June M. Archer is a C-suite executive and visionary growth driver, navigating the complexities in consumer products and retail. Known as the “Master Puzzle Maker,” she connects the pieces to take iconic brands to new heights. She has a revenue and profit-growth legacy with companies such as Bloomingdale’s, Disney, Godiva, and Sesame Street.
As a barrier-breaking leader and inspirational people connector, June turns strategic vision into balance sheet outcomes. She does this by linking organizational systems to strategy and uniting inspired teams across functions. She quickly identifies and capitalizes on high-potential opportunities in markets and demographics, leveraging deep consumer empathy and a big-picture perspective.
June was educated at Princeton University and earned professional certificates from the Wharton School and Northwestern. She is a prolific public speaker, board member, mentor, and coach. Her influence, guidance, and thought leadership impact businesses and organizations as well as the lives of students, professionals, founders, and executives. When she’s not balancing her left and right brain grappling with business complexity, you might find her making elaborate recipes.
Barb: Our guest today is June Archer, a retail and consumer products expert who worked her way up from an executive trainee to the C suite. Along the way she learned that no one cares about what you know until they know who you are and what you stand for. She believes the process of developing a personal brand is about understanding our values and unique attributes—our strengths, skills, and passions—and leveraging them to differentiate us from others. She often speaks to large groups, sharing how developing her brand transformed her own story and helping women think about ways to create and strengthen their own brand.
June: Thank you Dr. Barb, I’m so grateful for being with you today.
Barb: Yes, I think this is a really interesting topic. I think women will be interested to hear more about it. Can you start by telling us what you mean when you talk about a personal brand?
June: Absolutely. And thanks for starting here because when I speak to people in broad settings or one-on-one, I really like to create a common ground for the word brand. It’s used a lot, and I think it’s often misused. So it’s great to clear this up from the beginning. It’s a little involved, so just stay with me if you don’t mind. Okay?
Barb: Of course!
June: Okay. So let’s create a context. In today’s world I think the context is multidimensional. Things are not so simple anymore. Any brand, whether it’s a company or person, has the same foundation. It’s a core emotional value or identity that differentiates it from other people or companies. And then there’s a promise connected to that—an expectation—that that core value is going to happen. It’s going to be delivered. The piece that starts to get it more complicated is that it also includes the perceptions and the conversations that people are having about it, and how those things spread.
Drilling down, your personal brand is just that. It’s that collection of thoughts, feelings, and experiences that you leave with people. It is the “who you are,” not the “what you do.”
Barb: I’m processing that. So it’s the “who you are.” Okay.
June: Not the “what you do.” There’s a quote that’s often attributed to Jeff Bezos that states, “Your brand is what others say about you when you are not in the room.” I’m probably going to refer to that more than once as we chat.
Just to round out this idea, I also want to enforce that the best brands—again, personal brands, companies—are the ones that strongly connect with people through their stories, through bringing those unique differentiated attributes to life. The key is that they are authentic, consistent—that consistency is what really develops trust and credibility over time—and you know we like to talk about owning your story. Well, those good brands and good personal brands, they do. They own their story versus letting other people tell it.
Barb: I guess I’m a little bit intrigued by this idea of the brand being really who you are, but then you also talk about creating a brand. So, are you able to create something that might be not completely consistent with who you are? Or is it a matter of creating or building upon what you understand is the core of who you are?
June: Those are such great words to bring up. I like to talk about personal brand, and the process being discovery. Discovery because it’s about getting at what’s already there. Getting at the “who you are” that is already there. You are probably going down the wrong path if you are trying to create that. If you are going to try to imitate others or package yourself up in some way, that gets to be being inauthentic and it really doesn’t work over time because it’s just not credible.
The real process of getting at your personal brand is about discovering where you are, what is that core value that drives you that you can then elevate and communicate? Now, what you can create—and this is a good distinction to make—what you can create are those “branding” elements—the visual elements like logos and graphics—those are things that you can create. You can also create your marketing and communication and public relations—all of those activities that are really involved in supporting the brand—those can be created. When you are working on your personal brand, I focus on that being about discovery.
Barb: That makes sense. Yes, that makes sense to me. And I think when you talk with women or work with them you ask them to think about what makes them different and memorable. Give an example. Or maybe you can tell us about your own experience of discovering that.
June: Oh boy [laughs].
Barb: [laughs] Is that a fair question?
