On January 20, 2011, I purchased this book. It was published in 1999, two years after Tom’s original article appeared in the print version of Fast Company magazine. You can read the article here.
It’s extraordinary, and even though it was a great call to arms for its time, it’s even more relevant now, 20 years later.
If you are a freelancer, a founder, small business owner, or an employee who wants to someday be one of these, it’s a must-read. Pay no mind to the publish date.
Because no one teaches Tom Peters’s material better than Tom Peters, I’m going to share a few snippets from chapter four in particular today, and add my commentary.
A call to arms
But first, this precursor to the whole concept of you as a brand, from Tom’s Fast Company article:
It’s time for me—and you—to take a lesson from the big brands, a lesson that’s true for anyone who’s interested in what it takes to stand out and prosper in the new world of work.
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.
It’s that simple — and that hard. And that inescapable.
Did you just feel a jolt of energy down your spine as you read those words? Every time I re-read this book I feel it. My heart and mind say “Yes”—sometimes with my teeth clinched with excitement, sometimes with quiet resolution.
Tom sounded the trump to cubicle employees of the late 90s and early 2000s: You don’t have to be cogs in the machine anymore. You can’t sit idly by and hope good things happen to or for you. But you also can’t define job security in the same terms as our parents once did.
Chapters three and four of ‘The Brand You’ are your workbook for identifying your personal brand. Once you’ve identified it, you’ve got the assets you need to build a side project along the lines of what I promote here.
Building your personal brand from scratch
Here’s how that workbook starts:
Start playing with words. Keep a notebook, paper or electronic. Ask yourself: WHO AM I? WHO AM I NOT? (The experts agree: Brand is as much about what a product “is not as about what “it is.”) Start asking yourself every day: IS WHAT I’M DOING RIGHT NOW CONSISTENT WITH BUILDING A BRAND, MY BRAND?
Think of yourself as the main character of a novel or movie. In the best of these media, the main character acts consistently. Their patterns of behavior are predictable. We like them, in part, because of that consistency.
It doesn’t mean the main character is flawless. It means you know exactly who they are and what they stand for.
Here’s a simple set of elements:
I am known for [2-4 things]. By this time next year, I plan also to be known for [1-2 more things].
I really like how Tom breaks this idea down to make arriving at your own personal brand more reachable. While Tom wrote this for employees who want to stand out in their jobs in a way none of us generally witness, it’s even more relevant to CEOs of small businesses today.
Create an eight-word personal positioning statement. Now. (“If you can’t describe your position in eight words or less, you don’t have a position.”) —Jay Levinson and Seth Godin, “Get What You Deserve!”).
This is extremely hard to do. Eight words is so few, amiright?
So think in terms of addressing it with these questions in mind: What am I? What do I stand for? How do I stand out? Those are among the few questions Tom suggests we ask ourselves in order for our purpose to become crystal clear in our minds.
And because the purpose in doing this is to get to the next level, this will take some next-level thinking.
We are defining New Me/New Us here. So: Paint word pictures. Real pictures. It’s not a frivolous exercise. What one different thing can you do today to bring work-life self into sync with your real, spirited self?
Your next step is to cast aside all the usual descriptors that employees and workers depend on to locate themselves in the company structure. Forget your job title. Ask yourself: What do I do that adds remarkable, measurable, distinguished, distinctive value? Forget your job description. Ask yourself: What do I do that I am most proud of?
That second paragraph is from the Fast Company article. Did you know that a lot of people don’t like to go through exercises like this at first?
But if you’ll be patient and be willing to trust Tom, you’ll come out so much the better on the other side.
Small business CEOs: It’s time to market your own personal brand
I’ve already said it within the last few days here—Day #8 I believe. I’ll begin breaking down specific examples I see of this, where small business founders or CEOs seem to spend time on their own brand(s) as much as their companies’ brands.
It will change the way you think about marketing. It’s not a feature/benefit thing. It’s a ‘follow the leader’ thing.
The second important thing to remember about your personal visibility campaign is: it all matters. When you’re promoting brand You, everything you do — and everything you choose not to do — communicates the value and character of the brand. Everything from the way you handle phone conversations to the email messages you send to the way you conduct business in a meeting is part of the larger message you’re sending about your brand.
Small business owners have a tendency to let their personalities be swallowed up into their companies. Sometimes because their introverted leaders; more often because they think that’s what you’re supposed to do. Let the company take center stage.
But standing out today is more about how you’ve positioned yourself as an individual brand as it is about you putting your head down and doing excellent work.
Because when you know your personal brand well. The marketing of that personal brand gets really fun.