On August 31, 1997 Fast Company published an article by Tom Peters called "A brand called You". The article triggered an incredible amount of thought leadership pieces and discussion related to personal branding.
In his article Peters begins by stating "Big companies understand the importance of brands. Today, in the age of the individual, you have to be your own brand" as he exhorts readers to be "the CEO of Me Inc."
"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" says Peters, in his iconic and timeless article.
The concept is simple. The execution is not. Any engineer, product manager, or marketer will tell you that creating a solid brand is a complicated endeavor. This is especially true for brands that require substance and a solid product. What would the Apple brand be without its incredible products? Products and services make brands. They can make them forgettable or immortal. The caveat is that an unforgettable brand is not necessarily always positive. Think Ford Pinto.
Your challenge is to define, build, and develop your product and make sure it is at the core of your brand.
The concept of personal brand actually predates Tom Peter's article. In 1981 Al Ries and Jack Trout introduced it in their book: "Positioning: The Battle for your Mind." Rise and Trout's book, as proclaimed in its back cover, is the first to deal with the problems of communicating to a skeptical, media-blitzed public, the book describes a revolutionary approach to creating a "position" in a prospective customer's mind that reflects a company's own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of its competitors.
In this example, the company is you and the customer is whoever will be knocking on your door to pay for your services. Your competitors are other individuals that could potentially do it better, faster, and for less money.
In chapter 23 of their book Ries and Trout point that you can benefit by using positioning strategy to advance your own career.
Key principle: "Don't try to do everything yourself. Find a horse to ride". Translated into the concepts that we have been using in this column: Identify your strongest and most relevant competencies and put all your weight and resources behind them to stand-out and position yourself above your competitors.
The product of you is built by:
● Your academic and theoretical base
● Your practical experience within an industry
● Your theoretical and practical experience related to certain products or services
● Your practical management and leadership experience
● Your practical experience serving a specific market
Your brand and position will be defined by what you can achieve (potential) supported by what you have already achieved (evidence).
Notice that four of the five components are based on practical experience. The product of You is built by everything you do: every job, every training course, every challenge, every achievement, every failure, every social and personal endeavor. They will all define who you are and what you can offer in the next step of your career.
Consider that positioning has three key components: selecting a space, positioning yourself within the peer group in that space, and positioning ahead of your peer group in the space. Before you can pass someone you need to be running with them. In other words, the concept assumes that you are already competitive in your space. If you set out to be the world's top neurosurgeon, you need to start by being a neurosurgeon.
Space can be defined by geographical region, industry, markets, an organization, or professional discipline. Selecting a space is perhaps the trickiest of the three components. It is tricky because most of us step into a space unconsciously and as a product of circumstance early in our careers. While not entirely impossible, it is difficult to make a significant change mid career, or later, if we can't leverage our many years of experience in a new endeavor. When you take out previous experience you take out the evidence component of your brand leaving only potential. How comfortable would you feel hiring a car mechanic that only has proven experience fixing washing machines, but is willing to work hard and learn?
The product of You will always be seen, measured, and scrutinized within the context of the space.
In most situations we're left with analyzing our personal inventory of knowledge and experience to determine the parts that we already have to build our brand and product. If you look well enough you will be surprised at what you can find in that parts bin.
Jose J. Ruiz is a Principal in Heidrick & Struggles, a leadership advisory firm providing senior-level executive search and leadership consulting services. Jose's executive search work has focused on CEOs, COOs, and senior-level technology, supply chain, operations, quality and engineering executives.
Visit his site at JoseJRuiz.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org