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If you can't call me by my name, just don't call me at all! Seven Personal Branding Lessons we Can All Learn from Prince

Icon.

Iconoclast.

Revolutionary.

Genius.

Philanthropist.

Game Changer.

Quite simply, how many people who have ever walked the face of this earth could have those six words etched into the front of their tombstone and have them be an accurate description of one’s life, body of work, legacy and impact?

Very few.

Prince’s personal brand was truly in a class all by itself. If it were an education, it would represent Rhodes Scholar status—making just an Ivy League degree look like child’s play. His level of consciousness, clarity of vision and elevated thinking gave him a freedom that few people will ever experience—no matter their industry.

He didn’t ask for permission. He simply did. And he changed lives and impacted people on a “global level,” in the process.

Prince Rogers Nelson, a black man in America from a troubled background, who wore high heels, 70’s afro, inscribed the word SLAVE on the side of his face and performed with his butt-cheeks exposed, literally brought grown men and women, black and white to tears last night upon hearing of his death.

In fact, in a nation that has become absolutely racially polarizing—especially during this latest political campaign—I sat with my mouth open as I watched several Caucasian men in tears after learning of his passing.

Quite frankly, to speak in terms of his “personal brand,” truly does an injustice to his immense impact. However, as a Personal Brand Strategist and CEO of a Personal Branding Agency, Brand id | Strategic Partners, I would be remiss if I didn’t pull out a few fundamental lessons we can all learn and hopefully apply to both our personal and professional life.

In that light, here are seven lessons I think we can learn from one of the “greatest of all times.” These lessons are especially impressive considering he absolutely annihilated in an industry that is inundated with “me-toos,” “sameness,” and following trends. 

Remember, this is graduate school—take notes.

{ONE} Clarity of Vision + Unrelenting Execution: Prince signed his first record deal at 17. The record company recognized that they had an incredible talent. So they proceeded to do what record company’s do—partner him with the “latest and greatest producers.” He said no. They said, “Yes, this is how it is done.” He said “No.” Nobody can produce my music and vision but me. He won. For You, his debut album, launched with all songs produced, recorded and written by him. He wasn’t even 20.

 How many times have you relented, given in simply because you were so       excited?

How many times have you changed or altered your dream to fit within someone else’s game plan? 

How many times have you allowed others to make you feel, less than, inferior or not qualified enough because of your age, experience or lack of “industry knowledge?”

Lesson: The vision is yours. Don’t put it in someone else’s hands. Fight for it. Bring it from idea to manifestation. If they want to change your vision, go find someone else who doesn’t—or do it alone.

(TWO} Honor the Craft: The body of work that Prince produced was mind-blowing. He loved music so much, he learned every aspect of it. He played every instrument himself so that when he was directing someone in his band, he could do so with insane precision. He was so FIERCE; he didn’t need you. You needed him. He often played every instrument that was used on a song. His depth of knowledge about his craft proved that he wasn’t in it for the next award, accolade or positive review. He was in it because it was a part of his soul. Music ran through his blood. How can others compete with that? They couldn’t.

When it comes to your skill and talent, are you working in an area that bleeds through your soul?

Are you so engrossed and in love with what you are doing that you have immersed yourself in every aspect of it?

Lesson: Take your craft seriously. Authenticity is what happens during the off-hours when nobody else is looking. When it comes to building a strong personal brand and industry reputation, the one thing you can’t cheat on is learning your craft. If you are doing what you love and you take it seriously, nobody should have to tell you to everything about it. Embody it. Become it.  

(THREE} Stand for Something: Prince impacted the lives of millions. Obviously through his music, but also through his philanthropic efforts and intention to make a difference financially. Last year alone, he donated over one million dollars of his money to charities that were near and dear to his heart.

He stood against violence in #BlackLivesMatter in Chicago, Baltimore and New Orleans. He supported his friend, Van Jones’ #YESWECODE Initiative to empower 100,000 low-income youths to learn to code and eventually rewrite the script for their future.

In addition, he supported the City of Hope, Urban Farming. Elton John-AIDS Foundation, Elevate Hope, and the Jazz Foundation.

