By Katherine Kotaw published December 27, 2013

Personal Brand Marketing Tips from 3 Influential Women

[Editor’s note: Happy Holidays! This week, the editorial team at Content Marketing Institute wanted to share some of the best content marketing blog posts we’ve seen from the CMI Online Training and Certification program’s roster of expert instructors. Today’s post originally appeared on the All Business Experts blog (and was republished on the Kotaw Content Marketing blog on November 18, 2013.]


marilyn monroe brandBefore social media turned practically everyone into a public figure, few CEOs included the word persona in their everyday vocabularies, much less hired publicists and marketing strategists to help them craft a personal brand.

But now that business owners are among the 72 percent of online adults who use social media, they are branding themselves with every tweet they post, every YouTube video they produce.

If you want to turn your personal brand marketing into a powerful part of your digital marketing strategy, spend some time studying the habits of your industry leaders. And take some lessons from three women: Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, and your mom.

Permanent imprint: Marilyn Monroe

Norma Jeane Mortenson carefully crafted the voice, walk, pout, and smile that became indelibly identified with Marilyn Monroe, the sex symbol whose posthumous celebrity has lived for more than a half century since the actress’s death in 1962.

Marilyn Monroe is an example of perfect personal branding. Her public image was so well rehearsed that, when Marilyn slipped back into her Norma Jeane mannerisms, she could go out in public without being noticed. As an actor, Marilyn grew to resent how well she perfected her bombshell image — she was repeatedly rejected for serious roles.

But for CEOs, there are numerous advantages to typecasting. Take the effort to secure a distinctive, memorable personal brand, and it’s locked in for life. You don’t have to keep proving yourself over and over again to your clients.

Here are three ways to take the Marilyn Monroe approach to personal brand marketing:

1. Create a visual gimmick

Marilyn Monroe is easy to picture: red lipstick, skin-tight, cleavage-baring dress, and platinum blonde hair.

Make yourself memorable. Always wear orange, carry a walking stick or hand out personalized M&Ms instead of business cards. Establish a memorable visual image — and reinforce it daily. 

2. Create a realistic personal brand

Marilyn’s brand was extraordinary, but it meshed with the dreams of Norma Jeane, who always wanted to become an actress. And she was a genuine beauty, as stunning with a bare face and messy hair as she was in artfully applied makeup.

Strive for a personal brand that is a better version of yourself, but don’t stray too far from the real you. Actors can leave their characters behind when they walk off a set, but you have to live your brand. So, keep it authentic. Because the truth will come out. Don’t pretend to love dogs, kids or apple pie if you hate them. But do strive to show respect for people whose views differ from your own. 

3. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

Don’t go public with your personal brand until you’re confident you can pull off the image you seek. Just as it takes practice to prepare for a game and rehearsal to get ready for a stage production, it takes repeated effort to develop your personal brand. Marilyn studied the art of movement, reading books such as The Thinking Body in order to perfect her posture and walk.

If, for example, you want to present a more polished image in public, videotape yourself and critically examine your performance. Do you mumble or speak too loudly? Do you interrupt people or create awkward silences? Privately work on improving such issues before debuting the new you.

Perpetual change: Madonna

Not everyone wants things — including their personal brand — to stay the same. If the idea of sticking to the same script for 20 or 30 years bores you, create brand marketing that embraces change.

Madonna perfected this. The one constant in her image was change. Want to stay out of a personal branding rut? Practice these tips:

1. Rotate the tires

Think of your personal brand as if it were your car. Rotate your brand message frequently. Unless you have supreme self-confidence, it’s better to make minor changes often than dramatic changes every year. Don’t do the equivalent of wearing a cone bra to work if you typically wear a Brooks Brothers suit. To soften a stolid image, change the color of your shirt in the spring and go for a blazer, no-tie look in the fall. 

2. Admit mistakes and missteps

Madonna is not known for apologizing for what her critics call outrageous behavior. But she’s been open about her regrets. In Drowned World/Substitute for Love she admits, “I traded fame for love without a second thought… And now I find I’ve changed my mind.”

If you make a point of keeping your personal brand in a state of flux, you’re bound to make some gaffes along the way. Keep the mistakes from becoming a permanent part of your brand by quickly taking ownership of misbehavior or ill-considered comments.

The faster you get in front of personal branding problems the quicker you put them behind you. 

3. Don’t confuse change with chaos

The changes you make in your personal brand should have a purpose. An evolving personal brand is not the same as a revolving one. Your personal brand is strengthened when life experiences change your views. Parenthood and the early loss of her mother are among significant events that added new dimensions to Madonna’s image.

Your personal brand is harmed when change appears opportunistic or as if you’re simply latching on to a trend.

Moral compass: Mom

A good way to test — and protect — your personal brand is to ask yourself, “What would my mom say?

My mom warned me against acting on impulse, whether it was buying a new pair of shoes or lashing out in anger. I consider her “walk away” advice every time I’m tempted to take on a deep-pocketed client I don’t trust and before I send a hastily-composed email.

The mom test helps you align your personal brand marketing with your core values. So if you ever wonder whether your actions are helping or harming your brand, ask yourself whether your mom would approve.

Or ask her yourself. She’d probably love to hear from you. And being nice to your mom is good for your image. 

Have you implemented lessons from Marilyn, Madonna, or your mom into your personal brand? Who are your personal brand marketing role models? Let’s chat in the comments section below! 

