Monthly Archives: August 2008

Brand Obama

Few of us would have believed that a few years after delivering a rousing address at the Democratic National Convention, that Barack Obama would be the Democratic nominee for the office of the President.  Fewer still would have imagined that this political unknown, four years ago, would arrive in such an audacious fashion on the world stage, and challenge the stereotypes of race in America.

For me, Obama is the quintessential embodiment of ‘being the brand.’  From humble beginnings, he has risen to become one of the most recognized figures in modern history.  Barack did not allow himself to be defined by the circumstances of his birth.  He was not the tragic mulatto, struggling with a sense of identity that plagued him into his adult years.  He accepted that he was a black man in America, and understood that society would attempt to define him by his external color (because he is still half-white despite the fact tha everyone associates him as a ‘Black’ man to the exclusion of his actual racial makeup).

Nor was he a ‘sell-out’ utilizing his white parentage to distance himself from his ethnic African heritage or disassociating himself from other Black people.  Barack has taken care to build a brand identity shaped by hard work, service and unyielding belief in himself and the human spirit.  As a result, his ‘brand’ withstood a vigorous challenge from one of the most recognizable brands in America today, the Clintons, to become the Democratic candidate.

Obama stands as clear example of the individual as the brand.  More importantly, his commanding presence, skillful oratory, mastery of crowds and the media, has been instrumental in defining the Obama brand.

Not all of us will have the opportunity to craft our identities in the same way as Obama.  Each of us will have to find the way to individually, beyond the glare of cameras and the national spotlight, develop our brand and craft our identity.  We can learn lessons from Brand Obama, however, that we can apply to our own brand quests.

For example, Obama was continually assailed from all sides by people who sough to marginalize him or define him by the sin of assumption.  Rather that shirk away from confrontation, Obama took each swipe  at him as an opportunity to clarify who he was.  He rarely shied away from a challenge.  Similarly, each of us, at some point in our lives encounter rumors, stories and outright lies about us.  Rather than to allow them to persist, being the brand requires that you dispel myths, and don’t let them linger.  In this way, YOU define who you are, rather than the wags.

Another example of something we can learn from Brand Obama, is the manner in which he uses the slights against him as a means of advancing his agenda.  When he was beleaguered with the Rev. Wright debacle, Obama took the stage to announce his commitment to eradicate the racial divide in America.

When you find yourself up against difficult odds or circumstances, take the stage and announce how you intend to address whatever issues you might face.  Again, by this approach, you are turning an imagined weakness into a source of strength.

Remember, you are the brand.  Be the brand.

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Denene and Nick

A Love Story

A Love Story

In Lesson One, I put forth the premise that ‘you are the brand.’ That lesson may seem a little amorphous, so I feel its appropriate to provide context and give ‘concrete examples of people being the brand.’ Interestingly, after I penned that entry, I was chatting online in Facebook with a friend of mine, who I thought would make a perfect case study for this first principle.

The person I was chatting with was Denene Millner, who I’ve known for about 10 years. I met Denene and her husband Nick Chiles, through my wife, Chanel, who’s best friend, Angelou, is Nick’s younger sister. Denene and Nick are both award-winning authors, who have written at least ten books between them. Originally New York City reporters who met in Room 9, the legendary press room at City Hall, Denene and Nick are both Atlanta -based full-time writers, and the embodiment of being the brand.

Denene and Nick are constantly writing and promoting their published works. Each book-signing or announcement is done in a signature fashion. One of their book signings, for The Vow: A Novel (written with co-authors Mitzi Miller and Angela Burt-Murray) was at Harry Winston in their Fifth Avenue designer showroom. It was the most glamorous book signing I had ever attended. Despite the fact that Denene is barely taller than 5 feet, she commanded the room with a presence that rivaled the numerous diamonds and gemstones on display.

Denene and Nick are keenly aware of the need to promote themselves, as well as their books, in whatever they do. I recently received an email blast from Denene, upon the release of her latest book, Hotlanta, in which she implored all of her friends to not only ‘support a sistah’ but also to tell our friends to do the same. She was shameless in her appeal, reminding us that she had helped all of us out at various points in time and that she was cashing in her chips.

For anyone who has ever shopped at a Barnes and Noble or visited the Strand, there are countless titles from countless authors competing for our attention (and our dollars). Very few of those books ever see the ‘best seller’ list or get any of the ‘prime retail’ space reserved for hot authors or Oprah’s “book of the month’ selection. Needless to say, competition among authors is fierce (albeit passive).

