Yes, Tyra Banks was one of my professors at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. If I could go back in time and tell my 13-year-old America’s Next Top Model obsessed self, she’d probably pass out (but only after she smized).
During my last quarter of business school, Tyra Banks made her academic debut at Stanford by teaching a personal branding class called Project You, alongside one of my favorite professors, Allison Kluger. I was one of twenty-two students selected to participate in this intensive two-week course.
The first day of the class, all twenty-two of us lined up outside the classroom ten minutes before start time, restlessly waiting to be let in the doors. This is something that has literally never happened in the history of the business school at Stanford. #overeager
Once they opened the gates, we signed releases and handed over our phones. It all felt very official.
Tyra looked like… well… a supermodel. She had on five-inch heels paired with comfy-looking silk joggers that I was insanely jealous of.
There was a lot of chatter on campus about whether or not Tyra would be a “real professor.” The common assumption was that she’d be more of a figurehead, perhaps attending only one or two of the classes.
That was dead wrong. Tyra was one of the best professors I had in business school. No joke.
Truth be told I spent loads of time educating myself on personal branding before the class even started. It was going to be a key part of my business after all. But most of the lessons I learned weren’t necessarily from the curriculum of the class, but rather from observing Tyra herself.
Tyra started modeling when she was 15. She told us how many times in her life, her managers said her career was over. After 25 you’re kinda washed up after all.
She never let that stop her. She was resilient. Why compete against 20-year-olds when you can lead them? She took her supermodel skills and turned them into a hit television series: America’s Next Top Model.
Even after the success of ANTM, Tyra never stopped seeking new opportunities. She was a talk show host. She launched her own makeup line.
Linda Evangelista. Elle Macpherson. Helena Christensen. Christy Turlington. Stephanie Seymour. Any of these names ring a bell?
Like Tyra, all of these ladies were considered some of the “original” supermodels of the 80s and 90s. They all went on to do great things. But Tyra was unique in that she managed to stay relevant and in the public eye long after her modeling career.
Well, I can’t tell you how to be Tyra (#goals). But here are five indispensable lessons Tyra taught me about personal branding.
LESSON 1: Kanye yourself.
Kanye makes me uncomfortable because I’m not sure whether I love him or hate him. The first day of class, Tyra told me to “Kanye yourself.”
I knew exactly what she meant. Whether you’re #teamkanye or #teamtaylor, there’s no denying that Kanye’s brand is extraordinary.
Kanye doesn’t apologize for who he is. Quite the opposite. He broadcasts himself to the world as loud as possible.
The lesson here is to take what you do, blow it up as big as it can be, and blast it to your audience. Your personal brand is NOT the time to be shy or modest.
(So who’s voting Kanye for president in 2020?)
LESSON 2: Different is better than better
In order to be memorable, recognizable, and iconic… you need to be distinct. Tyra taught me that being the best isn’t enough. Yes, you have to have talent. But you also need to be different from the rest of the talent.
Think about today’s most seminal personal brands: Miley, Kylie, RiRi, Kanye, Gaga, and (sigh) Trump. It’s their unique “it” factor that makes them so unique and difficult to duplicate. Others might technically be “better” at what they do, but these people are memorable because they’re different.
Tyra taught me that it’s ok (and even encouraged) to be polarizing and alienate some people so that the people you want to reach identify with you and immediately recognize that you’re talking directly to them. That’s why different is better than better.
LESSON 3: Determine your end goal
You need to know where you’re going.
So you want to be a thought leader? Great. Reverse engineer from there. What can you do now that will set you up to be a thought leader? Think: publishing LinkedIn articles and vocalizing your opinions on twitter.
Don’t just start posting inspirational quotes on Instagram because that’s what everyone else is doing. Everything you do should have a specific purpose that gets you closer to your goal. If you don’t know what your end goal is, now’s the time to figure it out.
LESSON 4: Be consistent
You don’t see Gaga wearing a meat dress on a Sunday and a Patagonia fleece on a Monday. She’s consistently eclectic and unexpected. I once saw her in a restaurant in Chicago, sitting in a Louis Vuitton wheelchair. It was so uniquely her and on brand, which is why I’d recognize her anywhere.
In order to be identifiable, you have to be consistent. If you constantly tweet about The Bachelor, but your Instagram is dedicated to your favorite foodie spots in New York, you don’t have a consistent personal brand.
Figure out what you’re known for (or want to be known for), or what you’re an expert at. Be steady, clear, and true to your brand. This way your followers can depend on you, and know what they’re going to get. This will keep them coming back.
LESSON 5: Know what you’re not
Perhaps just as important as what your personal brand IS, is what your personal brand ISN’T.
Tyra had us all write down who we were NOT, and who we never wanted to be. She also told us to write down people, brands, and companies we didn’t respect.
As you grow in your career, there will be temptations along the way. Knowing who you’re not is essential to staying true to yourself, and knowing when you have to say “no.”
(That’s not to say that you have to be perfect. Perfect is boring anyway.)
In the end, your personal brand boils down to what people remember about you.
If you’re different, consistent, and you broadcast it to the world Kanye-style, people are going to remember. So take a page out of Kylie and RiRi’s books, and maybe one day you’ll go by your first name too.
If you’re interested in my 1:1 personal branding services, you can sign up for a free consultation on my Coaching Page.
Originally published at brainsoverblonde.com