June: It’s a great question! I just have to say that it was challenging for me. I finally got there. When I think about being memorable, I think about that for myself in terms of how do I make a difference, and how do I add value? So my personal brand, Dr. Barb, is Master Puzzlemaker. I am known for being a visionary. I’m a strategist. I begin with the end in mind. I really quickly figure out how all the moving pieces fit together, and I really like offering fresh perspectives in thinking about things. I’m a connector, a people connector, and I like to think I’m a pretty good communicator, and I’ve been told that I inspire and motivate people. Particularly in business, this is around driving change and enabling decision making. The last bit is I really have to own that I’m a barrier breaker. I’m a barrier-breaking leader. I have a bias for action. I have a bias for results, and I think part of that is being a good listener, and the other side is knowing when to challenge and when to push back.
That’s my brand and those are the descriptors or the attributes that I talk about when I’m really sharing who I am and what makes me unique.
Barb: When is it or what was it that made you recognize that it was going to be important for you and maybe your career to be deliberate about identifying a brand? I guess I’m just thinking personally, I understand that; in MiddlesexMD we talk about brand, but in general I think most of us just move forward doing what we think we do well and don’t think too much about the need to call it a brand or develop it further. What was it that made that important or why should other women think about really being deliberate and intentional around that?
June: There’s usually something that happens, right [laughs], that forces us in a direction. So I call it a trigger, and I had a really big one. From there I went on and took like three really big steps that were very distinct. So what was this trigger? [laughs] In the fall of… what was it… probably 2014, I was at a networking event. And I met this lovely woman, and I immediately went on and on about how I hate talking about myself and how I really disliked attending networking events. She just looked at me really quizzically, and she’s very sweet, and she said, “June, you seem like such a social person, and what you are saying just doesn’t line up with my impression.”
Ah. Ding Ding. So she said, “Have you ever heard of Landmark?” And I quickly responded, “Oh yeah, yeah. I’ve heard of them. I’m not interested. I don’t have any interest in sitting around and talking about my feelings with a bunch of people.” One thing led to another, and you probably can figure out where this went. I ended up doing the entire Landmark curriculum over the next year. Landmark is a learning and development organization. It’s a personal development organization. Finishing up that curriculum was my big, first step. And it was absolutely pivotal.
Next I really sought out people to support me in this idea of how do I build relationships that I really want? And how do I communicate differently? And how do I line up this thing, you know? I have this idea about myself, but other people see me very differently. So I worked with a personal brand coach, and he really dug with me and helped me get to that idea of what is my core value. We worked on words for my brand and attributes, and how to communicate that, and how to feel comfortable.
And I think the last piece for me really is that I’m living that, and I really am so much more comfortable leading with the who I am versus the credentials and, you know, those things people don’t really care about.
Barb: Yeah. I know exactly what you mean. I think about some experiences throughout my career too where I’m kind of nodding right now saying, “Oh yes. I understand that.” I think most of us just don’t find the situations that push us to be as intentional as you have obviously been. But it’s an intriguing thing to think about better understanding that.
June: Yeah. You know, there’s another big ah-ha moment I had when I was interviewing for a position, and I thought I was really ready and just going to completely blow everyone out of the water. It was really the biggest career position of my entire life. It really was. I talked to this brand coach about my prep and he said, “You know, you’re not going to get that job.” Now if you can imagine, this is the night before the interview. [laughs]
June: He just ripped me apart and he’s like “It’s not going to work.” So he very quickly—because we didn’t have a lot of time—he expressed and explained that, “They have your resume, June. They don’t need you to talk about you did this and you built that business. You’re asking to be on this executive team to a five billion dollar company. Those 12 people in that room want to know how you are going to relate to them. Who you are as a human being.” And he said, “You know what? That’s an emotional thing. That’s your brand. And you’ve got to own this.”
So many more hours went by, I didn’t get a lot of sleep. [laughs]
Barb: Of course. [laughs] I can’t wait to hear the end of this story. [laughs]
June: Well you know, it was really rough because I was way out of my comfort zone. You know, like way out on that limb that they say where the skinny branches are. And I got a call back from the head hunter that afternoon, and he said, “Oh, great job! Blah blah blah.” He said, “June, it’s a unanimous decision. You got the job.”
Barb: Wow, how fortuitous that you had the conversation the day before.
June: Yes. Yes.
Are there women we might all know in business or entertainment that come to mind as examples of people who have authentic intentional brand?
June: Yes. There are. And I think that that’s a really good question because when I talk about this sometimes it’s really conceptual, and to bring it down to earth, so like, “Okay, give me some examples.” There are three that I like to use, and I want to really credit my dear friend and personal brand guru—his name is Rich Keller—for advancing this notion that when you can communicate one core value or, in essence one word, you’re really doing a great job in getting people connected to your personal brand. So, that’s how I’m going to talk about these examples.
They all have a word or a phrase that they are known for. Like mine is Master Puzzlemaker. Misty Copeland, she’s a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre, and her word is “will.” Are you familiar with her?