What makes Denene and Nick remarkable (and why I chose to use them as my example for Lesson One) is their approach to writing. First, they are collaborative writers. Almost all of their books were written together or with other co-authors. Their ‘What Brothers Think, What Sistahs Know” series of books, offer gender-based opinion on issues ranging from sex and relationships to money and politics. Their novels explore the depths and complexities of male/female relationships, covering topics including fidelity and earning and income disparities.

Second, they know that a large part of the appeal of their books is them. The subject matter they write about, while always interesting and presented in a fresh (and Afro-centric) way, is still rather pedestrian and can be found in any number of books. But the fact that Denene and Nick are the authors imbues their work with something special that makes their books ‘must haves.’ More accurately, the fact that Denene and Nick announce themselves as the authors of their books, makes it clear that you’re not just buying a book, you’re buying into their celebrity.

Denene and Nick know that they are the brand, and they make it a point to keep that message at the forefront of everything they do. They started a marketing and communications firm called Odyssey Media, which publishes Odyssey Couleur and offers a full range of boutique leisure services to a discerning clientèle. Once again, the value of their personal brand has allowed them to expand into other areas.

‘You are the brand’ means that when it comes to promoting anything, the value that people attach to whatever it is you’re pitching, starts with the value they attach to you. Therefore, the more you cultivate your personal appeal, the greater an impact you will have when pitching yourself or any extension of yourself.

Until next time, class dismissed.


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Lesson 1: You are the Brand

In order to Be the Brand, you have to know that you are, in fact, the brand. While this premise may seem simple enough to digest, it really requires that you think outside of the proverbial box. Step outside of yourself, as it were, and gain a fresh perspective of you.

Up until now, if you were asked to describe yourself, you’d probably run off a list of your obvious characteristics: your age, weight, height, skin color, hair color and texture, gender, where you went to school, blah, blah, blah…

Yes. These are aspects of you, but are they truly YOU? What I mean is that while you are an amalgamation of various things that have conspired to create the person who stares back at you in the mirror each day, you are more than simply the sum of your parts. You are your hairstyle (or constantly changing hairstyles-depending on how often you change your coif), your style of dress, and even your quirks. You are the places you frequent, where you went to school, your accomplishments (and your failures) and your bad jokes. You are all these things plus some.

Bill Cosby famously quipped in one of his routines (talking about a threat he made to one of his children), “I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out.” And while its true that we owe much of what we are to our parents (under the theory of nurture), we owe still more of our personality to ourselves (nature). So part of this first lesson involves claiming ownership of you, accepting that you are a product of your parents, but also a distinct person nonetheless.

Case and point, my daughter Asha Ming. Although I nearly passed out in the delivery room (big ups to all my faint-of-heart dads out there who cringe at the sight of the epidural needle-more about this later) I was sufficiently conscious enough (at the time) to observe my daughter’s birth. As I watched her come into the world, I had the most surreal sensation that it was not us who was watching her being born, but rather she who was watching us!

As the mid-wife guided her gently into the world, she commented about how odd it was that Asha had her head slightly cocked to the side (and not down as babies traditionally do) as if she were trying to get a better view of everyone in the room. We all laughed (me nervously) and dismissed the notion, but in hindsight, perhaps she was trying to size us all up. Asha Ming is a child full of personality that I (and several witnesses) observed on the day she was born, and in spite of (or perhaps as a result of) our attempts to rein her in, she remains the sizer-upper, constantly pushing boundaries (and buttons) seeing what she can get away with.

Everyone has that ‘Asha-like’ quality, that aspect of themselves that is purely them. Each of us possess something about us that is unique, that sets us apart from the undifferentiated masses. Being the brand involves recognizing and cherishing that which makes you unique. More importantly, it requires that your uniqueness is celebrated. Don’t tuck it away and act like you don’t exist. Shout your uniqueness to the heavens! Announce your arrival to the world!

I’m not suggesting that you take out a full page ad in the Times, or anything like that. But I am suggesting that you take stock of yourself, and engage in regular affirmations. Being the brand requires your regular and unfailing acknowledgment of your special-ness. It demands that you announce your special-ness both internally and externally. It means that you take stock and ownership of your uniqueness.

If however, you’re one of those people who can’t seem to identify their uniqueness, or who think that they are ordinary, than I suggest you take some time and commune with yourself. Take a survey of people who know you best and ask them what they think makes you unique. At the end of the day, being the brand involves identifying your core, finding your essence.

I close with your homework assignment. Repeat after me, “I am the Brand. I AM the Brand. I am THE Brand. I am the BRAND. I AM THE BRAND!” Practice this mantra every day: once in the morning when you arise; once in the afternoon; and once before you got to bed.

Be the Brand. Class dismissed.

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