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Lessons from big brands to apply to your personal brand

By Amy Laski, President, Felicity [Inspiring Communications]


Most of us watch with curiosity when big brands face controversy or initiate change. We wonder what it will do to the brand’s reputation and how it will impact public opinion. But, there are also great lessons we can garner from these brands — as well as those who seem to retain a leadership position over time — in terms of how we conduct ourselves and shape our personal brands. In the age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, the personal brand is more important than ever. The way we present ourselves, and share our values and practices with the world, all contribute to our individual brands. For every big brand win—and loss—there’s always a lesson to be learned.


The brand: Target

The lesson: Know your audience and adapt your actions accordingly.

Whether you’re opening up a large retail chain in a new country or presenting yourself (online or in real life) in front of a new audience, know that one size does not fit all. US big box retailer Target learned this the hard way when they entered the Canadian market using an American roadmap. The results, as we can all recall, didn’t leave a great impression of the brand in this country.


The brand: McDonald’s

The lesson: There’s great value in transparency.


As we advise our clients in media training, the more honest you can be, the better. In this day and age, everything comes to the surface eventually, so it’s better if it comes from you. Take a lesson from fast-food giant McDonald’s Canada and its “Our Food. Your Questions.” campaign that launched in 2012, giving people a chance to ask the company anything about its food and receive truthful answers on public-facing website. From our experience, saying “no comment” translates directly to, “I’ve got something to hide.” Take the high road and be truthful. Even if some of what you’re revealing isn’t always flattering, the overall impression of honesty will go a long way.


The brand: US-based sporting good retailer REI

The lesson: Let your values come to life through your actions.

This one is still playing out, but essentially, REI (the equivalent of Canadian brand MEC) announced its stores would not be open to shoppers on Black Friday, encouraging its employees and customers instead to #OptOutside. The decision garnered widespread media attention and an overall positive response (except for this slight hiccup). By boldly staying closed on the biggest shopping day of the year, REI is showing customers it can really walk the talk. It’s one thing to talk about your values, and quite another to live them, even if doing so is risky.



The Brand: Nike

The Lesson: Just do it!

This one never goes out of style. It’s not so much a comment on the company or their products as it is what the global athletic brand stands for. Nike’s famous epithet is a reminder to all of us not to let perfect be the enemy of good. The need for perfection can be crippling. As such there’s great value in taking the first step—even when failure is possible. That’s where the real learning begins.


The Brand: Toyota

The Lesson: Small improvements have big impact.

Applying Toyota’s operational philosophy, the “Kaizen” effect—which in Japanese means “good” (zen) “change” (kai)—to your personal brand can be quite powerful. Like the automotive company that’s committed to continuous improvement, even if you work on improving something everyday by 1%, eventually your improvements will add up to 100%.This way of working has been a key driver of the company’s long-term success and something we can all learn from.


A personal brand is never static. Every move you make, personally and professionally, contributes to the evolution of your brand. As you observe brands large and small in their evolution, always be thinking about how you personally can apply their learnings.


Amy Laski is founder and president of Felicity [Inspiring Communications], an award-winning virtual integrated communications and public relations agency, where clients pay for brains, not bricks. Teams are comprised of seasoned communicators driven by business minds, and are custom-tailored with the right experts based on client needs. Felicity partners with clients to leverage public relations in support of their overall business strategies, to optimize reputation, inspire action, and drive bottom-line results. Felicity associates thrive on doing challenging work within a flexible work arrangement. Happy workers = happy clients. For more information about Felicity, go to


Prior to starting Felicity, Amy was the Public Affairs Manager for Sparkling Beverages at Coca-Cola Canada. She led the first-ever Canadian efforts to improve the Company’s reputation in the area of well being. Amy honed her skills at two of Canada’s leading public relations agencies, working on brands such as as Listerine Mouthwash, Polysporin, Benylin, Rolaids, Visine, Reactine, Queen’s School of Business, Tropicana, Quaker, Gatorade, Viagra, LG Electronics and Bausch & Lomb. She is a recipient of multiple industry awards, and is a graduate of The Richard Ivey School of Business at The University of Western Ontario.