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Build Your Own Life Brand!

A Powerful Strategy to Maximize Your Potential and Enhance Your Value for Ultimate Achievement


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About The Book

Let bestselling author Stedman Graham show you how building your own "Life Brand" will result in a more successful and fulfilling life.
From traditional corporations to the Internet, from top executives to people striving every day in their communities, "branding" has become one of the most significant marketing practices in pop culture today. We all rely on our favorite brand-name products to provide us with a certain level of quality. Now Stedman Graham shows readers how applying branding strategies to their own lives can help them attain their greatest potential and value.
We all have talents, knowldge, and other gifts to share -- not just at work but with loved ones and everyone we meet. Putting these traits to work for you as part of your Life Brand will enable you to reach your highest goals and enrich the world around you. With entertaining and pointed insights on personal branding styles and step-by-step instructions for developing a brand of your own, Build Your Own Life Brand! will show you how to:

  • Discover and develop your individual brand assets, like your talents, knowldege, and personal characteristics
  • Build and expand upon those strengths
  • Identify "target markets" for key areas of your life -- your work your relationships, and your community
  • Create more value in those markets as well as your own life.


Chapter One: Build a Brand Name for Yourself

When I was playing high school basketball many years ago, there was one name that stood out in every game: Chuck Taylor. Chuck wasn't a big scorer or a great rebounder. In fact, he was constantly underfoot on the court. More accurately, he was on our feet. Before there were Nikes or Reeboks, Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars was the brand. It was the most popular basketball shoe of my high school generation.

Back then, when you made the varsity team, you just had to get a pair of Chuck Taylor high-tops. All the players that I admired in high school, college, and the pros were wearing them, so I associated Chuck Taylor with success on the basketball court. I grew up like everyone else, with hundreds of other brand-name products around me -- top brands such as Wheaties, Pepsi, and Ford Thunderbird -- but my desire to have a pair of Chuck Taylors marked the real beginning of my brand awareness as a consumer.

A brand product is one with a unique identity intended to set it apart from similar products. The cereal brand Wheaties is "the breakfast of champions." The Pepsi soft drink brand is "the joy of cola." Compaq brand computers offer "better answers," according to an ad in a magazine on my desk. We are so bombarded by product brands that we are hardly conscious of them much of the time, but most of us have at least some level of brand awareness. We can sing the jingles of our favorite brands. It's the real thing! We can repeat their ad slogans. Just do it! Most important for the companies that make brand-name products, we look for them when we shop.

Increasing a product's brand awareness is one of the jobs performed by my management and marketing consulting company, S. Graham & Associates. Marketing and working with brands are the primary roles of my firm, which provides strategic planning, marketing, consulting, and program execution to companies seeking to target general and multicultural markets. Our clients come to us for help in creating, expanding, and revitalizing their brand names. Our speciality is to build upon what they have already accomplished with their brands by helping them sell their products to multicultural consumers whom they may not be reaching effectively. We also help new companies develop and establish their brands by determining what their primary target markets are and how they can best explain the value of their product to consumers.


  • "Everything is a brand. Most people don't recognize that. Where you live, the house you live in, the street you live on...they are all brands. And people are brands," Frank Delano, president of the New York-based Delano & Young, a brand-image firm, told the Chicago Tribune recently.
  • "We're all brands, in the sense that we have a certain identity, have to maintain a certain quality and have to bring something to [radio station] affiliates they can't bring to themselves," said broadcaster Charles Osgood at a 1999 advertising industry conference entitled "Brand Building for the 21st Century."

The business world has long recognized the value of creating a recognizable and clearly defined brand. In recent years, the principles of branding increasingly have been applied to individuals too. Just as Coca-Cola, Apple, and Tommy Hilfiger have brands with assets that they develop and pitch to consumers, you too have assets that you must build upon, market, and expand. It may sound strange to you at first, but think about these situations:

  • When you apply for a job, aren't you trying to "sell" the interviewer on you and your particular brand assets, which include your talents, knowledge, training, and personal characteristics such as your energy, your determination, or your leadership attributes?
  • When you meet someone whom you find interesting or attractive, don't you try to make a favorable impression so that you will stand out in that person's mind?
  • When you move into a new neighborhood, join an organization, or participate in a fund-raising drive, don't you try to communicate to the people involved that you have something of value to offer?

While the concept of branding yourself may seem strange at first, I've noticed that many successful people instinctively think of themselves as "brands" or "products" in the marketplace. When I told Oprah that I had decided to write a book on personal branding, she said: "People are always talking about how I built my brand but I wasn't thinking about that at all. I was winging it, just trying to do my best and to get where I wanted to be." Today, Oprah is very aware of her brand as a businesswoman and entertainer, as are most other successful men and women. They may have built their brands instinctively, but they realize the importance of managing them thoughtfully.

Each of us has a unique blend of talents, knowledge, and other personal assets. We want to make the most of those gifts by developing them and sharing them with the world. I believe that's what makes us truly happy. It isn't about having the nicest clothes, the fanciest cars, or the biggest house. Happiness comes when you are fully engaged in life, so that when you come to the end of your time on this earth, you've used up every ounce of energy, every bit of brainpower, and every gift you've been given. The happiest, most fulfilled people I know aren't necessarily those with the most material things. They are the people who know that their lives have value in the world around them.

When you build a Life Brand, and then manage it, expand upon it, and protect it, you create a method for sharing your gifts and putting them to their highest use -- for your benefit and for the benefit of everyone within your reach. Did you notice I called your brand a "Life Brand"? That's because my goal is to help you attain your highest potential and value, not only in your work or career but also in your relationships, and in every other aspect of your life.

You have talents, knowledge, and other gifts to share -- not just at work, but with your loved ones and with everyone who shares some portion of your life. In the chapters that follow, we will assess your Life Brand "assets," and then look at ways to increase and enhance your value in everything you become involved in. The ultimate goal is to create a fulfilling life by enriching the lives of everyone you touch. It's built upon the philosophy that when you focus on offering your talents and energy to serve others, the rewards will flow your way too.


Branding has long been a buzzword in the business world, but I'm going to take you beyond creating a mere career brand. My vision of personal branding differs substantially from visions that basically offer methods for promoting yourself in your job or career. It's wonderful to be successful in your work, but I've seen too many people who focus only on getting to the top, neglecting their relationships and their personal development along the way. Often, they achieve their goals and then realize that they feel emotionally and spiritually empty because their focus has been too narrow. As Lily Tomlin said, "The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat."

There is no real or lasting fulfillment in a life focused merely on obtaining material success, power, or recognition. There is nothing inherently wrong with those things, if they happen to come to you as the result of how you live your life. I believe they should not be your primary goal. "The less I've cared about money and commissions, the more money I've made. Make the right decisions for the right reasons and the right things will happen. Remember: He who dies with the most toys...dies," says Bill Haber, who cofounded the Creative Artists Agency and is now active in the Save the Children charity.

Like Bill Haber, I've found that the most fulfilled people are those who build value into their Life Brands and then spread it around. I'm going to show you in the pages that follow how to create a high-quality Life Brand that will enable you to stand out not only in your work but also in your relationships and the greater "communities" that you belong to. I consider your communities to include everything from the place you live and the world you live in to your professional ties, your spiritual life, and your network of friends, business associates, teammates, and anyone else within your circle of influence. That includes service, religious, professional, and social organizations; charities, fraternities, and sororities; and your own network of contacts and acquaintances.


I have another concern about many of the personal branding programs I've seen. They often encourage a "me first" attitude. It's not you and your brand against the world. That approach will get you nowhere fast. Why would an employer or client, a friend, or a teammate buy into someone with that approach? I prefer to think of personal branding as a method for identifying your value as a human being, for making that value widely known, and for nurturing and enhancing that value throughout your lifetime.

