Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion is about Personal Branding

Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion is about Personal Branding

If Lisa Kudrow only starred in Friends, we could still classify her as a legend. But thankfully, she didn’t stop there. I’m here to talk about her 1997 film with Mira Sorvino, Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion, and how it’s a perfect metaphor for personal branding.
 
 
Since it’s been 24 years, I hope I don’t have to warn you about a spoiler alert, but it’s on Hulu if for some reason you haven’t seen this iconic film.
 

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A Recap of Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion

The movie starts with Romy and Michele freaking out about how they’ve lived such average lives. They worry they won’t impress their old classmates when they return for their high school reunion. 
 
 
Vying for acceptance, Romy and Michele completely reinvent themselves. They look for jobs, join the gym, start diets, and schmooze their way into borrowing a fancy car to pull up to the reunion. 
 
 
But what bothers me most is how they abandoned the eclectic style they’ve had since high school for black blazers and refined updos. My favorite scene is when they walk into a diner while on their road trip, dressed to impress in straight-laced, professional attire, and ask if they offer a businesswoman’s special. 
 
Unfortunately, they don’t, but this should really be a thing. 
 
 
As you know, Romy and Michele end up fabricating their accomplishments and tell their classmates that they invented Post-Its. But this backfires in the best way.
 
Their lie gets blown up and they become the laughing stock of the reunion, thanks to Heather Mooney who somehow knew that Art Frey is the real Post-It phenom. As they wallow in shame for a bit, Romy and Michele soon realize they should just be themselves.
 
By the end of the movie, they ditch their suits for outfits they designed — ones that reflect their true style they’ve had all along.
 
 
 
They end up getting both the last laugh and the last dance at the reunion, and they literally fly away with Sandy Frink in his helicopter. 
 
 
You may recall the happy ending where Romy and Michele open their own fashion boutique! While they were bullied for their unique outfits as teenagers, fashion has always been a constant interest in their lives. This passion was there all along, but it took them a while to tap into it. 
 
 

The Personal Branding Lesson from Romy & Michele

 
We all go through a similar journey when building our personal brand — or at least I did. Rather than reflecting and sharing who we really are, we’re tempted to create a more impressive, yet inauthentic, façade. We ask ourselves what other people want, vs. what we want.
 
I had this challenge when I started prioritizing my online presence as a marketer. I created a polished, stiff online profile complete with buzzwords and corporate headshots with a fake smile.
 
That’s what I thought the industry wanted me to do.
 
It wasn’t working.
 
I didn’t want to critique Fortune 500 campaigns or use showy jargon to share my knowledge or thoughts on marketing. That’s not who I am. I wanted to talk about branding lessons from the Spice Girls, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, or AJ McLean’s nail polish line. That’s me.
 
The first lesson we learn in marketing is to know your audience. But with personal branding, you have to know YOURSELF. I know this sounds like the antithesis to what every marketer has always been taught. But it’s true — with your personal brand, your audience doesn’t come first. You do.
 
If you’re creating content just to look cool for other people, you’re destined to be really unhappy. The foundation of your personal brand should be to express yourself, not to impress others. If you start building for the wrong reasons, you’ll never have the passion to keep going. 
 
Create what you want to create and what makes you feel most like yourself. I doubted this advice at first. I didn’t think you’d care about marketing lessons from an old ’90s film.  I thought I’d never be taken seriously as a marketer by sharing what I truly wanted to share.
 
But trust me, your people will find you. Being yourself is the only way to attract the right audience. And that being said, I’m SO happy you’re here. I hope you’ve learned a thing or two from this silly little blog.
 
 
How to Take Personal Branding Photos as Awesome as SNL Bumper Shots

How to Take Personal Branding Photos as Awesome as SNL Bumper Shots

There’s a lot to love about Saturday Night Live. The show has been going on for decades and always makes us laugh. We get to see a different side of the celebrities we love, poke fun at the media, and play back the skits countless times on YouTube.

But there’s something else that always catches my eye beyond the sketches, monologues, and live performances: the SNL bumper photos.

I didn’t know about these photos even had a name until I did my research, but SNL bumper photos are shown in between commercial breaks and feature the host or musical guest. And they are works of art. 

The photographer, Mary Ellen Matthews, clearly has an eye for creativity. But beyond that, you can tell she does her best to capture the personality of her subject. She doesn’t just pose them in front of a backdrop. She puts effort into the details to make sure each celebrity’s bumper photo tells their story. 

 
 

For example, to poke fun at Ariana Grande’s iconic ponytail, Mary Ellen playfully posed her with scissors.

