Build Your Personal Brand: Become the CEO of Me, Inc.

Build Your Personal Brand: Become the CEO of Me, Inc.

Nancy Nehlsen


Perry Snower, owner of Snower Buick Pontiac in Moline, was one of my first start-up clients back in 1972. Perry was a Chicago businessman, new to the area, with a distinctive south side Chicago accent. He stood next to a Buick in the TV studio and hawked his inventory – live, on the air. It wasn’t working. Car sales were not improving despite the large budget he allocated for TV advertising. He asked me to change his image and help him sell more cars.

My team and I came up with the slogan “P.S….we love you” and told Perry he could no longer have any speaking parts. At that time, there was a definite distrust of “big city shysters” in smaller Midwestern communities. We had to soften his image and make him appear more lovable.

To repair his fairly damaged image, we wrote a series of TV commercials featuring Perry in skits with various animals*: elephants, bears, camels, lions, and so on. Despite his inability to convey warmth when he spoke, Perry had an engaging smile and looked happy, friendly and caring when he worked alongside the animals.

We held petting zoos at the dealership. We had Perry fund the purchase of a zebra for Niabi Zoo. We had dog shows on the dealership grounds. We clearly positioned Perry as an avid animal lover, which translated to “a really nice guy, whom everyone wants to do business with.”

Sales rose dramatically. Snower Buick Pontiac became the #1 dealer in their zone. Perry became a local celebrity and was asked to serve on the Board of Directors at the zoo and give interviews about his love of animals. By this point, there were 14 car dealers all wanting what we had created for Perry.

“Personal branding” was not a marketing term that existed back then but by placing Perry in the limelight, creating a persona that the public could relate to positively, the business grew exponentially. In the Tom Peters article that popularized personal branding more than ten years ago, Peters said, “Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me, Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

I often hear that times have changed, and that our advertising principles of decades past no longer apply. You only have to look at the Kardashians (just look away quickly) to see how hugely successful a good personal branding campaign can be. Oprah, Donald Trump and Richard Branson are all excellent examples of super-successful personal branding.

People relate to other people, not so much to corporations. Branding today is much more important, and much more accessible, than it was in Perry’s day, long before LinkedIn, Facebook, and the web. Corporations benefit from personal employee branding as well. If a company has stellar employees, it stands to reason that the company is stellar.

Mom said, “Don’t brag about yourself.” But mom wasn’t trying to survive in an increasingly competitive market. Use some common sense rules and get out there and toot your own horn.

  1. Make sure you know what your personal brand is, then expand on that. Your brand must be based on who you really are and what outstanding characteristics you possess.
  2. Be consistent. Your look, colors, tone of your content – everything must tell the same story.
  3. Write articles that demonstrate your expertise. If you have proof of your expert status, use it.
  4. Seek out speaking engagements, especially to your target audiences, keeping in mind that any exposure can lead to additional exposure.
  5. Make your social media profiles show off your professionalism. Interact with others and share their content.
  6. Create your own website and add content regularly. Google yourself to make see how you’re coming across to your visitors.

*Disclaimer: Let me say that this was the ‘70s and nothing was known about the neglect suffered by many performing animals. It may not absolve me, but I have spent 40 years trying to make up for my possible contribution to animal cruelty.

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