Hair has always been a big part of my life. From an early age, I was a believer in the Suzanne Sugerbaker philosophy: “The higher the hair, the closer to God.” And I’ve done it all: perm my hair like Annie, bleach my hair like a Bay Watch girl, even cut my hair like a 40-year-old soap opera star…when I was 10. My hair should be a national hero for what it’s endured.
However, the person best known for their hair has never even suffered through the nasal-cavity-melting torture of perm solution. Nope, it’s that fella we call The Donald. We all know he could easily change his look, but for better or worse, he owns that hair. It’s become part of his personal brand. And no one understands how to sell himself like Donald Trump.
It’s going to sound crazy, but Donald Trump’s hair sort of inspired Pea Green Solutions. Allow me to explain…
Several years ago, I joined the mysterious world of crowns and gowns owned by Mr. Trump — the Miss USA pageant system — as regional producer. My job was to recruit young women from all over North Florida to compete for a chance to ultimately become Miss Universe. That was the experience we were selling, but truthfully, there were a FEW steps in between.
First, you pay me $350. Then you have to beat 20 girls to win the local pageant. Then you have to beat 50 girls to win the state pageant. Then you have to beat 50 girls to win the national pageant. Then you have to beat 75 girls from around the world to win Miss Universe. Uh, yeah…
Once a girl won at the local level, we had a year to prepare her for the state competition. Crazy as the chances were, being the competitive person that I am, I wanted my queens to go all the way. The problem was I knew nothing about how the pageant system owned by NBC and Donald Trump actually worked.
Even still, I’m a quick study and I figured there had to be more to winning this contest than a plastic smile and a willingness to wear a swimsuit and high heels on TV. I knew nothing about pageants, but I understood marketing. Our new titleholders were each unique, beautiful, and well-spoken. So what if we “packaged” each girl with her own personal brand?
In order to accomplish this, I started with “Tell me about yourself.” Unless you’re truly prepared for this question, it’s the hardest to respond to effectively. We talked for a long time as they rambled on and on about their vital statistics (i.e. hometown, age, parents’ and siblings’ names, grade in school, etc.) before we eventually talked about specific characteristics that embodied the essence of who they were.
In the corporate world, this process was sort of like a features/benefits analysis. “Features” are those things like price, time, location, etc. “Benefits” are why those things matter to you. Similarly, in this process, we were looking for traits that made each girl stand-out and would resonate with their audience. These qualities helped us build their “brand character.”
One girl was the “Spunky, All-American, Entrepreneur”, the other an “Exotic, Community Service-Oriented, Princess”, and finally, we had the “Beautiful, Hilarious, Beach Girl”. Obviously, no one can be completely summarized in three words. However, it helps to have a lens through which you can see yourself.
From their speeches to their wardrobe (don’t forget the butt glue!) to their presence on stage, everything connected back to their brand. The ladies embraced this philosophy and worked hard to prepare. As the time quickly approached for the competition, I started to worry that my lack of “pageant knowledge” could end up hurting our Queen Team, but it was too late to turn back.
Our first victory came at the beginning of the show, when all three of our representatives made it to the Top 15. I felt proud to know we’d done enough to get them into the final round of competition. You can’t ask for more than that, right?
At the end of the night, they narrowed the field to 5. The first name called was Exotic Princess. We couldn’t believe it! Our Tallahassee queen was standing in the final five!
Then they called out Sexy Blond from Central Florida. Bummer.
Then they called out Luscious Latina from Miami. Bummer, again.
Then they called out Beautiful Beach Girl. Woohoo!
When the final name was called I could barely breathe. I almost missed it when they said Spunky Entrepreneur was the last finalist. That’s right. All three of our representatives made it to the top 5.
And the fourth runner-up is…Luscious Latina!
And the third runner-up is…Sexy Blonde!
And finally, the only ladies left standing on stage holding hands were our three North Florida queens. It didn’t matter who took what spot, we knew we had the winner.
And the second runner-up is…Exotic Princess!
And first runner-up is…Beautiful Beach Girl!
And the winner is…Spunky Entrepreneur!
Not only did our Spunky All-American Entrepreneur take home the state title, she went all the way to the top 5 at Miss USA — the first time a Florida titleholder had done that in 20 years.
So, yes, the process of branding our titleholders worked. In fact, the following year four of the top five at the state competition were our “girls”, including the winner, who also landed in the top five at the national competition, a feat not accomplished since we retired.
This is a long-winded story to tell you how I realized my biggest strength. I had been directing the marketing efforts at the financial institution where I worked for several years, but we’d been around 60+ years. The company already had a brand when I got there, so I had never gone through the painstaking process of breaking down the elements of a product and creating the brand from the ground up.
This “pageant world” experience entirely changed my way of thinking about the creative process. It’s never too late to re-invent yourself (just ask Trump). Whether you’re company has been around 60 years or 60 days, you’ve got to discover who you really are and OWN IT.
I also matured personally and professionally in a way only this circumstance could allow. I learned that marketing is not about personal glory. It’s about winning as a team and getting the best possible end result for your client.
And most importantly, I learned that your hair always looks better when you come home wearing a tiara. The Donald taught me that.
Now, go win your crown, and make your competition pea green with envy.