To those in his inner circle and all of those whose lives he touched through one of those organizations, he will be remembered as much for his musical genius as he will for his philanthropy and generosity. However, it wasn’t something he liked to talk about. He believed your actions should speak for themselves.

How many times have you done something great for someone else and couldn’t wait to shout it from the mountain top? Or, grabbed a publicist to see if you could leverage this generous moment for additional press for your brand?

Lesson: If you were to die today, what would people be lining up to say about the impact you left? Would the majority of comments be about your professional skills or have you built a deeper legacy with a long-lasting impact? What charities do they associate with you? What have you done this week, this month, this quarter or this year to help advance, empower, educate, feed, clothe, take care of others? In order to build a personal brand of substance, and leave a legacy in the process, it must be about more than you.

{FOUR} Go All In: Prince was a man of Principle. He believed that as an artist he had rights and he went all in to fight for them. Many of today’s top artists enjoy the fruits of Prince’s long and arduous fight with his record label. He believed so much in his right as an artist to his own material, that he was willing to ensure years of public ridicule, public shaming, becoming the Artist Formerly Known as Prince—or the Symbol—in order to seek justice. His fight included: flooding the market with records, scribing SLAVE on the side of his face and educating newer artists on the ills of corporate contracts.

He took a stand—a big stand—for ownership + artist control. He fought the music industry for decades. He was the “Harriet Tubman” for musician’s rights. Artists world-wide owe a lot to him.

What do you represent? What do you believe and what are you willing to fight for?  When was the last time you really stood for something, even when it was uncomfortable, embarrassing or inconvenient?

 Lesson: Prince always understood the bigger picture and as someone with that kind of vision, he was always miles ahead of everyone else.  When you are clear about your principles and are willing to stand for them, you immediately pull yourself away from your competition, because, quite simply, the majority of people have never taken the time to get clear on what they stand for.

 {FIVE} Empower Others and Bring Them Along: Prince understood a fundamental rule that many other people miss: Talk is cheap. It has been said by quite a few people, if you were in his inner circle and “talked about it or the things he was doing,” you wouldn’t be in his inner circle for long. Yes, he was private. But, it was more than that. There are a lot of “private people” who aren’t making an impact behind the scene.

He believed in action and that each one of us has a responsibility to give back. It has been said if you won an award or did something great, you would normally not hear from him. But if ever you found yourself in the crosshairs of life and in trouble, his was the first call. It has also been said that when you were out in the community using your gift, that was when he would reach out and say, “well done.”

Whose life is better off because you are here? How many people have you elevated? Are you taking a step or two and reaching back and pulling others along or, are you waiting “until you arrive,” before you help others ascend?

Lesson: The greatest leaders in the world all discovered one fundamental truth; you will reach your destination much faster if you help others arrive at theirs.  A strong Personal Brand is empowering, motivating, inspiring and uplifting. Is yours?

{SIX} Go Hard Until the End: Very few people leave on top after spending an entire career on top. Prince was one of them. He wasn’t a recluse. He wasn’t a “has been.” He was as relevant to the musical game when he died as he was when he was at his peak in the 80s and early 90s. In fact, many of those who attended his concert in Atlanta last week said it was the best concert they had ever been to and believed they were witnessing something truly special.

There are thousands of people who belonged to his fan club and would frequently get random emails to meet him at a certain club after a concert for another concert, or jam session—just for them. He would send fans an email that had 10-20 tracks that he had just recorded and never made public.

Do you go hard sometimes Monday through Friday and chill on the weekends? Do you go “all in” when the sun is shining, and simply chill when it is raining?

Lesson: He gave 100% in everything he did.  He went all in, even when he didn’t feel well. He expected a lot from others. He expected even more from himself, until the very end. Which is why he will be written in the history books with permanent marker (in purple of course).  What will you be written in the history books with?

Jennifer Ransaw Smith is the Founder of The Personal Elevation Lab™, a division of Brand id | Strategic Partners, a full-service Personal Branding + Elevation Agency. The Personal Elevation Lab™ focuses exclusively on elevating the visibility, credibility, influence and impact of women executives and entrepreneurs: http://www.personalelevation.com. If you are ready to Boost Your Status, sign up for our 30-Day Game Changing Program: http://bit.ly/1QsX9WX