Recently, the world mourned the passing of three very different and unique personalities—Margaret Thatcher, Annette Funicello, and Roger Ebert. Each member of this high-powered trio left a mark on those who loved and admired them. They also enjoyed fame for the vast majority of their lifetimes, and all three were even the subjects of movies (Meryl Streep won an Oscar last year for her portrayal of Thatcher in The Iron Lady, Funicello had a highly rated TV movie produced about her life, and Ebert is the subject of the documentary Life Itself, which is yet to be finished).
But beyond that, you wouldn’t think they had much in common. These were not three people you would expect to see in the same room, let alone the same sentence. Think about their widely diverse careers:
- Margaret Thatcher, a transformational leader in British politics and the region’s first female Prime Minister;
- Annette Funicello, who first caught everyone’s attention (especially boys!) as one of the original Mouseketeers on The Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s, then found further fame with Frankie Avalon in a series of wildly popular Beach Party movies; and
- Roger Ebert, who brought film criticism to television first with Gene Siskel, and then with a series of partners after Siskel passed away. He also became widely known for his "thumbs up/thumbs down" gestures of approval or disapproval.
These three each had a personal brand that the years never diminished. We think it’s instructional to look at why these three names endured—and will continue to endure—when so many others have faded into obscurity.
We’ve written often about how authenticity is probably the most important trait for a personal brand to have, and these three had it in spades. Of all the criticisms that might be launched at them, "phony" is one that would never make the cut. They were invariably true to themselves, no matter how fashions, trends, or politics changed.
When that level of authenticity is firmly in place, a public figure will always continue to pick up followers rather than lose them. All of us encounter so many less-than-genuine people who, depending on what situation they find themselves in, present an array of different faces, that it’s a breath of fresh air to encounter those who stick to their guns.
Along with that authenticity came consistency. Annette was always very respectful of Walt Disney, the man who discovered her, to the point where she refused to wear skimpy bathing suits in her beach movies because he disapproved of them. Similarly, Roger Ebert championed underdog movies as well as causes he believed in, and rarely backed down from a fight. And when it came to Thatcher, anyone nicknamed "The Iron Lady" isn’t likely to bend with the wind!
When you’re consistent with your words and actions, you never disappoint those who already admire you and you end up earning the respect of the rest. Inconsistency, in contrast, creates a blurry personal brand that people have difficulty getting excited about.
Now, courage isn’t usually a trait we ascribe to a personal brand, but these three people in particular definitely make us think twice about that omission. We were being a little coy earlier when we said these three had nothing in common besides their fame. The fact is that all three battled long-term debilitating diseases; Thatcher with Alzheimer’s, Ebert with cancer, and Funicello for over 20 years with multiple sclerosis. The courage displayed in those battles made us admire these people even more and feel more bonded to them as well.
How someone deals with tragedy can define that person more than how they deal with triumph. In the case of these three, particularly Ebert and Funicello who were able to deal with their afflictions more publicly, their stature actually grew as a result of the health difficulties they found themselves having to deal with. Their struggles were inspirational, not only to those who shared these diseases, but to those of us who just couldn’t help admiring how they faced their fates with openness and a positive attitude.
Now, underpinning all three attributes we just described was one more invaluable asset—strength. Every successful personal brand has it, as did these three. They not only set the mark for how to create an enduring personal brand, but also on how to live a life.
[Art illustration by Joel Arbaje]