Stay tuned for more details on the CMI Online Training and Development program. And if you are looking for more guidance on personal branding, read “Brandscaping: Unleashing the Power of Partnerships” by Andrew Davis. 

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Katherine Kotaw

Katherine Kotaw is CEO of KOTAW Content Marketing, an international marketing agency headquartered in Los Angeles. A New York Times-acclaimed writer, Katherine and her KOTAW team currently help Fortune 500 and smaller brands tell -- and sell -- their stories in both digital and traditional media. Katherine teaches a course, Living the Fairy Tale: How to Think Like a Storyteller for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Follow her on Twitter.

Other posts by Katherine Kotaw

Join Over 200,000 of your Peers!

Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox and get CMI’s exclusive e-book Get Inspired: 75 (More) Content Marketing Examples FREE!

  • ronellsmith


    While reading about each persona, three things kept running through my head: 1.) Be distinctive, 2.) Be authentic, and 3.) Be ready.

    It’s important to find that “little something” that sets your brand apart, be it through attire or personality. Being memorable is a necessity in this information-starved culture we inhabit.

    No less significant, however, is the need to be authentic, for it does little good to create a brand persona that is so out of alignment with who you are that it results in perpetual inner conflict.

    Also, something many of us tend to forget is those moments of visibility are typically fleeting, meaning we have to be ready at all times, lest they pass us by.

    Social media makes us aware that the world is always “on”; It’s not always on us/our brand, though.


    • Katherine Kotaw

      Thank you for your insightful comments, Ronell.

      Clients who attempt to brand themselves in ways very different from their natural selves tend to quickly grow weary of the effort (or make serious blunders.)

      Personal branding should show the real you to your best advantage. Successful personal branding demands commitment but not artifice.

    • Kameel Vohra

      I could not agree more Ronell. A non-authentic image not only creates internal conflict, but doesn’t last. When the cracks become visible (thorugh conflicted actions vs. message) your audience will receive a very mixed message, that may confuse things more than they’ll help.

      • Katherine Kotaw

        Yes, Kameel, if your personal brand is fake or half-baked, you lose your audience’s trust. And trust is very difficult to regain.

  • Shannon J. Hernandez

    This is such a great article, @katherine_kotaw:disqus! I love the three examples you have listed here! I love the idea of authenticity when it comes to building your personal brand.

    This is something that I have had to deal with for the past 14 years of being in radio. By no means am I anywhere near the caliber of Marilyn or Madonna, but I certainly do understand the importance of staying true to your own personal brand.

    Again, like @ronellsmith:disqus has said, you need to be authentic and inject “YOU” into your own personal brand because–after all–how can you be somebody you’re not when you’re trying to change? Sure, I love rock music because I go on the air and talk about it nightly, but I make no bones about loving other types of music.

    If there is one pitfall that I had to take, it would have been in my earlier days of radio when I was a partier and drinker. To this day, people think I am a huge binge drinker and partier when I have tried to break that image. I think people are starting to understand what I really stand for these days now that I have driven it into their head so much, but I get the occasional, “Let’s go out and party duuuude!”

    Personal branding can be serious business. It’s just important to stay true to your core values and beliefs while trying to make it fun.

    This was a great article. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

    • Katherine Kotaw

      You’re absolutely right, @ShannonJHernandez:disqus. Personal branding is serious business, and it takes a long time to change your image.

      Fortunately, authenticity always shines through, as you’re learning.

      Some people may always see you as a party animal simply because of your job, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in terms of your popularity. But the message that is starting to sink in with your audience is that you’re still a fun guy — it wasn’t just the booze that made you so.

      Your story is both a cautionary tale and inspiration for people whose careers, because of social media, are subject to the kind of public scrutiny usually reserved for people such as yourself. What you do and say in any public forum, including this one, defines your personal brand.

      Thank you, Shannon, for your thoughtful and insightful comments. Please forgive the slow response — I didn’t see it until this morning.

      Keep staying true to your beliefs, and your audience will stay true to you.

      • Shannon J. Hernandez

        You are truly AMAZING @katherine_kotaw:disqus! Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to get back and respond to me. Not that I want to turn this into a huge “love fest”, but it’s people like you that you will remember when they proved a well-thought response! Thank you so much for the kind words too!

        • Katherine Kotaw

          Awwww, @ShannonJHernandez:disqus , you’ve made my day, and I think I’ll smile well into the new year.

          We should chat more after the holidays.

          You have a story that will resonate with people who hold down more traditional careers but who find themselves “on air” in social media without considering the ramifications.

  • docbiz

    You may also want to get my book: Personal Brand Planning for life, available on Amazon for some additional tips.

  • Robert Macklyn

    Really social media has grasped away all the older means of marketing. Like with the booming stand up strategy, the older means of marketing has been changed to the influential part of social media, there is nothing wrong in saying that the social media may be grasped up with some other sort of technology that may come up in the future aspects.

    Today a whole lot of mass including the old aged, middle aged as well as the new borns are also a part of the social media, hence with no doubt the target hit can be always a positive in the same platform. The day is not so far when the new borns will be more influential that practically trained marketers in the social media. Literally they know more than a trained professional.

    • Katherine Kotaw

      Thank you, Robert, for commenting. Any marketing professional who isn’t actively involved in social media is missing out on a great opportunity and is in danger of becoming obsolete. Savvy marketers stay current with all trends and ahead of most.

  • steveborgman

    I love the tip about creating a memorable visual image for yourself and your brand. Food for thought indeed!