 

 

Here is a round-up of some of my other favorite shots:

How to Take Better Personal Branding Photos

SNL bumper photos are a sharp contrast from the boring yearbook photos we took in grade school. Thankfully, we no longer have to pose in front of tacky, watercolor backgrounds like we did then. 

Yet, most professional headshots these days don’t embrace the boundless creative potential. This is what came up when I Googled ‘professional headshots’. We’ve got a bunch of suits and corporate squares who all look the same. 

 
 
 

Where is the personality?!?!

As kids, yearbook photos were a chance to be awkward. But as adults, professional headshots are a chance to be awesome.

Your photos are part of what make you memorable online, and you won’t dread taking photos if you make them uniquely you.

It starts with abandoning your idea of a “professional” headshot. Instead, think of them as *personal* headshots that are true to you. This doesn’t mean your photos will lack polish

 

Here are some things to think through to when taking personal branding photos:

Wardrobe – Ditch the boring black blazer. Choose bold colors or patterns that reflect your personality. Don’t be afraid to incorporate statement earrings, colorful glasses, or a vintage tee.

Location – You can do so much better than a white backdrop. Go outside, find a cool mural, or look for a venue that makes sense for your niche.

For example, if you work in sports, take some fun shots on a basketball court. Music lover? Hit up a record store.

Poses – This is another chance to get creative. Put on your favorite playlist and let loose a little. Test different expressions and do a variety of candid vs. posed shots. And smile!

Props – My favorite tip! Props are small elements that make a huge difference. They help tell your story! For my ’90s-inspired shoot, I brought a fluffy Clueless pen, a Central Perk mug, and a throwback laptop.

 
 
If you’re able to splurge, hire a professional photographer. Consider your photos an investment in yourself and your brand. They’ll make such a statement on your website and social profiles!
 
But you can also do SO much with your phone and a few editing apps, especially when you add your personal style with everything mentioned above.
 
Let me know if you plan to put take personality branding photos! I’d love to see your creativity and personality come to life!
 
What the Spice Girls Teach Us About Brand Purpose

What the Spice Girls Teach Us About Brand Purpose

If you were a young girl growing up in the ’90s, you pretty much had no choice but to love the Spice Girls. They were absolutely EVERYWHERE. If it weren’t for them, I certainly would have had a much harder time making friends on the playground.
 
I owned the CDs, saw Spice World in theaters, and had school supplies with their faces on them. My only regret is never having seen them in concert. 
 
But as an adult fan looking back on the Spice Girls’ legacy, I think about what I learned from them. For one, they taught me how to be a good friend because your girls always come first. But secondly, they were the first to teach me about brand purpose… I just didn’t know it yet.
 

What is a Brand Purpose?

It goes back to what Simon Sinek says in his popular TED Talk and best selling book, Start With Why.  
 
Your brand purpose should directly answer “Why does this brand exist?”
 
Sometimes, brands go wrong when drafting their purpose and they make it about them. They think it’s about selling lots of products, boosting their bottom line, or filling the pockets of their C-suite executives. But a brand purpose is never selfish.
 
It’s not about the things you sell, but about what those things can do for people or the planet. It’s how your brand can make the world a better place. 
 
 

 

Here are some examples of brand purpose: 

  • Crayola: to unleash the originality in every child
  • Southwest: to connect people to what’s important in their lives
  • Dove: to help women everywhere develop a positive relationship with the way they look
  • Nike: to bring innovation and inspiration to every athlete in the world
  • Google: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful
 
You’ll notice a pattern here. When writing a brand purpose, it should always have a powerful verb, because it’s what you do for others. There is an action. In the examples above, we saw verbs like unleash, connect, and help. Simply following this format will strengthen your own brand purpose. 
 

 ‘Girl Power’ as a Brand Purpose

In their quest for fame and superstardom, the Spice Girls knew they wanted their music and careers to be meaningful. They didn’t approach their work with the goal to sell millions of albums or concert tickets. That may have been part of what they wanted to do, but it wasn’t their WHY. 
 
Instead, the Spice Girls existed to unify young girls and inspire them with the confidence to do anything. It all started with their well-known mantra, ‘Girl Power’.
 
 
Its meaning may seem implied, but when asked about ‘Girl Power’ in 1997, Scary Spice said:
 
“It’s about spreading a positive vibe, kicking it for the girls… It’s not about picking up guys. We don’t need men to control our life. We control our lives anyway.”
 
This purpose was consistent in everything they did, including the lyrics to their songs, like Wannabe. Also, in the Spice Girls movie, Ginger Spice scares off a suitor by mentioning the word feminism.
 
