Some thoughts about a Brand You year

Why the need to be different is vital.

20 January 2010, by Tracey Swanepoel

Johannesburg - The coffee we buy. The cars we drive. Our laptops. Cell phones. Wristwatches. Shoes. Bags. We are driving, talkin' sleepin' walkin' living brands.

Brands (consciously or unconsciously) are powerful decision-guiders, choice-makers and even self image-crafters. And yet as savvy as we are as brand consumers, we all too often shed our brand "nous" or intuition when it comes to ourselves as individuals. Ironically, we stand in our own brand "blind spot".

What defines the Brand called You?

A few years ago Tom Peters proclaimed "The Brand Called You" or the age of personal branding as the next frontier in branding. So the thinking has been around for a while but are we doing anything constructive about it? Brash and potentially self-centred as this approach may sound, it basically involves doing to ourselves what marketers have been doing to products for hundreds of years. Consider the classic questions: "What perceptions come to mind when your name (or function/department's name) is mentioned? What's your plan to actively promote/manage your brand? Do you think of every opportunity as one to build your brand?" This gets quite scary if we consider that our telephone manner; our meeting etiquette (how prepared we are; if we show up on time; if we listen without interrupting) our e-mail protocol (do we respond immediately, or at all?) are all-powerful brand building factors.

Like it or not, the reality is it's happening anyway: your brand exists. Embracing the idea of personal branding could be of substantial benefit:

The Story of a Purple Cow

Defining uniqueness isn't easy, but it is at the heart of any brand worth its salt. In his book Purple Cow, Seth Godin relates a story to illustrate this point: he recounts a drive through the idyllic French countryside with his family, during which they were enchanted by picturesque scenery, punctuated as it was with hundreds and hundreds of "storybook cows" grazing on the pastures beside the road. Godin goes on to recall that within 20 minutes however, the cows were all but ignored by the family. Why? Because each new cow looked exactly like each previous cow. No matter their beauty or perfection (what else could you say about a cow?), they all looked the same. At this stage, Godin injects a powerful "what if" into the scenario: what if, amazingly, a purple cow was to suddenly appear? It would get noticed. It would make people sit up. It would keep them interested. It's a great mental picture to keep in mind.

Identify your "purple" gene

"Purple cowness," Godin's metaphor for uniqueness, is the starting point of personal branding. But it must come from within. Unlike product branding which can rely on smoke and mirrors (ie, clever advertising and big budgets) to some extent, authenticity is at the root of personal branding. There's no place to hide. What mental pictures do the words "Joost" or "Tiger" conjure up these days?

There's a tiny "purple" gene in every individual. We need to seek it out and build on it. Usually it overlaps substantially with our passion and purpose, but unfortunately not always with our current job or career choice. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because the "purple" gene (the musical talent or photographer's eye in a CEO, or the artistic bent of the HR executive who paints in his spare time) may just be the thing that makes them add value in the workplace in a unique way.

Make it visible

The next step is figuring out how to make the "purpleness" visible. This is all about looking for the "right" opportunities to contribute or selecting the appropriate projects to volunteer for. It may cost time and effort but it's a smart investment in your personal brand.

What about media channels for Brand You? In the case of personal branding there's no doubt that the medium is the mouth; word of mouth to be precise. Colleagues, clients, personal networks and people in general are the primary channels for establishing and building Brand You. That's why relationships need to be nurtured.


Finally, personal branding is about leadership. Expand your sphere of influence and the power of your brand by leading. You don't need to be in the top spot on the organisational chart. You are already the leader of Brand You.

Whether you care to acknowledge it or not, your personal brand is being created. It can't be ignored or outsourced. It's time to take charge of it. You might even have fun!

Read published article on MoneyWeb site