Brand You: The Basics of Personal Branding

“Life is one big pitch, so you’d better start practicing.” — Dan Shawbel, personal branding expert

“What’s a brand? A singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of the prospect.” — Al Ries, coauthor of The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

“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.” — Tom Peters, American business writer

Back in 1997, Tom Peters articulated a concept that had been around for decades: “Brand You.” In an influential article in the magazine Fast Company, Peters argued that it’s no longer enough to be quietly talented and hardworking in order to get ahead. While skills remain crucial, he noted, success in the modern global marketplace also comes from self-packaging.

In other words, to really get ahead, you have to become your own number one product. You must be uniquely you, the CEO of Me, Inc., selling yourself before you can sell anything else. You can no longer be defined by your job title; you have to be your own recognizable brand in all ways. In addition to your skill-set and knowledge base, which must constantly evolve, your personal brand must also include your appearance, attitude, and an active positioning strategy.

At first glance, this concept may seem to have little to do with productivity; but I think it does, at least in a wider “metaproductivity” sense. Brand You is a way of refining your focus so that you can maximize your ability to attract “buyers,” which in turn keeps you personally productive (and solvent).

Keeping ahead of the game requires frequent review and revision . Consider the pop singer Madonna. Love her or hate her, she’s been at the top of the music industry for decades, mostly because she’s been savvy enough to grow and evolve her personal style, reinventing herself as necessary. That’s a necessity in any business, even more so now than it was when Peters first called the trend to our attention. You have to remain focused on Me, Inc., or you’ll be left behind. It’s as much a matter of survival as success anymore.

Everything you do, from your domain name on the Internet to your personal business cards (and you should have both) must be about presenting yourself and your brand unapologetically to the world. In my case, I’m Laura Stack, The Productivity Pro®. That’s Brand Me, from my perspective: instantly recognizable and entirely unique. What’s your personal brand?

If you don’t know yet, then you need to start figuring it out fast. The idea is to position yourself clearly in other people’s minds, so that you’re the first person they think of when they’re looking for someone with your skills. Here’s how you do that:

• Know yourself. What are your specialties, and what do you want to accomplish? How do other people perceive you? What do you want to be known for? Start with that raw clay and use it to mold Brand You. Be frank when assessing yourself and your abilities, accepting who you are and where your strengths lie.

• Create a personal style. This should start with a relaxed, professional appearance. Now, this is a difficult guideline to set hard-and-fast rules for, since professional attire varies from field to field. Do some research in your field, and choose a non-objectionable look that will attract attention without being overwhelming.

• Learn to sell yourself. Develop a brief, pithy pitch that conveys who you are and what you’re selling in just a few minutes. Imagine if you were in an elevator with someone, and had only a few minutes to sell yourself. You must be able to project credibility and authenticity quickly in order to sell Brand You.

• Provide fantastic customer value. It’s not all about you, you, you. A large part of Brand You is giving people so much more than what they ask for that they come back repeatedly. Even if you remain within the corporate structure, you need to establish a series of skills and behaviors that you’re famous for in the organization. Maybe you’re the go-to girl for Java apps, or the company-wide expert on database management.

• Get social. These days, the use of social media is absolutely necessary in order to publicize yourself. Become active not just on Facebook and Twitter, but also on professional networking sites like LinkedIn and Biznik. Start your own blog. If there are local professional groups in your field, join them and attend meetings religiously. Talk to people. Start aggressively developing your professional contacts, and never let up. You never know where the next gig will come from.

• Communicate your brand. Get your name known in your field in every way you can think of without being obnoxious. Post on message boards, forums, and discussion groups. Send out an electronic newsletter to your clients and prospects. Relentlessly hand out business cards. In addition to establishing your own self-named website domain, set up an email address is this format: [email protected]. Include a title that encapsulates your specialty in all of your communications, and if necessary, create a logo and use it liberally.

I realize that the advice I’ve provided sounds selfish—but if you want to maximize your likelihood of success (and survival), don’t you need to be selfish? It’s not like you’re building a clever façade to hide behind: your goal with personal branding is to present to the world the very best You possible.

As Seamus Phan points out in his book DotZen, “The core of branding, beyond telling the truth, is to be true to yourself.” Do that in an honest, attractive way, and the world will beat a path to your door.



  1. Thanks for bringing clarity to the concept of Personal Branding and for helping me begin to crystalize my own.


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