What Keanu Reeves Can Teach us About Personal Branding

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Shenee is a writer, designer, photographer and pop culture curator. She recently founded You’ll Look Great. She tweets. Mostly about writing, music and 90’s kids movies @sheneeh. She also blogs.

Keanu Reeves. The man. The myth. The subject of many drinking games. He’s known for his stoic gaze and monotone voice. For a lot of people this is considered a negative but I think there is value in what the man does. He’s solid. Don’t like Keanu? You wouldn’t be a movie ticket to one of his movies. He’s built a image based on reliability and consistency with the occasional pleasant surprise. Sound familiar? Starbucks or Apple, anyone? He’s built the perfect personal brand and we can learn something from his career highs and lows.

6 Lessons on Branding from Keanu Reeves

Fill a role

He plays variations of himself in every movie he stars in. So, a casting agent needs an A-list actor to play an out of touch, emotionally dead but likeable character? Keanu gets a call.

Lesson to learn: Fill a void. Be that person who is the go-to person for a very specific service. Maybe you have a knack for hand-drawn type or resume design. If an Art Director needs someone to create some original artwork for an editorial spread ( or a new resume) you become the person to call.

Do one thing really well

He has (knowingly or not) embraced the typecast he has been given. His detached acting style makes for a perfect cop, alien and confused “Chosen One.”

Lesson to learn:If you are a killer illustrator, immerse yourself in illustrative work. Develop a body of work that has a distinct style and point of view. Provide tutorials, design freebies and inspirations for people to look at. It goes hand in hand with filling a void.

Make your mark everywhere

His resume is all over the place. He has been on every type of movie. We won’t comment on the validity of these films for the purpose of this article but you see what I am getting at. He has starred in everything from romantic comedies to big action blockbusters. All of his movies have his distinctive acting style attached.

Lesson to learn: When creating a brand, take your killer signature style on the road. Don’t just do websites. Design greetings cards or cover letters. Everything you produce should look like “you.” Once you establish that signature style, you can expand into other things. The stronger you build your brand, the easier you make it to expand later.

Do that one big thing

Sometimes it only takes one big decision to get things started. Matrix was a big movie. Speed was a big movie. He would still have a place in the pop-culture dialog if he only starred in any of these movies.

Lesson to learn: Do something big. Join up with a group or develop a big project with your name attached. Create a blog or infographic that will circulate throughout the design community. Spend time on designing ( or writing ) something high quality and useful that is so good that it will always be floating around somewhere. Think of some of the articles and imagery that constantly pops up on FFFFFOUND or twitter.

Be Persistent

Check IMDB, his filmography is spotty (at best) but he refuses to go away. The number of bad reviews and negative comments on his Rotten Tomatoes is rather extraordinary. He is still famous. He’s still a movie star.

Lesson to learn: Work. Work Work. When a project doesn’t end up the way you planned, cut your losses and keep going. There isn’t an actor out there with a resume full of hits. There are always misses. So if you try to create that big project and it doesn’t work out, try again. Blog about it.

Get a hobby, even if it’s ill advised

Dogstar + Shakespeare. The first being Keanu’s rock band and the second, his obsession with Shakespeare. I don’t judge but I would say both are ill-advised. That’s all I have to say about that.

Lesson to learn: Have something else going on. If you become overly obsessed with your work you might start to hate it. Make sure you have other things to do when you aren’t buried in work. If you don’t come up for air on occasion, you work will start to suffer. Do what you love only enough so that you still love it.

Who else seems to have a good thing going in Hollywood? Hugh Grant, Johnny Depp, Micheal Cera and Leonardo Dicaprio are some of my picks for other actors that understand branding. Who really has it wrong? My pick: Tom Cruise. What is your favorite Keanu Reeves movie? I know you have one!

Shenee Howard
Shenee is a writer, designer, photographer and pop culture curator. She recently founded You'll Look Great. She tweets. Mostly about writing, music and 90's kids movies @sheneeh. She also blogs.
  • Shenee, you are an inspiration. I absolutely adore you in real life and on the internet bahaha

    Keep up the good work girl.

