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A Conversation With … Jane Melvin MBA, Branding Expert, on Why You Shouldn’t Build a Personal Brand

Leopold, Seth S. MD1

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Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research: August 2022 - Volume 480 - Issue 8 - p 1431-1434
doi: 10.1097/CORR.0000000000002289
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What do McDonalds, The Big Ten Conference, Discovery Communications, JDRF, Shake Shack, and the American Medical Association (AMA) have in common?

The answer is that it’s the wrong question—it’s not “what” do they have in common, but “whom.” The answer to that question is Jane Melvin MBA, business consultant and founder of Strategic Innovations Group. Before that, she was a senior vice president at Olive Garden and the first international marketing leader at Starbucks Coffee International. She’s helped each of those organizations—and dozens of others—do what they do, better.

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Jane Melvin MBA

I’ve been fortunate to get to know Ms. Melvin, as she recently joined CORR’s Board of Trustees as our first nonphysician member. Our Board of Trustees is a phenomenally capable but decidedly behind-the-scenes group. Within a few minutes of getting to know her, I knew I needed to find a way to put her in front of the readership—you—in a more direct way, because she has so much to share. “A Conversation With…” is the perfect venue for this, so you can spend more time with her words than mine.

Everyone in practice would like to find a way to convey to patients what makes us special; Ms. Melvin’s special skill is doing just that. But when I asked her about “personal brands,” she quickly corrected me. In the interview that follows, you’ll see why helping clients “crystalize who they are, articulate what they do, and find ways to do it better” [2] is not the same thing as creating a personal brand, and why that difference matters. Still, what practice, what surgeon, wouldn’t want to do exactly those things? It comes down to strategy, innovation and transformation, and effective leadership, and Ms. Melvin has good thoughts to share on all those themes, among many others.

Skeptical? I was, too. But she’s won over some pretty hard-bitten capitalists [1], she’s won me over, and I think you’ll love what she has to say. Read on and see why.

Seth S. Leopold MD:OK, school me. What is a personal brand, why shouldn’t a surgeon want to create one, and where should the effort go instead?

Jane Melvin BA, MBA: There are two misleading concepts wrapped up in the notion of “create a personal brand.” The word “brand” seems to have taken on this aura that it’s something different or separate from a product or a person or an enterprise and “create” sounds like you’re making something up.

I would argue that each of us already has a personal brand, whether we like it or not. We each have a truth, a purpose, a set of strengths. Sometimes we don’t know what it is, sometimes we want it to be different, and sometimes we fly under the radar.

A “brand” is the perception that results from the intersection of a great idea, an audience to hear it, and a wonderfully relevant message that connects the idea to the people you want to reach.

Marketing is all about shaping perceptions or changing behaviors. “She’s the best knee surgeon in town” (a perception) or “My shoulder hurts so I just made an appointment to go to Dr. Smith to sort it out” (a behavior).

Your great reputation comes from the people you serve, the skills you bring to bear for your patients, or your research and the results that you get. Can you do something to expand or accelerate the people who feel great about you? Yes. But I don’t think it’s about creating something that doesn’t exist. It’s about discerning the truth of who you are on your best day, what you do that impacts people in a positive way, and what makes you unique or special.

Dr. Leopold:Imagine you’re advising a practice group; they’ve got great surgeons, they work at a good hospital, but they can’t seem to gain a toehold (or a large enough one) in a city filled with larger or more established practices. What are the first few steps they should take to compete more effectively?

Ms. Melvin: I’d recommend starting here: Who are you and what are you here to do? Don’t start with your profession. Start with something far simpler and far more important. Over the past couple of decades in collaborating with physicians on various strategy projects, I am struck by an insight we had at the AMA many years ago—that doctors mostly choose this profession because they want to help patients. So, on top of that, what do you care about? Why are you driven to go to work every day?

Next: Figure out what the people you want to impact already think and do. Pick your focus. What do you want people to do when they hear about you? Change their perception? There are lots of dental practices who tell you it won’t hurt like you think it will. Change a behavior? For some hospitals, they say “come to us for a second opinion.” Smart. They tap into something, highlight the need, and position themselves as the solution, all in one simple phrase.