June: Yes. She’s so dynamic. So her word is “will.” What’s her story? She started really late in life. She’s black. She was told she has the wrong body type. She only trained four years before turning pro. Well none of that got in her way. Yet what I found to be so compelling about her is that she’s so clear and intentional about her personal brand that she’s using it to filter who she collaborates with and the brand that she allows to partner with her. She did a campaign with Under Armour. Under Armour really really gets—obviously—physicality, fitness, and athleticism which is you know, again, that’s the “who she is.”
Barb: Yes. I’ve seen her big on their walls in their retail stores!
June: Yeah. It’s brilliant! And it’s so smart, and she gets such credit. The campaign is called “I will what I want.” How smart is that!
Okay, the next one is Serena Williams. We all know her. She’s this amazing tennis player. She’s probably, what, considered the greatest player in the open era, right? Her one word is “warrior.” And I know she can be polarizing, yet this woman is so authentic. I don’t know if you remember the flack that she took after the French Open last year? She wore this black cat suit. When she was talking about it, she said, “Hey, I felt like a warrior in that. I felt like a warrior princess.” She went on to say that this suit, it really represents what she’s been through, and what all women sometimes go through with tough physical and mental challenges. And she wants to inspire women. She wants to give women the sense that they can be confident, and that they can believe in themselves.
Barb: Yes, and a warrior wouldn’t be without some conflict, right? [laughs] I mean the word itself suggests willingness to consider conflict.
June: Totally! But guess what? This is who she is, and she’s a young girl. This is like one of the most authentically, personally, you know, branded people out there. And she’s involved in so many different activities beyond tennis. And that warrior brand is present. It’s there at the core of everything.
The last one—I particularly love this one because it sort of unfolded right there on video in front of us—it’s Brené Brown. She’s a really popular researcher, and she’s a professor at the University of Houston. I’m sure you know of her, right?
Barb: Yes, author.
June: Yes, she’s got five books now. It’s amazing. Her words are “researcher storyteller.” As I said, I love this example because she talks about discovering her brand right there in her first TED Talk about vulnerability. She tells a story that she was doing an event, and the event planner was promoting it and wanted to call her a storyteller versus researcher because the event planner said, “No one’s going to come if we call you a researcher. That’s really boring.” So she said, “I’m going to call you a storyteller.” And that was the impression that Brené Brown had made on that woman, you know storyteller.
June: So it was in that moment that all of a sudden Brené Brown discovered that she had a brand, but it wasn’t of her own making. Back to the Jeff Bezos comment, right? So she goes on to explain that she really resisted, and then she uses her phrase where she called on her courage and she settled on “researcher storyteller.” It’s so funny because the planner says, “Well there’s no such thing as that.” [laughs]
Barb: [laughs] Now there is!
June: Right! Exactly. And so Brené Brown has gone on to really reconcile that there’s a perception of her that she brought in, and there’s who she feels she’s at her core in this researcher storyteller combination, and she’s gone on, as we know, to live that brand and really make such a difference in so many people’s lives. I like those three as really strong examples. But they are all pretty different as well.
Barb: As you’re working through the process of creating and strengthening and developing your brand, is it helpful to include others who know you to contribute, as in the example you just gave, their impression of who you are?
June: I actually think that’s the only way you can do it, Dr. Barb. You just really have to embrace that you are not an island—is that the phrase? We are social beings, and as such, we impact people. We impact their emotions, good, bad, or indifferent. And that impact is expressed in how people relate to us. So if you’re going to take this on, if you’re going to dive into this discovery, it’s a must to include people, and I talk about that with people, and they say, oh, how do I do this? There’s a process you can certainly go through, but including people in your network, in your life, kind of, I say, connect the dots across your life, pull people in, that’s the only way you really get to this sense of, what is this core value that you have that you want to express.
Barb: Sure. And in general, do you think a brand should stay constant? Or would you expect it to evolve?
June: Constant? Or evolution? Okay, I’m pretty… I have a hard stance on this, and I think most people in the world of brands and marketing do, and it’s that authentic brands are constant over time. You know, Serena Williams; I use that example. The core value that’s there should not change, and that’s really how a brand remains credible and builds equity, if we think about it. Whereas I think really good brands do embrace change, and what they do is figure out how to remain relevant without compromising their core value. When I create this context, I think evolving means really finding new ways to express your core value, telling your story.
Barb: Sure, sure, that makes sense.
June: Telling your story in a different way, to keep people interested, and you always have to be bringing, hopefully, new ones into your story.
Barb: Most of our listeners and the women I encounter are midlife, we’ll say, 40 and over, 50 and over. How could learning about a woman’s personal brand help them?