    This was extremely helpful & reminded me of the little things making a big difference, which I tend to forget sometimes.

  • Tat

    I have to say that his skills at choosing what roles are worth repeating and franchise to align himself with is particularly inspiring. I’m especially looking forward to the new Bill and Ted movie that’s in the works. It was his defining role.

  • I admit: I routinely hate on Keanu Reeves. And I raise an eyebrow when I saw this link on Twitter.

    That being said, I can’t argue with the points that you made.

    Kudos!

  • Great comparison, thanks for giving such a great advise and a very clear comparison examples. Did learn a lot by just reading this. The most important thing here is to be consistent to your own style.

  • Scrimothy

    Nice article. I just always struggle in how narrowly to define your “typecast” design. As design aesthetics go through evolutions, how much should that affect your own style?

    It *is* interesting though, looking at Keanu’s catalogue. You’re right, he’s the same person in every movie, regardless of his character, I still can’t shake that vacuous look throughout Bill and Ted’s.

  • Thanks guys!
    Nat — that really means a lot, I love you and you are gonna do big things lovely! : )

    Tat — That is totally true and I didn’t even touch on that, he has made some really good decisions

    Jake —You are not the only one. He is a easy target but while we are all laughing at him, he is making 10 million dollars a movie. This never ceases to blow my mind. He’s doing something right.

    Peach — Thanks Peach! I am glad you got a lot out of it : )

  • Anthony G

    OMG … you write like a men ! (actually a geek one after drinking some beers) But … well, great comparaison !
    My favorite KR movie is Matrix 1, of course :)

  • Keanu = Kool. I have loved this guy ever since I saw Bill & Ted. I have a lot of his films. I especially liked him in Parenthood and Constantine. I have the collectors edition.

    Great idea using Keanu as an example for consistent branding. Got my attention. And that’s basically the name of the game, isn’t it? Getting people’s attention?

    “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”

  • I would have to say my favorite Keanu movie is Bill & Ted followed by The Matrix. I love to make fun of him because he is so wooden but you make excellent points in this article.

    A star? I’m not so sure …

  • Scrimothy — I thought about that and it is interesting, I guess that even with a evolving sense of style, the hope is that you have developed your skills in a way that enhance that style instead of evolving away from it but sometimes you veer off. If that happens, maybe it’s time to rebrand?
    Anthony G — Thanks? I think. I am gonna take that compliment.
    Doug C — You are the only one I know who likes Constantine. I love that movie too. And Thanks, I am glad you enjoyed it.

  • Who wouldn’t like Constantine? Of course I love comics and cartoons so I’m biased, but I also like Keanu and he was perfect for that role. Other memorable Keanu roles for me are The Gift, The Replacements, The Watcher (he was awesome as a psycho killer), A Walk in the Clouds, and of course Youngblood.

  • Jake – I agree with you completely. With that being said, I agree with this article and had to click on it as soon as I saw it only because it peaked my interest enough to think, “Really, what can I learn from him?”.

  • Paula

    Great article! I have always been a Keanu fan – not sure why; must be the Branding!

  • The Jmax

    I really liked your article. Eventhough I don’t understand the rant on Keanu Reeves, the parallel between his career and branding is very well spotted.

    My favourite KR movie? Johnny Mnemonic

  • That’s a really nice observation and it would actually apply to all kinds of art including writing :)

    My favorite Keanu movies: Matrix (ob) and Constantine

  • superb – nice thoughts for life and success :-

    more films like Constantine – matrix :-)

  • Liz

    Thanks for an informative article
    Speed and the Matrix. Says Henry’s Crime at the Woodstock Film Festival (it was very funny). He is really is a sweet man.

  • Liz

    oh boy – I should never comment without my reading glasses on – lol

  • Loved this! And up until the movie Lake House, I thought the guy had the personality of a wet mop. And yet he makes it work. Great points, terrific post!

  • Jeremy Price

    Always thought Keanu Reeves just stumbled into good roles. Looks like there is a method to his madness. Good post!