Then, find a way to speak your truth. It doesn’t have to be clever or buzzy, but it has to be truthful and short. It might be your commitment to your community. It might be you are the most experienced surgeon in your field. It might be that you work on a world-class team. Find the most important thing that makes you take on being a doctor every single day. And make sure you are delivering the best possible way you can.

The next part is the most fun: How do you put in place behaviors in your practice that reinforce what you have identified as your strong suit? If you care about personal service, do you call the patient to see how they are doing after surgery? If you care about referrals, do you have a system that asks people to refer you? If you care about cutting-edge surgical techniques, do you have materials in your office that share the advances that excite you in a way that is relevant to them, or do you have a newsletter for your patients that highlights new things you have learned? Reinforce what you want people to believe in everything you do. These can be little things, but they are the things people remember.

And finally, the last part is to be creative. We live in a time when individuals have an incredible ability to speak directly to large audiences through technology. You can build a following one person at a time or you can buy an audience. If social media isn’t your thing, ask a professional to do an audit of your social media presence. What are you saying or what is being said about you? How can you impact it? Don’t take on becoming a social media content manager but find a way to make sure that the message you want about yourself is out there.

To summarize:

Step 1. Decide to do something about it.

Step 2. Know who you are and know your purpose.

Step 3. Tap into an insight about your aaudience—what is the barrier?

Step 4. Speak your truth. What is it about you that makes you special?

Step 5. Reinforce your message by operationalizing it.

Step 6. Be creative and do something about it.

Dr. Leopold:I’m guessing some folks get hung up somewhere in that sequence. Where in that six-step sequence do you most commonly get the “Jane, we need your help” phone call?

Ms. Melvin: I can't say that it's any one step, but there are three different common times I might hear from someone. A dear friend of mine once said, “I call Jane when I get stuck, and she gets me unstuck.” In that case, it could be at any point in the process. The second one is when people just get to the point when they are unhappy enough with their personal status quo that they want to make a change. The third one happens mid-to-late career when someone begins to think about their own legacy.

Dr. Leopold:Not sure if this ever happens to you, but sometimes when I’ve put into play ideas that should’ve worked, the environment proves more resistant to change than I’d have hoped. Let’s say your suggestions just above don’t make a ripple, or at least not a wave. How do you troubleshoot a good plan that didn’t work?

Ms. Melvin: Great question. The best part about marketing is that unlike medicine, these are not life and death decisions. If you make a mistake, or you try something that doesn’t work, you can always change course. But be careful about what you adjust. If you did a good job on step two and you are really speaking your truth, it may not be that what you are saying is incorrect—it might be that you are not reaching the right people, or you are not doing it in the way that meets your goals.

Think about how you measure success in two dimensions. First, are you even measuring success, and second, how are you measuring it? I measure it this way: If one of my clients (who are usually CEOs and presidents) changes jobs and they don’t call me within the first quarter of their new assignment, I probably didn’t do as well as I wanted to the last time. If they do call, I go out and do a little cha cha by way of reminding myself how happy I am that I met my own success criteria.

What is success to you? Is it the number of new patients you have? Is it your reputation? Recently, I needed a procedure on my knee and I had moved to a new community, so I needed a new doctor. I asked around to four or five people about who was the best knee doctor in town and I got the same name from everyone. How did that happen? I never saw an ad.

Dr. Leopold:Some readers aren’t in lean-and-mean private practices that can turn on a dime, but are instead thoughtful surgeons, clinician-scientists, or clinician-educators in large institutions or university-based systems that at times can feel, ahem, somewhat hidebound. They don’t have access to all the levers they need to achieve big, institutional changes. What tricks can you offer to people like that to maximize both their professional effectiveness and—dream with me—their personal satisfaction in complex systems that don’t yield easily?

Ms. Melvin: The best advice I have is to think about what is in your control. You can share your good ideas and you can be involved in your community separate from your institution. You can deliver a great service to your patients and then ask them to share their experiences. You as a person, not part of a big machine. Show up as an individual.

You can also think about the best way to make small changes that start to add up to more impact. You might not think you have the time to serve on that institutional committee, but if it really matters, could you make the time?

