Tom Peters ushered in the age of personal branding with a 1997 cover story in Fast Company titled “The Brand Called You.”
“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…
“As of this moment, you’re going to think of yourself differently! … You don’t ‘belong to’ any company for life, and your chief affiliation isn’t to any particular ‘function.’ You’re not defined by your job title and you’re not confined by your job description.
“Starting today, you are a brand.”
This was a liberating shift in thinking at the time. I still have a copy of that Fast Company issue. This was six years before LinkedIn launched in 2003.
And yet thinking of ourselves too much as brands can take away from what’s human and real. If everyone acts too much like a personal brand manager, all communication can start to feel like marketing.
There’s a line between personal branding and self-promotion. I think it’s less about what you say about yourself and more about what you do.
Or, as Jeff Bezos famously put it: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: