Back in 1997 marketing guru Tom Peters wrote in the now famous article called ‘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.”
Tom Peters suggests we look at big brands for branding tips and just like our favourite brand we should ask ourselves what makes us different or better still, what we want to be famous for. Peters give the best explanation of the importance of maintaining a personal brand: “When you’re promoting brand You, everything you do — and everything you choose not to do — communicates the value and character of the brand.” His affirmation that we are not defined by our job title and not confined by a job description still reads like a major revelation all these years later.
If you do not define who you are somebody else will. Back in 1997 we didn’t have Twitter, Facebook or Google+. Nowadays thanks to social media every comment you make, every careless response (or lack of response) becomes an amplified version of your personal brand message. It’s out there for everyone to see. And people will not only see, they will come to their own conclusions.
If you like lists and tables, you can come up with ten to twenty attributes of your personal brand. There are also more imaginative brand building strategies: if you like stories, if you have a tendency to ‘connect the dots’ after some event, if you are looking for connections and logic in everything try the ‘Seven Basic Plots’ approach.
‘Seven Basic Plots’ is a book written in 2004 by Christopher Booker. In it the author tries to prove that everything that has ever been written can be boiled down to just that: seven basic plots or story lines. As you examine them you may realize that your life story resembles one particular plot, or perhaps you could reinvent your brand, so your ‘brand story’ resembles the trajectory of your favourite mythological or literary hero.
The basic plots according to Booker are:
1. Overcoming the Monster (hero hears of a threat and sets out to destroy the source of evil) – David and Goliath
2. Rags to Riches (hero/heroine is oppressed and overlooked, but gradually overcomes adversity and gains fame and fortune) – Cinderella
3. The Quest (hero learns of a miraculous object/being and sets out to find it (alone or with companions) – The Knights of the Holy Grail
4. Voyage and Return – (hero sets out for the unknown lands where he survives the surrounding madness and returns home triumphant, wise and mature) – Alice in Wonderland, Ulysses
5. Comedy (two people are destined to be together, but are prevented by some evil force, which is eventually conquered so they can be reunited) – Beauty and the Beast
6. Tragedy (the main character is a villain who self-destructs in the end and so rids the world of his evil influence) – Macbeth
7. Rebirth (the central initially unpleasant character sees the error of his ways and is reformed before it’s too late) – A Christmas Carol
Every brand story can be reinterpreted in terms of the above seven plots. If you are in the middle of a career change then Rebirth is your plot (you don’t have to be evil to be reborn). Riches may be understood in spiritual terms – if you have found the peace of mind you’ve been searching maybe that you could teach everyone how to do it. If you are appalled by injustice then Quest is your plot and your ‘brand story’.
Or take another approach: American screenwriting guru Robert McKee in his book ‘Story’ claims that every story is set in motion by an inciting incident – usually a major event that conditions everything that follows. If you ever suffered rejection or a major setback you know that sometimes adversity brings out the best in us. That leads to another of McKee’s major building blocks – the principle of antagonism, which simply states that in order to achieve our best results we need opposition. If you are the underdog, use it as part of your personal branding – everyone identifies with the underdog.
In the end it doesn’t matter how you create your brand story, what matters is that both branding and storytelling are about ‘connecting the dots’ and making the brand or the main character stand out. And remember: it is a brand called You, so it’s up to you to define it.