In 1986, Allan Maraynes, a producer for the American newsmagazine television program 60 Minutes, pitched an idea. He wanted to interview Robin Williams, an actor who was virtually unknown apart from the sitcom Mork and Mindy. At that time, the comedian was no legend, making the proposal a risky endeavour, but his career was gearing up to explode in a brilliant demonstration of personal branding.
Most celebrities may have hoped to have the segment spotlight all to themselves, but not Williams. He insisted that Maraynes include interviews with other comedians whom Williams respected, including Sam Kinison, Rick Overton, and Jonathan Winters. This generosity of spirit would lay the foundation for Williams’ unique personal brand.
Personal Branding: Mastered by Robin Williams
There’s no doubt that Robin Williams built a unique and recognisable personal brand. It accompanied him everywhere – so much that in 1986, before his career took off in a big way, he admitted that stand-up comedy was a bit easier for him than most because of the reputation that preceded him. “It’s easy for me because of the name,” he admitted to Ed Bradley during the 60 Minutes interview.
Is personal branding really that easy? No, and Williams would have agreed.
How did he build such a unique and respectable personal brand? One that was not only a household name, but that garnered the trust and connectivity that kept it relevant for decades…and beyond?
I can’t think of a better way to answer these questions than to list the tenets of personal branding, along with the ways in which Robin Williams exemplified the achievement of each one:
- Clarity: Robin Williams was clearly funny – that was evident to everyone who heard and saw him. When offstage, he communicated clearly, speaking slowly and taking the time to explain the inexplicable, so that every interested party could understand.
- Authenticity: Williams compared comedy to sex, as being truly freeing and human. His connection with the art was undeniable – he was born for it, making every interaction oh-so-real.
- A Unique Selling Point: I dare you: Name one person who reminds you of Robin Williams. There was no one like him, and he took every opportunity to promote his uniqueness.
- Energy: Energy comes in many forms, and will vary from one personal branding endeavour to the next. For Williams, specifically, he displayed not only a vast amount of physical energy onstage, but put his lightning-quick wit to work with every performance.
- Emotional Connection: Humour crushes psychological barriers, and Robin Williams used it to make the connections that so many people tugged upon when they heard of his death. His ability to stir emotion didn’t stop there, though. His dramatic roles in films like Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King, and Awakenings took people to all points along the emotional spectrum, opening them to experiential memories sponsored by Robin Williams’ personal brand.
- Consistency: We could always count on Robin for a good laugh…or a good cry. He alluded to his own consistency when he told Ed Bradley that people laughed for the first five minutes of every show – just because they recognised his name. After that, it wasn’t so easy, but he rarely disappointed…always managing to maintain consistency of performance and message.
- Social Engagement: Not only was Williams active on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, he engaged regularly with the public on a personal level. His neighbour, conservative radio talk host Michael Savage, attested on Tuesday to Williams’ friendliness and inclusiveness in all personal encounters.
- Advocacy: Personal branding is boosted by connecting with a cause that both the name and the audience support. Robin Williams founded Windfall Foundation, Comic Relief, was a champion for St. Jude Research Hospital, and much more.
- Knowledge: Williams made no secret of the education he acquired (including attendance of Julliard and mentoring by Jonathan Winters) in order to gain the skills he showcased. His professionalism could be trusted because he talked often of his training.
- Presence: Need I say more? Have you seen the man in action?
- Trust: Williams proved to his audience, again and again, that he was capable of making an emotional impact and leaving an unforgettable mark. Therefore, every new movie release that touted his name was highly anticipated. Four new films have yet to be released, posthumously, and the buzz has already elevated to an audible, worldwide hum.
- Relevancy: In the hearts of his fans, Robin Williams was just as important to show business in the 21st Century and he was in the 20th. Why? Because he carefully chose roles that addressed pressing, contemporary issues and that met the current needs of his audience, respectively.
Robin Williams could be described as the perfect personal branding package. Not only did he demonstrate his versatility through his comedic and dramatic acting roles and his stand-up comedy, he showcased his over-the-top – yet selfless – personality at every opportunity.
The world will long-mourn the loss of this comedic genius, this king of impromptu entertainment, this fast-thinking intellectual, this passionate actor…and his personal brand will long outlive his earthly life.
Robin, you have taught us a lot about successful personal branding, but even more, you’ve taught us about life and the importance of laughter and living every moment to its full potential. For this, we thank you.
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