The ethos of ‘Girl Power’ clearly resonated with the Spice Girls’ millions of fans. They sold over 100 million records and topped every major albums chart around the world. It gave their music and work a deeper meaning, which created a deeper connection with their fans. 
 
Not to mention, the Spice Girls embraced individuality, with each member having their own style and unique personality. This gave their young fans someone to look up to and identify with as they established their own social circles. For what it’s worth, I always loved Ginger Spice.
 
Their strong brand purpose led to even more Spice mania, with the group being named ‘the most merchandised band in history,’ according to Wikipedia. The article went on to cite a quote from John Mckie of BBC stating that while other stars had used brand endorsements in the past, “the Spice brand was the first to propel the success of the band”.  
 
The Guardian‘s Sylvia Patterson also wrote of what she called the Spice Girls’ true legacy: “[T]hey were the original pioneers of the band as brand, of pop as a ruthless marketing ruse, of the merchandising and sponsorship deals that have dominated commercial pop ever since.”
 
Fun fact: The Spice Girls dolls are the best-selling celebrity dolls of all time. 
 
spice girls dolls in boxes
 

‘Girl Power’ – From Lyrics to Copywriting

If it weren’t for an ad for an “all female pop act” published on March 4, 1994 in the British newspaper, The Stage, we may not have the Spice Girls. The want-ad called for women ages 18 to 23 with the ability to sing and dance. Over 600 girls responded, 400 auditioned, and only five were selected. 
 
And then, the Spice Girls’ very own feminist movement began. They started living out their purpose. 
 
Although your brand may not have lyrics like the Spice Girls do, you still create messaging. You don’t sing to your audience, but you communicate. You are empowered to share a brand purpose.   
 
The takeaway: make sure your message is rooted in something more meaningful than your brand itself.
 
 
 
Why ‘Ava Dean Beauty’ by AJ McLean is Marketing Gold

Why ‘Ava Dean Beauty’ by AJ McLean is Marketing Gold

Every time I open up my Instagram, it seems like I’m introduced to a new celebrity beauty line. 
 
I can’t say I blame these celebs — if I had massive influence and millions of Instagram followers, I’d want to cash in on this $50 billion industry, too. It’s what made Kylie Jenner a billionaire at just 21.
 
Other successful celebrity beauty lines include Fenty Beauty by Rihanna, The Honest Company by Jessica Alba, Haus Laboratories by Lady Gaga, and Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez. Jennifer Lopez is also set to release JLo Beauty in January 2021. 
 

 
These women are some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. They’re talented, beautiful, and glamorous, so of course their fans are fawning over their beauty products. 
 
But one of my favorite people to fangirl over long before I knew anything about hair and makeup was AJ McLean from the Backstreet Boys. And he’s now added his own line to the beauty mix. Yes, AJ McLean — the tattooed, “bad boy” of the group — now has a nail polish line called Ava Dean Beauty.
 
 
AJ has always been a beacon of individuality — it’s a reason his fans love him. One of his trademarks, besides wearing loud hats and sunglasses, is his manicured nails. He is known for wearing black nail polish, and no one has embraced this quirk more than his two young daughters, Ava and Lyric.
 

AJ McLean’s Story — The Brilliance of Ava Dean

I know what you’re thinking. Is there really room for another nail polish line in this cluttered industry? Does Ava Dean Beauty even stand a chance? The answer is “yes” because AJ is marketing it just right. 
 
Here’s what makes the Ava Dean Beauty launch a success.
 

It’s different

Let’s start with the obvious. AJ is a bit of the black sheep of the Backstreet Boys, and he’s certainly a black sheep in the beauty industry. It’s not often you hear of a beauty line created by a man. This fact alone is notable and will capture attention. It’s unexpected and unique, which makes it easily marketable. 
 
Ava Dean Beauty also breaks down gender stigmas and promotes important conversation. 

 

It’s purposeful. 

As Simon Sinek says, start with why. AJ had a clear purpose for starting Ava Dean Beauty: his daughters. At-home manicures became AJ’s way of bonding with his girls during those breaks in his busy schedule of recording, touring, and rehearsing. He wanted quality time with his family, and now, they’ve created something together.
 
Each nail polish in the Ava Dean collection is named after a member of the McLean family, including his wife Rochelle. 

AJ McLean family

It’s personal. 

What’s one of the biggest drivers of a brand’s success? Passion. There are many instances where celebrities, or anyone, will create a company simply to make money. They design products or force deals that don’t make sense or align with who they are. It’s all business. 
 
