Have you developed yourself as a brand?
That was the main question posed by a Coca-Cola executive to a crowd of about 150 Tuesday at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.
Jerry Wilson, a senior vice president with the corporation, addressed the group during a joint meeting of Forsyth County's Rotary clubs, the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce and North Georgia College & State University's Team MBA program.
Wilson has worked with Coca-Cola for 23 years, currently serving as chief customer and commercial officer.
In this role, he leads a team responsible for crafting and executing Coke's customer and commercial leadership strategy and agenda.
Wilson is also the author of the book "Managing Brand You."
"This is not a book about dressing for success or getting on the trend mill to lose kilos, as they say in Europe, or about copycat marketing," he said. "It's about being true to yourself."
Wilson said all people, regardless of whether they know it, have their own personal brand.
"It's all about perspective. We all have an image, and identification and a reputation," he said. "The question is how well are you managing 'brand you?'"
Linda Cole, a vice president of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, said she found Wilson's presentation to be "fabulous and very timely."
"As Forsyth is growing, we have so much opportunity," she said. "We all have the opportunity to brand ourselves in a positive way. It's good to be reminded how important that is."
Wilson said personal brands aren't determined by where we begin in life. He noted that some of today's most successful business people seemed at early ages unlikely to go far in life.
"Bill Gates, for example, dropped out of college," he said.
Wilson also cited himself. While he holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Georgia and a master's of business administration from Mercer University, his first degree was not so glamourous.
"What you don't know is my first degree was an associate's from what was then DeKalb Community College," he said.
"I'm a firm believer that you can be whatever you want to be, no matter where you start out."
Wilson said individuals can learn lessons from companies with strong branding.
He pointed to Zappos.com shoe company as an example of making promises and sticking to them, something he said is essential when developing a personal brand.
He said the company's chief executive officer, Tony Hsieh, was successful because he took the guesswork out of buying shoes online by providing a no-questions-asked return policy for up to a year after a purchase.
In 2009, Amazon purchased Zappos for $1.2 billion.
Wilson said another thing great brands do is "focus and excel."
"They don't try to be all things to everybody," he said, pointing to Mini Cooper cars as an example.
"If you need a lot of room or you're hauling a bunch of heavy stuff, this isn't the car for you, and Mini Cooper knows they're not the car for everybody," Wilson said. "But they've focused on a core group of customers who really love their product."
Wilson also advised "making it real" to "create an emotional bond" with customers.
He said Harley-Davidson Motorcycles is a good example, noting that for a time the American company thought the best business strategy would be a shift to making bikes with more of a Japanese feel.
"But after talking with the HOG, Harley Owners Group, they decided the best thing to do was to stay true to their roots and brand themselves as America's motorcycle."
In developing "brand you," Wilson recommended first taking an audit of yourself to discover what your image is to others.
Then, think about what you want your image to be and set short- and long-term goals for reaching it.
Wilson said the personal brand should be a true reflection of who you really are.
In marketing oneself, he said to "know who you are, know your inner essence" and "define what promises you want to make and consistently deliver on those promises."
"People all the time will tell you to change something about yourself to be successful, but the best brands are happy with who they are," Wilson said. "You've got to be true to who you are."