This week, the shock resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has filled the headlines. The decision has not only surprised his faithful followers but also governments, such was the secret so tightly kept. The first pontiff to step aside since 1415, Pope Benedict attributes the decision to age and is said to have been considering retirement for months following bouts of ill health. Being one of the oldest men in history to be chosen as the head of the Catholic Church, it is no surprise that at the age of 85, he is feeling the pressure of such a demanding office.
A lot of people have strong opinions about the Pope but one thing that most people will admit is that he has a very strong personal brand. In the next few paragraphs I intend (in a very tongue in cheek way) to have a look at what makes the Pope so recognisable and what we can learn from him!
Did you know that the pope holds 10 official titles? Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City and Servant of the Servants of God. What was the first one again? However, the Pope will normally take a new name once he has been elected in honour of a Saint(s) he admires. This is the name he becomes known by and the name that goes down in the history books.
One of the first pieces of advice you will be given when looking for personal branding advice is to always use the same name, spelt the same way with no variation! This also goes for your avatar or head shot. When publishing blog posts, commenting in industry forums, using social media or doing any other online activity you should always use the same name and same picture. This continuity will help to build recognition.
I do wonder how many people would recognise the pope without all of the papal regalia. Think 'Pope' and no doubt a figure in a white cassock, red cape and skull cap will spring to mind. His garments have special meaning, depict his office and make him instantly recognisable.
Many people who have succeeded with their personal branding have an instantly recognisable style. Jamie Oliver has his checked shirts and hoodies, Matt Cutts his polo shirts, Peter Jones has colourful socks, Flava Flav his clock necklace and Ricky Gervais his faithful black t-shirt. Developing a signature style is an important part of personal branding...what is your look?
On average the pope pays three official visits per year. Generally the pope will meet the leader of the country he visits as well as prominent religious leaders. The aims of his visits are to further the cause of Catholicism and tackle specific issues affecting different parts of the world. In 2005 Pope Benedict visited Germany to participate in World Youth Day and in 2011 he visited Croatia where he expressed his support at their bid to join the EU. Heck, the pope even tweets these days in order to get himself known and heard by the tech generation. He has 1.5million followers which, though not quite Lady Gaga, is not bad considering he only joined in December 2012. One other thing worth noting here is that the title 'pontiff' means bridge builder.
When trying to build your personal brand you need to get yourself out there and...well...build bridges and make connections. You will find that those with strong personal brands do particularly well on social networking sites. Branding has always been about trust and someone with a strong personal brand is generally seen as a trust worthy person. This will encourage people to connect with you and open new doors of opportunity.
And if all else fails just get yourself a popemobile!