  And that would have been easy for him to focus on.  He could have made Jeet Kun Do the focus of his image, branding and PR efforts.  The same holds true for his movies.  He could have made THOSE the focus.  Instead, he made himself, his life, his philosphy, the focus and the success of his movies and style of martial arts followed.

There is a lesson to be learned here for small businesses and non-profits.  Have a simple message, focus on being the best at what you do, and then shamelessly promote yourself to the point where your name becomes so well known, it becomes associated with whatever product or service you provide.  It sounds easy, right?  But how exactly do you DO that?

In order to understand how Bruce Lee developed his image and brand, you have to start at the beginning.  When Bruce Lee began his career in Hollywood as the Green Hornet's sidekick, Kato, Asians were often depicted as weak, inferior to white actors and cast in a myriad of sterotyped characters.  Even though by this time Lee had established himself as a world-class martial artist, Hollywood still saw him as little more than a glorified extra. 

And yet, Lee didn't immediately come in and try to overturn the sterotypes right away.  He played his role, all the while learning the craft of filmmaking and improving his own art.  In a short period of time, he was ready to go off on his own, to make his own mark and spread his own message. 

Here is how Lee went from relatively obscure martial artist to the most well-known Asian actor of all time:

1.  He learned his craft:  He took the time to learn the art of filmmaking while acting as Kato on the series, "The Green Hornet".  At the same time he was perfecting his own personal style of martial arts.  He had focus and drive to be the best he could be at both.  As small business owners or non-profits, we do the same thing as we work for someone else, all in preparation for the time when we set off on our own.

2.  He had a clear vision:  He knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish.  He had set out goals, both long term and short term and he had a plan on how to get there.  He followed that plan, making slight adjustments along the way as life and society changed around him.

3.  He had high standards:  Because of his vision, drive and plan he had standards that others had to live up to in order for him to meet his goals. If a script wasn't good enough, he'd demand rewrites.  If the peformances weren't good enough, he'd require extra takes. He didn't let anyone else lower his standards.

4.  He had a simple and clear message:  He wanted the world to know that an Asian man could be strong and powerful.  This differed greatly from the stereotype of the time where Asians were characterized as meek and submissive.  This carried through to the roles he created for himself.  He was always the Alpha Male, whether it was in a movie, doing an interview or simply walking in public.  He wanted to exude strength and power.  

5.  He controlled his Image:  Think about the pictures you have seen of Bruce Lee.  They are of him as powerful, strong, in control.  He meticulously controlled his promotional photos; every poster, every promotional picture, every photo for the news was crafted.  He understood that image matters and the image that you establish publicly is the one that will be remembered.

6.  He set himself apart:  Lee also understood that while his philosophy and style differed greatly from the vast number of other martial artists, this was a bit too complicated to explain in a movie or a short media interview.  He knew he needed something that was unique and that set him apart visually.  Soon after, he introduced the nun-chucks.  Try to imagine Bruce Lee without them.  He used them in his movies, in his promotional photos, used them during interviews.  The weapon was old, but to the rest of the Western world they were relatively new and interesting.

7.  He created his own myth:  Bruce Lee understood that the best way to establish a following is to get others to talk about you.  During exhibitions, he performed his two-finger push-ups, he displayed his one-inch punch, he performed athletic feats that made people take notice.  As his notariety grew, so did his legend.  He didn't try to squash the rumors that he could kill a man with one punch.  Instead, he added it as part of his movies and to his growing legendary exploits.  He let people talk, he encouraged it, as long as it helped grow his image and legend.

Bruce Lee very easily could have focused on his personal style of martial arts, which he called Jeet Kun Do, to grow his fame.  Or he could have focused solely on his movies and built his image and brand through them.  But he didnt' do this.  He focused on himself as the brand, and the success of his martial arts style and his movies followed.  He didn't create a company to promote his movies, his mere presence did that well enough.

To the point, HE was the brand, not his movies or his martial arts style.  They were an outgrowth of what he'd already established for himself and his personal brand.  Even before he became famous worldwide, he had already established a personal brand that carries through even to today, nearly 40 years after his death.   

Step By Step:

As a small business or non-profit, these are all things that you can do to help establish your own image and brand.  Let's say you own a restaurant.  It's a small, family-owned restaurant that specializes in Italian cuisine. 

The first few lessons you have already gone through.  You have learned your craft, you have a vision and goals and you most likely have high standards for yourself and your employees.  But what about your message?  What about your public image?  What about you sets you apart from your competition?  Have you created your own story or myth?  Do you encourage others to talk about your restaurant? 

This is PR 101 and it can be incorporated very easily into your social media efforts as well.  Your blog can help create your story and tell the world about you.  Your Facebook posts and your Tweets can and should encourage others to talk about you.  Every photo you post should say something positive about your restaurant. 

Message Matters:

And then there's the message.  I have, and will continue to hammer this point until the day I die.  Your message is perhaps the single most important aspect of your PR and social media efforts.  Period.

What is your message?  Is it, "we have good food?"  If it is, it's time to change.  Your message should be powerful, clear and make people want to learn more about your or sample your wares.  Your message should be more along the lines of, "We serve the best Italian food you'll find outside of Italy."  That's intriguing to me.  I'd be willing to give a restaurant a shot if that's what they're telling me.

Do you have a signature?  Something that people think of immediately when they think of your restaurant?  For instance, when I want Lasagna, I go to a specific restaurant nearby.  I tell others about it, I love it.  You need something, a signature, that sets you apart from your competition.  If you don't have one, find one.  Then start promoting it endlessly.

Your message and even your signature should be part of everything you do as part of your promotions, public relations, imaging and branding.  Every press release you write, every interaction you have with the public, every photo you publish, should incorporate your message and promote your signature. 

Like everything you do with PR and social media, the results don't happen overnight.  But a constant stream of your message and imaging and branding will eventually catch the eye of those looking for your service or product.  They might not need it right now, but when they do, they'll remember your name if you do it right.

All of this comes down to becoming the brand.  In an ideal world, you want people to think of your restaurant when they think of Italian food.  You want your service to become so recognizable, that when people mention dry cleaners, or masseuse, or auto parts, the first thing they think of is your brand.  All the hard work and quality service you provide won't help you if people don't know who you are.  That's why it's so important to constantly be using social media to promote yourself and working your public relations efforts to get the media to take notice as well.

It takes a little time, and you have to ultimately live up to they hype, but it can be done. Just ask Bruce Lee.

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