Digital/Online Marketing Communications Strategy

Stephen Hawking: Celebrity Scientist with a Stellar Personal Brand

By on March 22, 2018 in communications strategy with 0 Comments

Stephen Hawking in wheelchair on stageWhen Stephen Hawking died earlier this month the world lost its most famous living scientist.

He was both a brilliant mind and a rabble rouser in the field of theoretical physics. That’s not exactly what you’d call a popular science. Yet Hawking was a pop icon. So much so that he, and/or his computer synthesized voice, appeared in commercials and TV shows including The Simpsons, Futurama and Big Bang Theory.

Hawking investigated complex subjects — black holes, gravity and cosmology — and brought them down to earth so that we could all ponder our place in the universe.

He wrote several best-selling books, including A Brief History of Time, which sold more than 10 million copies. He espoused the “theory of everything” yet you don’t need to know anything about that to know who Hawking was or what he looked like. He once quipped: “The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognized. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away.”

A stellar personal brand

Hawking’s immense scientific prowess is indisputable. He knew a lot about marketing, too, especially personal branding. His eventful life and colorful personality inspired two biographical documentaries and two movies: The Theory of Everything (for which Eddie Redmayne won an Academy Award for best actor) and the BBC drama Hawking.

Of course, you needn’t be a genius to pick up personal branding tips from this witty and eloquent man. Here are four ways to follow his lead:

Be remarkable

To be remarkable is to be worthy of attention or notice. It’s more than being a short-term trending topic or catchy clickbait. It means doing things that have a genuine impact that are worth talking about. Hawking personified this is many ways.

He refused to let a debilitating neurodegenerative disease; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease; determine what he could achieve. Despite being confined to a wheelchair he visited every continent. Losing the ability for natural speech never stopped Hawking from doing interviews or offering his thoughts for films, lectures and videos.

He was an inspiration for the capacity to overcome challenges.

Do the unexpected

One way to be remarkable is to do something surprising that catches people’s attention.

Hawking’s lifespan was unexpected: When first diagnosed with ALS, at age 21, doctors said he had about two years to live. He proudly proved that prognosis wrong by a long shot and died at age 76.

Hawking rode in a submarine and took a zero-gravity flight, which is unusual for most anyone, let alone someone with severe physical impairment. He embarked on these adventures for his own fulfillment and to dispel notions of what people with disabilities are capable of achieving.

Stephen Hawking on zero-gravity flight

Have an atypical outlook

Having a personal brand means standing out from the crowd. You need bold ideas that instill a sense of authority and thought leadership.

Hawking upended longstanding scientific beliefs and was unafraid to stir up controversy. He made groundbreaking discoveries pertaining to black holes (they’re not empty, after all) and he used mathematical and physics models to prove the universe has no spacetime boundary.

He said it was rational to believe there is intelligent alien life in the universe and that if advanced aliens were to visit earth they would be looking to conquer and exploit our planet. Of course, it’s a big deal when a world-renowned scientist whose life work involves studying the cosmos makes that kind of comment. The idea that aliens exist is often seen as far-fetched sci-fi fantasy. Hawking disagreed. His comments made for headlines around the world, and once again this one-of-a kind personality shook up scientific and popular opinion.

Be about something bigger than yourself

Your brand may be personal but if you want maximum impact you need to be part of a larger community. It pays to have passion and purpose beyond your own achievements.

A prominent advocate for people with disabilities, Hawking worked to raise awareness of ALS as well as for the assistive technologies that enabled him to communicate after he lost his voice. “Without this technology, I would be mute, a prisoner inside my own mind. I would not be able to ask for a cup of tea, let alone describe my no-boundary theory of how the universe began,” he said. “Because I have had such phenomenal technological support, I feel a responsibility to speak for others who have not.”

Hawking was intensely inquisitive. By example, and in his own words, he encouraged us all to keep learning and to strive for personal improvement: “Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious, and however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

Hawking made a point to present his material in an accessible manner. He wasn’t interested in simply speaking to his peers. His best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, ends with this quote about the origin of the universe: “If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist.” The man knew what he did benefited the whole of human knowledge. He wanted us to share in the spectacular.

At this time we now say R.I.P., Mr. Hawking. While the universe lost a star you will forever shine bright.

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About the Author

About the Author: Deni Kasrel is seasoned (slightly spicy) specialist in digital/online communications. .

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