Monday, August 13, 2007

What's Brand Me?
Revisiting "Personal Branding" a Decade Later

Ten years ago this month, Tom Peters' article "The Brand Called You" appeared in Fast Company magazine, and an era was born. The term brand stopped being the exclusively property of cattle ranchers and breakfast cereal manufacturers, and started being our property too.

I remember reading the article, and finding the concept interesting. But I was too busy working full time, writing plays in my off hours, and managing my life (both the social and everyday upkeep aspects) to work at defining my personal brand.

I've got a much better idea of it now. Today, something moved me to read the article again. I not only found out it's ten years old, I could see how, even today, people would still a difficult time explaining who they are according to their brand.

Simply put, my personal brand is what enters the room before I do.

We used to call it "personality." Or "personal style." But simple doesn't mean it's easy. I'm sure you've had people tell you "I hate working on my resume" or "I hate developing my yearly performance appraisal."

That's because we're really bad, and hesitant, at thinking about ourselves in this manner. Here's a thought exercise I've found useful to get around that problem:

Think of a friend, waiting for you in a restaurant. You're meeting for lunch, drinks or dinner.

He or she is thinking about what the experience will be like once you show up.

Is your friend looking forward to:
- laughing because you always say funny things?
- exciting political conversation because you're always up on what's happening across the country?
- telling you some great personal news because you're always happy and congratulatory?
- a long afternoon because it's going to be all about you?

The person waiting for you is attuned to the experience he or she is going to have once you show up.

Now take it wider. Think of how others might view you at work.

Are you:
- always ready to lend a hand, when it's needed?
- someone who people tiptoe around?
- the go-to person when anyone has a problem?

All these thoughts and opinions are elements of your personal brand. They're the things people instinctively feel even before they see you. They're the things people expect from you.

They might expect:
you'll always be positive
you'll always be difficult to deal with (and so maybe they just don't and you're left
you'll always be energetic at every moment of the day
you to be calm but kind of out of it until the coffee kicks in
you'll always be there.

It even goes to the work you crank out. They might expect that:
it's always nearly perfect
it's always missing something
it'll be delivered so quickly that they won't be ready for it
it's always delivered timely
it's something they'll have to fix later

It really helps if you have some examples of things you know people have said about you. Snippets of a conversation, or the positive things written about your work in your last performance appraisal.

Simply put, our personal brand is what enters the room before we do.

Once I started thinking about myself and "my brand" in this way, I started laying a foundation which I can build on quickly when I need to. Like, when I apply for a job. Or when I'm about to meet a bunch of people I've never met before. Or if I need to change something I'm doing in order to make the outcome better or surprising, instead of the boring old status quo.

I can't promise you'll end up happy working on your resume, but you might end up much happier with your results.

And read the Tom Peters' article (again, if you've read it before.) Reflect on how timely it still is, especially 10 years later (which is a billion years in cultural time.)

Picture from The Arizona Ranch Web site.


Dan Schawbel said...

Good article here. I like how you say that your personal brand enters the room before you do. If you're blog is fully dedicated to this subject.

Mike Ambrose said...

Thanks for the comment Dan. I've bookmarked your blog/web site - looks like there's a ton of great information there! I'm looking forward to exploring it more...