June: For me, and I think this is something to consider, your personal brand is an asset. We all like assets, right? Positive assets. So use it! Figure out what’s important to you, and leverage that asset. So, you mentioned midlife. I think no matter where you are in life, your network is one of your most valuable resources; I mentioned that earlier in my whole brand discovery. I really learned that if I wanted to maintain my network and build my network I had to connect with people emotionally, through my core values. So, that can be very valuable as people go through different stages, continuing to maintain a network and building it.
This idea of reinvention: If that’s an option, I also know that your brand, your personal brand, is a very powerful filter for life choices, because you are making those choices based on really having a deep understanding of who you are. Those choices can be made with much greater clarity and I hope satisfaction. I think women often—or at least the women in my circle, I’ll be specific—we talk about second-guessing ourselves, and having a lot of regret around major choices.
Barb: I do hear that a lot. It’s interesting you say that. I hear that.
June: Yes! Wishing that we could limit all of the external influences and I think about that a lot. I think about being able to stand squarely in this clear understanding and being able to communicate, I am making this choice based on who I am. Boom, boom, boom, whatever those things are. I guarantee it starts to put us in a much more comfortable place—and I say “us” specifically women—and I think that it also can mitigate a lot of those very harmful emotions that are just very challenging and weighty.
This is another tool that I think is one that we don’t often think about until it happens. It’s my last point on this question. I don’t know about you, Dr. Barb, but when someone used to ask me, tell me about yourself, I had this immediate sense of dread. Just dread. And most people that I talk to say the same thing. And wow, what a gift to give yourself! Because you’ll have an answer to this question, tell me about yourself! Now I’m very comfortable: tell me about yourself. Well, I’m a retail and consumer products expert. I’m known as Master Puzzlemaker, and that’s about me being a visionary and a people connector and a barrier-breaking leader. And then if they want to hear more, because they’re curious, well, I have more to say. But wow, there you are, fully exposed, in a really positive way. And you did it all in less than 30 seconds!
Barb: Yes, yes. It’s intriguing and I can’t imagine exactly how challenging it would be to be able to kind of encapsulate. I’m thinking about the challenge ahead to try and be more intentional about that.
Can you list a resource or how someone might explore this further if they wanted to take a next step?
June: Sure. I think the first way to take the next step or if someone is curious is to start with figuring out your core value, because that’s really the brand foundation. We talked about this just a few minutes ago. Getting feedback from other people is, I think, the best way to start. It’s fun, it’s easy, you can do something more formal, which would be creating a little questionnaire or downloading one, or you can just have informal conversations. What you’re really after is asking people what they think about you. What words come to mind that describe you. Sometimes asking can they compare you to someone or something and why is fun.
Beyond that, there are just tons of resources, Dr. Barb. If you want to go down a do-it-yourself route, Google is a great place. Google “personal brand.” I like to suggest online self-assessments because they are a nice way to ease into this thing of “Oh, my gosh. Who am I?” That sounds overwhelming. These self-assessments, some are free, paid, more formal, less formal, you have to figure out what works for you. Some of them are actually pretty fun too. It’s just a simple way to get the ball rolling and get your juices flowing. Myers Briggs is another really good example.
There is a brand workbook from Price Waterhouse Coopers [PwC] that’s a free resource that I like to refer people to; it’s a little more comprehensive, yet it does a nice job of providing a template so you don’t have to figure out the maze of all of this. And there are other websites, like Personalbrand.com, which I think is very credible. You kind of have to dig around and find things that speak to you individually because we’re all so different.
Barb: Sure. Well thank you! In conclusion with our time together, June, I’m wondering if you’d share personally, where do you find richness at this stage of your life?
June: I love that phrase, “find richness.” I would like to think I have a lot of running room left, and I’m still finding that richness. I’m still working on what speaks to me and what’s important to me, so that would be my big answer. Underneath that what is really important to me right now is what I call “be the difference.” These are my words. Be the difference. Be the difference for people who are important to me, and be the difference for whatever I choose to take on.
Barb: Those are great words to conclude our time together. It think it would be good marching orders for all of us to take that to heart and to look around us. I think in today’s world, it’s a nice consideration to live into.
June: Yes. It’s a challenging concept, right? There’s another quote, and I’ll just say this because it also resonates with me. It’s from Yoda. He’s the Jedi master in the Star Wars movie. He usually speaks in a backwards way. It’s such a powerful quote, and it’s always bouncing around in my head. The quote is “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Barb: You’ve done it well.
June: Thank you for that. [laughs]
Barb: Thank you for our time together! I really appreciate you taking the time and I find this really interesting, and I think our listeners will as well.
June: This has been really fun, Dr. Barb. I really appreciate you reaching out, and I appreciate what you are doing to give women a lot of information from different perspectives and corners of the world, so great work!