Brad Pitt is a brand. Karl Lagerfeld is a brand. Seth Godin is a brand. Sarah Palin is a brand. And guess what: you too, on some level, are a brand. No, perhaps you aren’t a movie star, a haute couture icon, a new marketing pioneer or a sudden political celebrity, but you are – in your own right – a brand as defined by what makes you who you are both professionally and on a more private level. Your identity, your reputation, the way you interact with others in your sphere of influence, your ability to help others in some way, what people know about you and how much they care about what you have to say, the way you dress, the way you behave at parties – all of these things make up the brand that is you.
Especially now that you’re on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Buzznet and Seesmic.
Back in 1999, Tom Peters defined personal branding thus:
Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.
The main chance [at the individual end of the corporate spectrum] is becoming a free agent in an economy of free agents, looking to have the best season you can imagine in your field, looking to do your best work and chalk up a remarkable track record, and looking to establish your own micro equivalent of the Nike swoosh. Because if you do, you’ll not only reach out toward every opportunity within arm’s (or laptop’s) length, you’ll not only make a noteworthy contribution to your team’s success — you’ll also put yourself in a great bargaining position for next season’s free-agency market.
The good news — and it is largely good news — is that everyone has a chance to stand out. Everyone has a chance to learn, improve, and build up their skills. Everyone has a chance to be a brand worthy of remark.
The Web makes the case for branding more directly than any packaged good or consumer product ever could. Here’s what the Web says: Anyone can have a Web site. And today, because anyone can … anyone does! So how do you know which sites are worth visiting, which sites to bookmark, which sites are worth going to more than once? The answer: branding. The sites you go back to are the sites you trust. They’re the sites where the brand name tells you that the visit will be worth your time — again and again. The brand is a promise of the value you’ll receive.
Instead of making yourself a slave to the concept of a career ladder, reinvent yourself on a semiregular basis. Start by writing your own mission statement, to guide you as CEO of Me Inc. What turns you on? Learning something new? Gaining recognition for your skills as a technical wizard? Shepherding new ideas from concept to market? What’s your personal definition of success? Money? Power? Fame? Or doing what you love? However you answer these questions, search relentlessly for job or project opportunities that fit your mission statement. And review that mission statement every six months to make sure you still believe what you wrote.
No matter what you’re doing today, there are four things you’ve got to measure yourself against. First, you’ve got to be a great teammate and a supportive colleague. Second, you’ve got to be an exceptional expert at something that has real value. Third, you’ve got to be a broad-gauged visionary — a leader, a teacher, a farsighted “imagineer.” Fourth, you’ve got to be a businessperson — you’ve got to be obsessed with pragmatic outcomes.
It’s this simple: You are a brand. You are in charge of your brand. There is no single path to success. And there is no one right way to create the brand called You. Except this: Start today. Or else.
Read Tom’s fantastic article here. Bookmark it. Print it. Revisit it daily. It is that important.
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If you want more, Paul Singh (Results Junkies) picks up where Tom leaves off by bringing us these five exercises in “rethinking” your personal brand:
- See the Big Picture
- Build a community, but steer towards business
- Widen your lens, narrow your focus.
- Organize for ideas (Carry a Moleskine notebook. They work better than cocktail napkins for jotting own ideas.)
- Be persistent
One last little tidbit from Paul to help get you started:
“What I learned is that success favors a “best-of-breed player”, a company devoted to one line of business. The people that focus on dominating a single market usually destroy the people that try to be the best at everything.”
Good advice. Ultimately, unless you want to be known as a jack of all trades, master of none, even the most multi-talented among us need to decide how to give focus to their personal brand. Like any other corporate identity, yours has to make sense. It has to fit in a 10-30 second explanation.
In three-to-five words, your value is defined by what defines you in the eyes of others:
The best graphic designer in the city.
The most plugged-in industry connector.
The kid who gets it done.
The lawyer you want to have on your side.
The best copywriter I’ve ever worked with.
The best web designer in the state.
You get the idea. Start by figuring out what your elevator pitch is. How your identity gets distilled down to its core: What are you best known for?
What do you want to be best known for?
If the two aren’t the same, how do you reconcile the two? (That’s something for you to figure out, the more you work on it, the more the exercise starts to look like a game of connect the dots.)
An obvious word of caution: Be careful what types of images and content you post on Facebook, MySpace, etc. Sometimes, people will get offended over nothing, which is not a big deal. (Don’t be afraid to express yourself. The last thing you want is to become so PC, so vanilla, so unremarkable that you effectively become irrelevant.) In a way, as soon as you start standing for something, as soon as you start becoming remarkable in some way, a certain percentage of the population will turn against you. It’s just part of the dynamics of brands – personal or otherwise.
That being said, try to keep your wits about you as well. Treat any website you post something to as a file in your permanent record: Unless you want to be known for being the guy who gets fall-down drunk at parties and then posts photos of his debauched exploits on the internet (not something most employers and potential clients tend to get super excited about), don’t. Always try to exercise good judgment when posting web content.
Your brand is on 24/7/365. It is also on regardless of the medium. You are everywhere now, news travel fast, and reputations can be made or unmade with a single email, click of a phone camera, or push of the send button.
Don’t let the fear of these dangers paralyze you or scare you away from the medium, however. There is a fine balance to be struck between being aware of the dangers we just covered and working towards making this unprecedented level of access to media, social tools and communication channels work to your advantage. Find that balance. Do the right things, develop your image, and broadcast it using the proper tools in the appropriate manner.
Easier said than done, but hey, it’s a start.
Hat tip to Dan Scawbel’s Personal Branding blog for breathing new life into this conversation.