Episode 68

Dolly Parton

What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT.  I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’.  This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying. 

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip… DOLLY PARTON.

Show Notes (click to expand)

!Let me first start by saying that this episode is definitely ONE of my faves.  

And here’s why?

I grew up absolutely loving country music – Kenny Rogers, Garth Brooks, Darius Rucker, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift (yes I’m a proud Swiftie) and of course the iconic Dolly Parton to name a few.

I’ve loved Dolly Parton ever since her starring role in the workplace satire 9-to-5…I know I’m aging myself…but I’m happy to do it for Ms. Parton.

My incredible wife, Sharon, gave me the best 50th birthday surprise, a trip to Nashville – my first time ever visiting Music City – and boy did it exceed every expectation I had going into it. 

My amazing daughter Samantha goes to college in Nashville and despite having a major fear of flying, I’m always happy to get on a plane to visit her anytime.  

So lets’ talk about Dolly Parton. 

I think it’s fair to say that she epitomizes the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”!

In fact, one of her song lyrics from her 2008 album, Backwoods Barbie reads as follows:

“Don’t let these false eyelashes lead you to believe that I’m as shallow as I look ‘cause I run true and deep.”

 Indeed she does…

Dolly Parton will tell you that she has always been misunderstood because of how she looks….

However, as a country music legend, style maven, businesswoman, philanthropist, author, singer, and songwriter, it’s pretty clear that Dolly Parton has earned her way to “ICON” status because she has always been in a league of her own. 


Spanning a six-decade career that started with her Grand Ole Opry debut at age 13, Dolly Parton has written 3,000+ songs, won 10 Grammys, sold 100 million+ records and had 25 songs reach number one on the billboard charts!

(Rich Says Phew!)

Born on January 14th, 1946 as one of 12 children – number 4 to be exact – Dolly grew up dirt poor in a rickety one-room cabin on the banks of the Little Pigeon River in the great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. The cabin had no electricity and no running water, but had a battery-powered radio as their only means of entertainment. She owes her passion for music to her mother – Avie Owens Parton – who came from a long line of Appalachian musicians, while her father – Lee Parton – was a hardworking sharecropper. In fact, he paid the doctor for her delivery with a sack of cornmeal. How cool is that?

She says of her mama and daddy:

“I got the music from my mama’s people. From my daddy, I got my willingness to work hard.”

At age 10, Dolly’s uncle Bill introduced her to Cas Walker, a millionaire grocery store owner who hosted a long running television and radio show. Dolly would perform on both shows during weekends and holidays until she finished high school. Literally, the day after graduation, she boarded a Greyhound bus with her guitar, songs she wrote over the years, and three paper bags as luggage seeking country music stardom. 

Music City didn’t exactly know what to make of Dolly’s combination of sex appeal and song-writing talent.


She told People Magazine in 2019:

“When I first came to Nashville, wearing all of my makeup and big hair and showing my big breasts, my dear friend Chet Atkins said, Dolly, you’re never going to be taken serious if you don’t dress down. I said, It’s me. I have to be this way. I just knew I had something to offer.”

Indeed she did!


Dolly was underestimated AND undervalued in her early career by men in the music business at a time when men ran the show – so to speak! Dolly’s insistence on doing things her own way, with or without permission of men in positions of power, was fundamental to her success, as well as to her message of female empowerment.

Surrounded by masculinity, Dolly turned to femininity as a means through which she could define herself as an adult. But in doing so, she exposed herself to a new wave of disapproval from second-wave feminists who called her trashy, a blonde bimbo in a push-up bra, and someone not to be taken seriously. 

The lyrics of her 1967 song “Dumb Blonde” pointed out Dolly’s frustration: 

“Just because I’m blonde, don’t think I’m dumb/ ‘Cause this dumb blonde ain’t nobody’s fool.” 

Shortly after this single was released, she met Porter Wagoner, the son of a Missouri farmer. A singer, songwriter himself, Porter invited Dolly to join his national syndicated musical-variety TV show – The Porter Wagoner Show – introducing her week after week as the “pretty little girl singer.” Her weekly duets with Wagoner became Country Music favorites and together they won their first Country Music Association award for Vocal Group of the Year in 1968.