And finally, and this is one I do a lot myself, you can switch up your environment. You may have full-time employment at a large institution that moves frustratingly slowly, but perhaps you can get the energy of a fast-paced environment by going on the board of a start-up or volunteering somewhere. While it may not be directly related to your work, if you can find or invent something where your passions can be unleashed, it will make the stuff that bothers you less important.

Dr. Leopold:You seem like someone who is happiest when she’s connecting people to people, and people to their passions, which seems like a job most effectively done in person. Even when the pandemic becomes an endemic, I’m guessing we’ll still be doing fewer in-person events and more video conferencing. What are your secrets to making effective, deep, human connections via videoconference, whether with clients, mentors, or protégés?

Ms. Melvin: You sure read me right on that one! There are days when I think that Zoom is killing my spirit. I’ve done a huge amount of work on understanding work styles, and I know that my own is one that is best fueled by collaboration and working with others.

I run a lot of strategy sessions and I had to do them on videoconference a lot. One of the pieces I was missing was the ability to check in with how the room was feeling—something I do instinctively and nonverbally when I am doing a session in person. I figured out a way to set up a really quick “survey.” I set up a QR code and put it up on the shared screen so people could click in it from their phone and rate something or push back and then in real time I could share the results.

I’m also a big fan of the chat box as a tool to make sure everyone weighs in. I pose a question to the group, ask everyone to enter their response in the chat but not hit “send” until I say so. When everyone is finished, I ask them to send their responses simultaneously, and then I go around the group and ask each person to share the response. We can all read it but the pause and the chat “list” then provides an orderly and efficient way for everyone to have a voice. Plus, I don’t have to take notes. I just download the chat when the meeting ends.

Dr. Leopold:I forgot to mention in my covering essay that you’re also a championship ballroom dancer. What have you learned from developing a psychomotor, athletic skill to such an advanced degree that has made you more effective in business, and how can those of us who can’t stop stepping on our spouses’ feet when we dance put those same lessons to work?

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“For me, dancing is a metaphor for the good stuff—a celebration of the power of partnership and each other and the best in us.” Published with permission from Jane Melvin MBA.

Ms. Melvin: Best. Question. Ever. Thank you!

At the end of the day, I am in the business of transformation. Ballroom dancing has helped me transform myself, so it’s like continuing education as I help others drive the change they seek. One of the things on my to-do list is to finish writing a book about lessons I’ve learned in the ballroom. There are so many! But I will give you two thoughts.

Ballroom dancing is the ultimate partnership sport. I figured out long ago that even though you call one role a “leader” and one a “follower,” they are equally important, and you can’t do anything without both. My lesson number one in the ballroom: The leader’s job is to provide direction and timing. But once you do, the follower’s job is to make it happen. Can you think of anything more relevant to business? I can’t.

My lesson number two is something coaches say to us all the time: “Dance your part, then dance your partnership.” Again, so relevant to work and life! You have to be great at what you do and deliver every single time. If the people you work with do the same, you can begin to take advantage of the exponential power of partnership and accomplish thing together you could never do on your own.

So how do you put a lesson to work? First, you have to take one. The longer we live, the more convenient (and often lucrative) it is to create and settle into patterns or roles. Force yourself to fight it a little. Don’t get too stuck in your routine. Try something new. Keep challenging yourself. Find ways to connect what you love with what you get paid for. Always remember that humans were not built to exist or grow alone. We need each other. And I think the most important lesson of these last couple of years is that we were not engineered to go to all these funerals without the weddings, babies, and graduations. For me, dancing is a metaphor for the good stuff—a celebration of the power of partnership and each other and the best in us. So, we’re back where we started. If you know who you are and what matters most, you have the platform on which to build your brand. It isn’t changing who you are, it’s amplifying who you are at your best and what you care about.

References

1. Strategic Innovations Group Inc. Results with integrity. Available at https://www.strategicinn.com/results-with-integrity. Accessed on February 16, 2022.
2. Strategic Innovations Group Inc. What we do. Available at https://www.strategicinn.com/what-we-do-1. Accessed on February 16, 2022.
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