Thankfully, AJ made sure Ava Dean Beauty was true to him. This benefits not only himself, but his fans and customers. His brand isn’t a gimmick. He didn’t just slap a logo on T-shirt and watch the sales come in. He collaborated with his daughters to design something meaningful to them, which makes it meaningful to his audience. This connects people to Ava Dean Beauty on a deeper level.

 

It’s communicated with a story. 

It’s no secret that I will support pretty much anything a Backstreet Boy does. They’ve marketed to me since I used my allowance to buy their CDs. But as a marketing professional, I’m especially proud to support Ava Dean Beauty and am impressed by their promotional messaging. 
 
The homepage of the website immediately personifies the brand with heartwarming photos of AJ painting his daughter’s nails. The shots weren’t taken in a photography studio, but authentically in the comfort of their own home. The copy speaks to the brand’s purpose and creates an emotional connection.
 
 
When you click on to read their full story, it goes on to say:
 
 
This wouldn’t be the first time something a Backstreet Boy has done has gone straight to my heart! I happily pre-ordered my own nail polish and it should arrive in Spring 2021. 
 

Perfection is Boring

On the surface, the beauty industry may seem like it’s all about perfection, especially when backed by celebrities who always look flawless. But the most game-changing players in beauty aren’t about perfection. Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty champions diversity, while Jessica Alba’s Honest Company is about ethics and safety. Ava Dean Beauty represents family and acceptance. 
 
Whenever you stand for something bigger and more purposeful than your products themselves, your audience will get behind you. 
 

Shop Ava Dean Beauty here. 

 
 
Songwriting Genius: Learn New Vocabulary Words from Mariah Carey Lyrics

Songwriting Genius: Learn New Vocabulary Words from Mariah Carey Lyrics

With my social life taking a hit during quarantine, I’ve been spending a lot more time reading. 
 
How do you expand your vocabulary?
 
Do you read books? Articles? Listen to speeches?
 
I enjoy both of these activities, but one of my favorite ways to learn new words is to listen to Mariah Carey.
 
A 2015 study by SeatSmart indicated that Mariah Carey had the “smartest lyrics” of any artist. And did you know she writes ALL of her songs? 
 
If you take a close look at some of the interviews Mariah has done over her 30-year career, you’ll notice her incessant effort to be recognized as a both a singer and songwriter. Many know her for being one of the greatest voices of all time, but overlook her songwriting ability. 
 

 
Mariah says that people even think her iconic hit, All I Want For Christmas Is You, is a holiday song that she covered, but it is complete Mariah original, written by her. 
 
So yes, not only does Mariah write her songs, but she incorporates some million dollar vocabulary words! 
 

Mariah’s Smart Song Lyrics

Let’s do a deep dive on some of the more advanced vocabulary words Mariah has incorporated into her discography over the years.

 

There’s Got to Be a Way (1990)

Word: destitution
Meaning: lack of the means of subsistence; utter poverty.
Lyric: And maybe then the future will be a time / Without war, destitution and sorrow
 

Vanishing (1990)

Word: enraptured
Meaning: delight beyond measure
Lyric: I was so enraptured / No sensibility to open my eyes /I misunderstood
 

Dreamlover (1993)

Word: disillusion
Meaning: to disenchant
Lyric: I don’t want another pretender / To disillusion me one more time
 

Honey (1997)

Word: elusive
Meaning: difficult to find
Lyric: Oh, I can’t be elusive with you honey
 

Butterfly (1997)

Word: succumb
Meaning: to give in, submit, or yield 
Lyric: It’s easy to succumb to overwhelming fears inside
 

My All (1997)

Word: emblazoned
Meaning: decorated with brilliant colors
Lyric: I can see you clearly, vividly emblazoned in my mind
 

Fourth of July (1997)

Word: ominously
Meaning: being or showing a sign of evil
Lyric: So threateningly, ominously hovering / and the sky opened wide
 

Close My Eyes (1997)

Word: dissipate
Meaning: to scatter in various directions
Lyric: I left the worst unsaid / Let it all dissipate and I try to forget
 

Heartbreaker (1999)

Word: incessantly
Meaning: unending; without interruption
Lyric: Heartbreaker you’ve got the best of me / But I just keep coming back incessantly
 

Petals (1999)

Word: despondency
Meaning: sadness; gloom; dejection
Lyric: A boy and a girl befriended me / We’re bonded through despondency
 

Thank God I Found You (1999)

Word: unvarnished
Meaning: plain; clear; straightforward
Lyric: After so much suffering I finally found unvarnished truth
 

Never Too Far (2001)

Word: solace
Meaning: comfort in sorrow
Lyric: Incandescent eyes still preserved in my mind / In the memories I’ll find solace
 

Subtle Invitation (2002)

