Personal Branding Lessons From Elephants

We recently spent two fantastic days at the Elephant Nature Park, a rescue and rehabilitation centre for pachyderms, in the Chiang Mai province, Northern Thailand and yes, they taught us some valuable lessons in Personal Branding.

Interestingly, when you first arrive all the elephants look the same and although the guides share each animal’s story (many of which told of torture from the now illegal logging industry, landmine injury and ongoing abuse from tourist trekking where they carry almost half a ton of chair and human weight for days on end) it was at first, hard to remember each elephant individually.

Some were more easily identified by their physical scars, like Lucky who endured forced breeding programs and cannot control her bladder, or Kabu who manages to get about quite swiftly with her disabled leg which was crushed by a log when she was a baby.

Very quickly however, we discovered that each elephant has unique characteristics and personality. The guides even recognise the noise each one makes, one elephant being called a “drama queen” because of the ruckus she starts with her trumpeting.

The lesson of course is that we are all unique, we all have our differences, our quirks and idiosyncrasies which make us instantly recognisable to others, but there’s much more to learn from elephants about personal branding than that…

I often talk about the importance of knowing your brand personality as the one sure way to ensure you stay consistent and therefore immediately recognised for what you stand for. Much like each Elephant’s individual character, personal branding makes it easy for someone to quickly feel they know, like and trust you.

So here are 6 personal branding lessons from elephants:

1. Good enough

One of the first elephants we were introduced to was DiPor. She is 70 years old and was abused in the logging industry, chained for hours on end, forced to surrender her freedom to work in dangerous locations where she damaged her shoulder and still bears the scars of her treatment. Her name inspired me to share that no matter what your background has been or where you have come from, you are good enough to stand up and become an inspiration for people to follow. You might be thinking to yourself; “but I don’t have a rags to riches story, there is nothing special about me”…don’t hold yourself back from living your brand, because you have every reason to positively impact the lives of others with your personal brand. You are good enough.

2. Rocks

When you build a strong personal brand you are going to stand out from the crowd and become more easily noticeable. It’s going to get quite hot in the spotlight and you are going to be a target for people to throw a few rocks. Elephants cover their backs with sand and mud to keep cool and avoid getting sunburn, sometimes these contain small rocks. 
So be prepared for a few rocks when you build your brand, in fact you should start to expect them. Instead of worrying about getting hit, use what people throw at you to learn how to protect yourself from real, long term damage. Build armour around your brand to protect it and keep your true purpose and essence safe. Having a strong brand means you can stand up to any situation, build yours well so you can look forward to getting some rocks thrown at you.

3. Your Herd

Elephants naturally join up in herds and it is the same at the park we visited. They are not forced to like each other, they are allowed to begin lifelong friendships and ‘families’ based on who they want to be around. They eat and sleep together, supporting each other and protecting one another from danger. 
So who is your herd? Who do you naturally want to be around? Who do you share common ideas and values with? Who will support your brand and who has a brand you can affiliate with? Looking out for #1 is not a sustainable way to build a personal brand. You need to build a tribe that follows your brand, sustaining and advocating for what you stand for. Make sure you look after and support their personal brand as much as they support yours.
More importantly, don’t try to force a relationship with someone just because it might be good for your brand and don’t just use someone’s brand to build yours up. True tribes have a natural affinity and mutual recognition of each other’s value, with bonds that last a lifetime.

Looking out for #1 won’t build a brand, find your herd

4. Special

Champagne the elephant came from the circus where she suffered years of abuse including sharp spikes and hooks being used to control her. Her ear has a large ugly hole in it and her kindly mahout has fashioned a red flower earring to cover the hole and make her ‘pretty’. She is now instantly recognised by her new jewellery and there is a tangible, loving bond between her and her carer. The lesson here is to create something special about your brand that makes you instantly recognisable, then take extra care to nurture that uniqueness. Ask others for help to lift up and promote your exceptional gifts. Be grateful to those who assist you and lift up their brands in return. Together you can create something beautiful that makes you all stand out to be recognised for what you do so well.

5. Teamwork

A place like the Elephant Nature Park, with almost 70 elephants, 400 dogs and I don’t know how many cats, plus some pigs and buffaloes, takes hard work and effort to maintain. Unfortunately my video didn’t work properly when I noticed a group of volunteers rapidly clear up a truckload of pumpkins and watermelon by forming a chain and man-handling them in lines to the food store (I hope this explains what was in the video!). Of course the lesson here is that in order to sustain your brand you are going to need help. If you want your business to grow really fast and to rocket launch your band, you won’t do that on your own. Growing your brand might seem arduous when you consider what you alone can achieve, but just like that truckload of elephant food, when you have a team supporting you, you can move mountains with ease.

6. Connect

There is nothing scarier than thinking you know someone and then discovering they are someone else entirely. This happened to me at the Elephant Nature Park at the very end of our stay there. I was approached by one elephant I thought I recognised yet as she walked very close to me she stopped and eyeballed me. Whammo, there was a sudden connection and I realised this was not an Elephant I had met before. She was giving me the once over, deciding if I was friend or foe I presume. She moved on so I must have passed muster, leaving me standing there with my mouth open at the exchange. Never assume that people know you, you have to connect with them deeply to be remembered. Think about how you can truly connect with your audience, be prepared to have them stop you and look you in the eye to see if you are the person they think you are.

The magical two days we spent with the elephants will forever be a highlight in our lives, one which will, like the memory of an elephant, not be forgotten easily, I hope you have enjoyed these tips.

Trekking camps, street beggars and circus acts use an elephant until it can no longer make money, then they discard them, chain them up and forget them. Some are lucky enough to make it to a rehabilitation centre like the one we visited. So if you do get the chance to travel to Thailand here are two suggestions to meet these amazing creatures knowing you are not causing them harm:

Never ride an Elephant.

1. Much as you might think your weight won’t matter, you are most likely just one of hundreds of people piled onto this elephant’s back every day of the year. Many trekking camps leave the chair on them day and night causing deformed spines, they chain them and beat them into submission, not allowing the elephant to rest, eat or tend to their babies.

2. Choose your camp well. Ask about their sustainable treatment of the animals, if they have a vet on site, if they chain their elephants or allow their mahouts to use spikes or hooks. The elephant industry in Thailand supports many families who would otherwise go hungry, but you can decide which mahouts get paid the most income by choosing camps with staff that look after the elephants instead of beating them into submission.

If you want to be really sure, go and stay overnight at the Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand and spend valuable time sharing time and space with elephants you know are being treated kindly. Here is the website http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

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