Dolly would later go on to say:

  “I was trying to get away on my own because I had promised to stay with Porter’s show for five years. I had been there for seven. And we fought a lot. We were very much alike. We were both stubborn.”

Dolly’s song “I Will Always Love You”, a soul-searching tribute to a relationship that had simply run its course, was written about her decision to separate from Wagoner professionally. She played the song for him as her way of saying goodbye. Porter eventually let Dolly go under one condition: he wanted to produce this song. She agreed and it became one of the best-selling singles of 1974.

However, this song also became the subject of controversy when Elvis, the King of Rock and Roll, wanted to record it. Both men – and women – were guilty of underestimating Dolly because of her appearance, and being misunderstood meant that Dolly was left to fend for herself as an artist and as a woman. In this situation, Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager, told Dolly the night before the recording, that in order for Elvis to sing the song, she would have to sign over 50 percent of her publishing rights to them. Dolly was not going to succumb to the pressure from Presley’s management team. She stood her ground, refused to be bullied and made what many call one of the smartest moves of her career! Then in 1992, Kevin Costner, who happened to be a huge fan of the song, told music producer David Foster to check it out. The song ended up being covered by Whitney Houston for the 1992 film, The Bodyguard, and brought Dolly millions in royalties she would have otherwise handed over to Elvis Presley. Whitney’s version became the best-selling single by a woman in music history! I think it’s important to note that Dolly used these royalties to support a Black neighborhood in Nashville, Tennessee.


I often say to friends and family, no one puts Rich in a corner…and I have Dolly Parton to thank for that


When you move beyond Dolly’s signature style of sky-high hairdos, long nails, bedazzling rhinestones, glitter, and elaborate makeup…I believe the reason she has stayed relevant for all these years is because of her self-deprecating jokes, better known as ‘DOLLYISMS’!

No I did not make this ‘One Word’ up. However, you may be asking yourself, what is a DOLLYISM?

Well it’s Dolly’s way of talking about life, success, and just being herself. In fact, she has both given and received more boob jokes than anyone else in history. In an interview with The Telegraph, Dolly put it very simply: 

“When all else fails, I just tell a boob joke.” 

This is Dolly’s way of controlling the narrative surrounding women’s bodies, proving once again that she is so much more than her outside appearance!

I’m going to share 10 of my favorite ‘DOLLYISMS’, and then end with how these DOLLYISMS led me to her ‘One Word’ core value:

On looks:
“It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”

On aging gracefully:
“If I see something saggin’, baggin’ or draggin’, I’m gonna have it nipped, tucked or sucked!”

On being blonde:
“I’m not offended by all of the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb … and I also know that I’m not blonde.”

On being true to oneself:
“I’m very real where it counts, and that’s inside.”

On youth:
“People say how do you stay looking so young? I say, well, good lighting, good doctors, and good makeup.”

On happiness
“People always say, ‘But you always look so happy.’ Well that’s Botox!”

On her over-the-top outfits
“Oh I know they make fun of me, but all these years the people have thought the joke was on me, but it’s actually on them. I am sure of myself as a person. I am sure of my talent. I’m sure of my love for life and that sort of thing. I am very content, I like the kind of person that I am. So, I can afford to piddle around and do-diddle around with makeup and clothes and stuff because I am secure with myself.”

On blending in when it’s more fun to stand-out!
“It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.” 

On knowing who you are
“I’m flashy, and I’m flamboyant. Had I not been a girl, I definitely would have been a drag queen.”

On how she handles comments about her big chest
“I was the first woman to burn my bra—it took the fire department four days to put it out.”

AND I’m throwing  in one more for good luck because its Dolly’s sense of humor that ties so clearly to her ‘One Word’ core value:

“I know some of the best Dolly Parton jokes. I made ’em up myself.”
So the next time you tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen and pour yourself a cup of ambition, remember this: 


It’s Dolly’s self-deprecation that makes her one “SASSY” lady! 


SASSY is how Dolly Parton SCORES!


I’m Rich Keller, the CATALYST, and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect.

Listen & Subscribe on

Join my

and Never Miss an Episode

Join my

and Never Miss
an Episode


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share this episode