That cross-trainer you’re wearing — one look at the distinctive
swoosh on the side tells everyone who’s got you branded. That
mug you’re carrying — ah, you’re a Starbucks woman! Your Tshirt
distinctive Champion “C” on the sleeve, the blue jeans with
Levi’s rivets, the watch with the hey-this-certifies-I-made-it icon
the face, your fountain pen with the maker’s symbol crafted
into the end ...
You’re branded, branded, branded, branded.
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.
Behemoth companies may take turns buying each other or
acquiring every hot startup that catches their eye — mergers in
1996 set records. Hollywood may be interested in only blockbusters
and book publishers may want to put out only guaranteed
best-sellers. But don’t be fooled by all the frenzy at the
humongous end of the size spectrum.
The real action is at the other end: the main chance is becoming
a free agent in an economy of free agents, looking to have
the best season you can imagine in your field, looking to do
your best work and chalk up a remarkable track record, and
looking to establish your own micro equivalent of the Nike
swoosh. Because if you do, you’ll not only reach out toward
every opportunity within arm’s ( or laptop’s ) length, you’ll not
only make a noteworthy contribution to your team’s success —
you’ll also put yourself in a great bargaining position for next
season’s free-agency market.
The good news — and it is largely good news — is that everyone
has a chance to stand out. Everyone has a chance to learn,
improve, and build up their skills. Everyone has a chance to be
a brand worthy of remark.
Who understands this fundamental principle? The big companies
do. They’ve come a long way in a short time: it was just
over four years ago, April 2, 1993 to be precise, when Philip
Morris cut the price of Marlboro cigarettes by 40 cents a pack.
That was on a Friday. On Monday, the stock market value of
packaged goods companies fell by $25 billion. Everybody
agreed: brands were doomed.
Today brands are everything, and all kinds of products and services
— from accounting firms to sneaker makers to restaurants
— are figuring out how to transcend the narrow boundaries of
their categories and become a brand surrounded by a Tommy
Who else understands it? Every single Web site sponsor. In fact,
the Web makes the case for branding more directly than any
packaged good or consumer product ever could. Here’s what
the Web says: Anyone can have a Web site. And today, because
anyone can ... anyone does! So how do you know which sites
are worth visiting, which sites to bookmark, which sites are
worth going to more than once? The answer: branding. The
sites you go back to are the sites you trust. They’re the sites
where the brand name tells you that the visit will be worth your
time — again and again. The brand is a promise of the value
The same holds true for that other killer app of the Net —
email. When everybody has email and anybody can send you
email, how do you decide whose messages you’re going to read
and respond to first — and whose you’re going to send to the
trash unread? The answer: personal branding. The name of the
email sender is every bit as important a brand — is a brand —
as the name of the Web site you visit. It’s a promise of the value
you’ll receive for the time you spend reading the message.