Word: intrinsic
Meaning: belonging naturally, essential
Lyric: Like you’ll always be, an intrinsic part of me / Even though life goes, ooh
 

It’s Like That (2005)

Word: emancipation
Meaning: freedom; liberation
Lyric: It’s a special occasion / Mimi’s emancipation
 

It’s a Wrap (2009)

Word: acquiescent
Meaning: compliant; cooperative
Lyric: I was oh so acquiescent / But I learned my lesson
 

Angel’s Cry (2009)

Word: omnipresent
Meaning: common or widespread
Lyric: Limitless, omnipresent kind of love / Couldn’t have guessed it would just stop / And disappear in a whirlwind
 

Cry (2014)

Word: imprudently
Meaning: lacking discretion
Lyric: Oh my love, imprudently I left every cell in me so naked
 

With You (2018)

Word: trepidation
Meaning: a feeling of fear or alarm about something that may happen
Lyric: She was full of such trepidation / There in front of the whole damn nation
 
 

What’s Next for Mariah?

These songs and vocabulary words just scratch the surface on Mariah Carey’s songwriting talent. This September, she is releasing a new album called The Rarities, as well as a memoir called “The Meaning of Mariah Carey.” I hope the memoir gives us a glimpse into Mariah’s 30-year-career of songwriting and using her voice to make art.
 
 
The Problem with the MTV Video Music Awards

The Problem with the MTV Video Music Awards

Even in a pandemic, the show must go on.

MTV is hosting their annual Video Music Awards on Sunday, August 30th.

We all know that the best part of the VMAs are the performances. This year Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, The Weekend, BTS, and CNCO are just a few acts to take the stage.

But to practice social distancing, all performances will be held outdoors with “limited or no audiences”… yikes.

Truth be told, the VMAs’ audience has been dwindling for years.

There are two things that can explain their consistent ratings decline:

1. If Britney Spears isn’t performing, there’s really no point in watching.

 

2. MTV deviated from their original brand purpose.

 

The Early Days of MTV

MTV officially launched as a channel on August 1, 1981, which was the same year as the first launch of the space shuttle, Columbia. This explains the significance of the moon man awards they hand out at the VMAs.

In their initial broadcast, MTV shared a what can be considered brand manifesto for the channel. 

You can watch it here. You might want to skip to the 1:50 mark:

The original slogan of the channel was “You’ll never look at music the same way again”.

And through the ‘80s and ‘90s, MTV delivered on their promise to bring more music, through video, to audiences. They had shows like Yo! MTV Raps, TRL, Headbanger’s Ball, and Making the Video, mixed in among their music video marathons.

But by the early 2000s, MTV’s programming strayed away from music (although they were still airing Making the Band — the inspiration for my podcast).

Their show line-up was mostly original reality TV shows like Laguna Beach, 16 and Pregnant, Room Raiders, and even Jackass.

By 2010, MTV officially dropped “music television” from their logo altogether.

So for at least the past decade, MTV admittedly hasn’t been about music except for one night of the year: the Video Music Awards.

But If MTV doesn’t care about music, why should their audience?

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Stephen Covey, author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”


When I was a kid, MTV’s “main thing” was music. Their programming fueled my passion for it, and I couldn’t get enough. I was glued to the TV. Their programming added more context to the music I loved. I looked forward to exclusive interviews, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, and concert specials.

But now, if I want to learn about music, I’m on my own. Yes, social media has given us access to our favorite musicians, but as a network, MTV isn’t contributing to the conversation or adding any value.

That’s the problem. They’ve given up on music, which doesn’t set the right example for their audience.


If you want your audience to care about something, you have to be the thing you want them to care about. That means 365 days a year… not just one night for an awards show.

This applies to MTV and pretty much any organization.

I think about this a lot in the non-profit world. I see so many non-profits make their messaging about their sponsors, volunteers, and donors. They profusely thank them and feature them on every one of their channels.

Of course, these groups are important. They provide necessary funding and assistance to keep these organizations going.

But you want your audience to care about the people (or animals!) you serve. Tell THEIR stories. This happens to be the better approach to create more donors, sponsors, volunteers, and funding.

Your supporters want to know how their donations or hard work are impacting people’s lives. THIS is what will open their hearts and wallets going forward.

Stick to the thing you want to be known for, and you’ll hold your audience’s attention.

I know… pursuing a shiny new opportunity can be tempting. You may feel pressure to innovate or switch things up, like MTV did once they got a taste of reality TV.

But stay the course. Specialize, niche down, and go all-in on what you do best. And if you must try something new, make sure it reflects who you are as a brand.

 

READ MORE: Pop-Up Video’s Lesson for Content Creators