Elvis still hasn’t left the building

Elvis Presley

Famous people are different from you and me. Famous people go on having birthdays after they’ve died. Last week Elvis Presley celebrated his 80th birthday. Elvis the man might have died 38 years ago, but Elvis the brand is alive and well.

Elvis’s 80th seems like a good time to reflect on how a poor boy from Mississippi became a global idol. Importantly, what can Elvis teach you about turning yourself into an enduring brand?

12 things you can learn from Elvis:

1. Find your talent

It should go without saying. Elvis Presley could sing. Find your strength & niche (your Element, as Sir Ken Robinson puts it) and focus on it.

2. Take risks

Elvis Presley was a poor white boy born into a segregated South. He enjoyed listening to and singing spirituals and rhythm & blues – commercially risky stuff. Ultimately, it set him apart from contemporaries. Don’t be afraid to break with accepted practices. If it ain’t broke, break it. Zig whilst others zag.

3. Have a vision

Elvis Presley had ambition beyond the modest circumstances of his birth. He had a big, hairy, audacious goal. What’s yours? Make it something that’s difficult to achieve. Steve Jobs’ vision was to ‘put a dent in the universe’. He came close.

4. Find believers

The first person to put his faith in Elvis Presley was Sam Phillips of Sun Studios. Without believers to promote you, becoming a strong brand is difficult.

5. Collaborate

The second person to put his faith in Elvis Presley was Colonel Tom Parker. He played a significant role in securing better recording contracts for his client. He is also credited with coining the moniker, The King – which became synonymous with the Elvis Presley name. With a manager taking care of business, Elvis Presley was free to focus on performing.

6. Avoid being pigeonholed

If Elvis Presley had defined himself as a singer, he would have had a good career. By defining himself as an entertainer, he was able to branch into film. Don’t define yourself by your job title or core skill. Be broader. It opens up more possibilities for future career choices. Think how else you might interact with your current audiences or reach new ones.

7. Think of yourself as a brand

As The King, Elvis Presley became a brand. We are all brands. Every singer, actor, CEO, nation, author, hospital, surgeon, public speaker and chef is a brand. Define your brand’s DNA, stay true to it and manage your brand diligently.

8. Think globally

Elvis’s appeal was universal. He was loved equally (and is loved today) in Germany, Japan and New Zealand. The Internet makes it easier than ever to reach global audiences. Think about this when choosing how you talk about yourself, the services you offer and how you write your blog.

9. Merchandise your brand

Today the Elvis brand appears on mugs, postage stamps, clothing and collectibles. Elvis can be your marriage celebrant. Elvis can take you on a tour of Las Vegas. Can you license others to deliver your products? Can you syndicate your articles? Can you patent your methodologies?

10. Stay in control

As Elvis became wealthier, more and more people attached themselves to his brand. They pressured Elvis to make decisions that were more advantageous to them than to him. Elvis had begun to lose control of his own career and brand. Collaborate with others whose skills complement your own, and whose opinions you respect, but ultimately know that you must drive your own brand.

11. Stay true to you

Colonel Tom Parker created Elvis’s movie career. He made a lot of films. Even though Elvis films were popular, Elvis grew tired of making them. He felt they had become cookie-cutter films. A valuable exercise is to write down your values. Then stick to them. Don’t do anything that contravenes your core values. Don’t cross the moral line.

12. Stay fresh

By the 1970s, Elvis Presley had become an anachronism. He still had a career performing his past hits to increasingly old audiences, but was a has-been to younger audiences. Stay abreast of trends, technology developments, tastes and adapt – whilst staying true to you.

Elvis Presley might have died in 1977, but the Elvis brand is as strong today as it was in his heyday. Last year, Elvis earned $55 million. Not bad for a man who’s been dead for 38 years. 600,000 people visited his home Gracelands in Memphis. Cirque du Soleil created a show around Elvis. Elvis impersonators thrive all around the world. Show someone a white bejewelled suit with high collars and they’ll immediately think Elvis.

Can you become the Elvis of your industry? Can you create a brand that will live on after you’ve gone? You sure can.

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