This August marked the 25 year anniversary of Tom's Fast Company cover story "The Brand Called You." This article was a landmark, the start of the personal branding movement.
To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You. . . . Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors—or your colleagues. . . . When you’re promoting brand You, everything you do—and everything you choose not to do—communicates the value and character of the brand. . . . If you want people to see you as a powerful brand, act like a credible leader. . . . As long as you’re learning, growing, building relationships, and delivering great results, it’s good for you and it’s great for the company." Tom Peters, "The Brand Called You," Fast Company, August 1997
What Tom was noticing in 1997 was that the world of work was changing rapidly with the influence of the nascent Internet. He recognized that careers would no longer resemble that of his father, who worked for a Baltimore energy company for the entirety of his work life. It was time to focus not on excellence that would move you up vertically within a single organization, but to instead grow your network and build horizontal excellence. It was time to focus on the kind of excellence that your peers would recognize and desire for the short-term, gig work that is common today.
Many have misunderstood Tom's Brand Called You message. Many have assumed that it's all about superficial appearance, how the world sees you, and that it has resulted in the current phenomenon of social media influencers. For Tom, it's always been about how you can bring value through your work to those around you, and to become a trusted part of making excellent products and services. Obviously this is a message that is just as valuable today as it was in 1997.
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." Tom Peters, "The Brand Called You," Fast Company, August 1997