Some might say David had a tougher upbringing than most.
When David was five, his father passed away and since his mother worked, he was required to cook for the family. After dropping out in seventh grade, David ran away from home when his stepfather started beating him. A nomadic career path followed, with stints as a steamboat pilot, insurance salesman, railroad fireman, farmer and an Army tour that began at the age of 16 years when David lied about his age at the enlistment office.
A self-starter, David also tried his hand at law working in the Justice of the Peace courts in Little Rock, Arkansas. He ruined his legal career, however, by brawling with a client in the courtroom. Although found innocent, David was done as a lawyer. Trading in his legal robe for overalls and an apron, David opened a small gas station and restaurant in the small town of Corbin, Kentucky, specializing in Southern cooking such as pan fried chicken, ham, vegetables, and biscuits. And when the café with the homey atmosphere and good food was singled out by restaurant critic, Duncan Hines, its popularity increased. Eventually, Governor Laffoon was so impressed he made David an honorary Kentucky colonel for his contribution to state cuisine.
Rather than rest on his laurels, David kept working on an original recipe, devising a method to cook chicken quickly because customers wouldn't wait 45 minutes for a batch to be fried up in an iron pan. Instead, David discovered a pressure cooker could do the job in just nine minutes.
Throw in eleven herbs and spices and voila!
But, if there was one recipe David knew better than making a quick and mean fried chicken, it was how to sell himself. In the early days, he knew needed something different. Something nobody else could possibly have.
David became a master of personal branding early on in his culinary career. In 1949 he began dressing in a white suit, white shirt, black string tie, black shoes, white mustache and goatee, complete with a cane while using the title of "Colonel". Ignoring sideways glances and voices of naysayers, David believed his unusual appearance would not only give customers something to identify the company with, but also bring greater legitimacy to it. After all, who would know more about what represented quality in fried chicken than a southern colonel? In this case, "Colonel"Harland David Sanders.
Soon, everything from eight-foot billboards to Kentucky Fried Chicken take-out buckets began to be plastered with the Colonel's likeness. Sanders understood the power of this image and which is why it has only been changed once each decade. Harland Sanders was one of the first successful businessmen to teach the world about personal branding and how it could add more credibility to a company. And, who better to be the "face" than the most passionate person behind it?
Colonel Sanders’ undeniable love for his product (and his secret recipe) was not the only reason he put himself front and centre. Time and again, the results would speak for themselves. For instance, whenever Sanders personally appeared on television company-wide sales would jump by about ten percent. That success is why the Colonel's image continues to be an integral part of the KFC brand long after his passing. In fact, the Colonel became the world’s first brand to be visible from outer space with a 2006 "astrovertisement" in the Nevada desert.
Humans have been addicted to stories since we first started to use the cave as our canvas before moving on to plays, novels, movies and TV programs. And taking a cue from the pages of history, your story could be the foundation of a great personal brand when you distinguish its not about what you do; it's about what you do differently from everyone else. And in today's Digital Economy you either tell stories that spread, or you brand becomes irrelevant.
Martha Stewart, Mike Holmes and Madonna. Donald Trump and Dave Thomas. Paris Hilton and Prince. Is there a chance there are others in their fields just as talented, but not as well known? Like a self-styled Kentucky Colonel before them, the dreamers and achievers behind these personal brands know that when you buy their product, you first buy their story.
Back in the 40's, Colonel Sanders developed a personal brand strong enough to survive the closing of his original location when the construction of Interstate 75 reduced customer traffic. Undeterred, 66-year old Harland hit the road, using $105 from his first Social Security check to fund visits to share his story with potential Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisees.
The Colonel's personal brand is still going strong today, serving more than 12 million customers at more than 15,000 KFC restaurants in 109 countries around the world. And how many personal brands are you aware of, that are worthy of a giant, 87,000-square foot version of it, identifiable from outer space.
Critics and skeptics were quick to dismiss Harland David Sanders as a crazy chicken for having the bravado to wear a white suit and call himself "Colonel". But, if you want your personal brand to be 'finger lickin' good' do you dare follow Sanders example? Will you march to the beat of your own drumstick?
Is there a Colonel of Truth in this story that could serve as a launching pad to take your brand out of this world?
"You’ve got to like your work. You have got to like what you are doing, you have got to be doing something worthwhile so you can like it. There’s no reason to be the richest man in the cemetery. You can’t do any business from there"
Originally posted October 13, 2009
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