In 1997, Tom Peters published a powerful, groundbreaking article in Fast Company Magazine titled, The Brand Called You. I did a lot of consulting work for Tom in the few years following the publication of The Brand Called You, so I had the chance to witness first-hand its incalculable impact. This article opened up the conversation that a person is a brand and that a personal brand can have everything to do with that person’s success. In typical fashion of Tom’s writing, he subtitled the article, “Here’s what it takes to be the CEO of Me, Inc.”
The only thing I didn’t like about this article was something that Tom had no control over. It was the cover of the Fast Company issue in which the article was published, which carried a likeness of a box of Tide detergent with the title of the article, The Brand Called You, written on the graphic of the box.
Sure, in 1997 the conversation about personal branding was not pervasive, and it may have made sense to the Fast Company editors to use a long-standing icon of branding to communicate “this is about brands.” But not thinking of your personal brand in the way Tide and other mass-market consumer goods are marketed is one of the most important lessons you can learn about personal branding from this article.
Your personal brand is much deeper than a slogan on a package of laundry detergent. It’s about who you are today and, even more, who you want to be in the future. It’s about how you want the world to engage with you, who the people are in your world that you most want to engage with you, and how you want them to engage with you. It’s about what you want people to believe about you. These issues are much deeper than the superficiality of a package or the hype of a press release. They get to the essence of how you want to engage with the world as your future unfolds.
Here are the key steps to creating a powerful personal brand.
1. Be true to the future you want
It’s possible to have a “successful” personal brand and be miserable, because you don’t want to be the person that brand represents.
A PR-driven approach to personal branding could distract you with the sheen and superficiality of what it is that could impress people now. But how do you know if that is going to impressyou later?
Put the words “public relations” out of your mind and off to the side for now. Think now about the deeper issues about who you want to be. Be true to yourself first, and think about who you want to be before worrying about anybody else. We’ll get to other people later.
2. Think about the dent you want to make in the world
In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, James Stewart’s character George Bailey has a chance to see what the world would be like if he hadn’t lived. The world without George is a completely different one, as George sees, because he was able to have such a powerful impact on the world in his “real” life.
It’s your turn to be George Bailey. Imagine the impact you are going to have in your life and/or work. Imagine the dent you are going to make in the world. Imagine it is 10 or 20 years from now, and your surroundings are much different– and better– because you have been there. How are these surroundings different? How is your company different? How is your industry different? How is the world different?
The purpose of your powerful personal brand is not just to get people to know who you are. Celebrity is highly overrated. The purpose of your personal brand is to help you impact some part of your world. Dream about that impact.
3. Identify your circle of collaborators
None of us can have success on our own. Our success depends on encouraging other people to collaborate with us in our success. If you want to be a successful dentist, you need patients to collaborate with you in your success by coming to your practice, following your clinical advice and referring you to their friends. You need your employees to collaborate with you by working in the manner you want them to work. If you want to be a successful politician, you need the collaboration of thousands of voters, members of your party, the media and your donors. None of us can make our dent in the world without the collaboration of others.
So think about who your collaborators could be. Who do you want in your tribe? Who will help you make your dent in the world?
Thinking about who the collaborators in your success could be in the future is a critical step, because the kind of brand you will be depends on the kinds of people you will need to persuade. Your brand will be much different if you need to persuade world leaders than if you want to encourage twenty-something bohemians to download recordings of your songs.
What if you need to persuade both of these groups, or other groups of collaborators who are so different from each other? It’s possible, but only if you are very clear on the previous steps outlined above. Think Bono. He is very true to the future he wants for himself, and I’m sure he is also very clear about the dent he wants to make in the world.
4. Craft your personal brand story
Imagine you are on an airplane five years from today, and you hear the people behind you talking about you. They haven’t noticed you are sitting right in front of them, but they are saying wonderful things about you, describing not only who you are but discussing the impact you have made as well.
What do you want these people to be saying about you?
Realize that you will only have a powerful personal brand when other people believe in it. We cannot be legends in our own minds. We can be clear in our own minds about who it is we want to be and the dent we want to make in the world, but our personal brand will only resonate in the world if other people believe in it.
As you think through this step in the personal branding process, be willing to imagine the rich, multi-faceted story people could have about you. Imagine people talking about you, enthusiastically, for half an hour. What would you want them to say?
5. Communicating your personal brand
How will people come to believe in your personal brand?
Everything we’ve discussed so far is planning. We’ve focused on who you want to be in the future, on the dent you want to make in the world, on the people you want to collaborate with in your success, and on the personal brand story you want people to believe about you. Now it is time to address how you implement this personal brand strategy.
This is the place where the differences between the Tide package and our concept of personal branding become most acute. In the traditional consumer-goods, mass-market branding world, there is a big focus on what is said on your package or in your ads and press releases. But in the personal branding world,what you say about yourself has little to do with what your brand actually becomes.
Personal branding is much more about what you do, how you live, and how you actually fulfill the promise of your personal brand. Having done the previous steps I’ve outlined, you can then think about the actions you can take to encourage people to believe the right things about you.
Yes, you have to say the right things about yourself, but your personal brand cannot rest too firmly on self-promotion anymore than your success can be determined by by wearing the right clothes to business meetings. The strongest personal brands, whether they are Richard Branson, Joan of Arc or John Lennon, are built by actions, not by promises.
We’ve looked at five steps to personal branding:
- Be true to the future you want for yourself
- Think about the dent you want to make in the world
- Identify your circle of collaborators
- Craft your personal brand story
- Communicate your personal brand
Walk through these steps in order, but don’t be too concerned about “finishing” each one before moving on to the next step. Personal branding is a life-long, iterative, organic process, and as you continue to develop your personal brand over the course of your life, you will want to cycle through these steps repeatedly.
Your personal brand is about so much more than the way you are packaged. Your personal brand is a reflection of who you are and who you want to be in the future, and of the dent you want to make in your world. Look at your personal brand as a challenge worth embracing, because it has everything to do with your success.