Here's a quick exercise to help you see the difference between branding yourself purely for selfish reasons and building a Life Brand for the purpose of sharing your talents, skills, and knowledge with the world:

Visualize yourself seated in the middle of a huge crowd in an auditorium. Many of the most powerful people in politics, entertainment, and business are present. There are television cameras positioned to broadcast the evening's events to viewing audiences around the world. With all of the influential people and media on hand, it's a great opportunity to "sell" your Life Brand. But how?

Here are two options:

  1. You stand on the seat of your chair and jump up and down while shouting for attention and then you tell everyone what you've done and what you have to offer.
  2. The master of ceremonies asks everyone else in the audience to rise and honor you with their applause and cheers for your many accomplishments and contributions.

Which scenario appeals to you? Which would have the most far-reaching and long-lasting implications? Which would be more rewarding over the long term? That is the difference between mere self-promotion and Life Brand building. Unlike some personal branding methods, mine is designed to help you put your talents, skills, knowledge, and personal strengths to their greatest use in the service of your employers or clients, your loved ones, and your community. That does not mean that I'm advising you to give your gifts away. On the contrary, my belief is that when we focus on adding value to others, we realize more rewards than we would ever receive by seeking only personal success, wealth, or recognition. Of course, the first thing you must do is build up your own "assets." That's what creating a Life Brand is all about.

This book offers guidance to help you identify the best that is within you by building a Life Brand with valuable assets. You will learn how to build your brand based on who you really are, not who you think people might want you to be. Much of the current literature on personal branding talks about "selling" yourself to potential employers, clients, or customers. Be assured, I am not going to show you how to sell yourself like a box of Cheer or a six-pack of Yoo-Hoo soft drink. I will offer you a variety of proven methods to market your Life Brand in order to help you stretch for even greater opportunities and challenges.

We all want to stand out from the crowd. We all want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives. We all want to be successful in our own way. I will help you do those things by teaching you to think of yourself as a Life Brand. This is more than a catchphrase or a motivational tool. It's a method for managing your life. My process is a holistic approach encompassing all aspects of your life. It will keep you focused on the things that are truly unique about you and important to you. It will help you maintain a balance among work, family, and service to your community. It also will be of great use when you are faced with making important decisions, by helping you distinguish between those opportunities that are in alignment with your long-term goals for all aspects of your Life Brand and those that are not.

Before we get into the process of building your Life Brand, let's take a deeper look at the concept of product branding. Not everything done in the branding of consumer products applies to people, of course, but many of the principles are the same, and it will be helpful for you to understand the basics.


When you are looking for clothes do you seek out brand names like FUBU, Gap, or Donna Karan? At the grocery store, do you purchase generic ketchup or Heinz? Odds are that you have picked up an affinity for one brand or another in almost every type of goods you purchase. You're still not sure that you have any brand preferences? Do you like bananas? One banana tastes pretty much like any other banana, doesn't it? I have one word for you -- Chiquita -- a brand-name banana. They grow on the same trees as all other bananas, but because they've got a well-known, heavily marketed brand name, you and I tend to choose them over bananas sold by other producers.

What makes for a powerful product brand? In 1997, Interbrand, a branding consulting firm with clients around the world, published an analysis of top brands. The company evaluated 350 brands using four criteria. As you read these, think about how each of them might apply to your Life Brand in your three primary markets: your work, your relationships, and the greater communities that you participate in.

The four criteria for a strong brand as identified by Interbrand were:

  1. Brand weight: the brand's influence in its category or market
  2. Brand length: its reach outside its original category
  3. Brand breadth: its appeal range in terms of age groups, consumer types, and international impact
  4. Brand depth: its ability to inspire loyalty among consumers

Based on those four criteria, Interbrand selected its top ten consumer product brands. Before you read the list, make up your own based on the brand names that are most familiar to you. The names on your list probably will match those on Interbrand's fairly closely if you have a typical level of brand awareness. Here are their choices for the top ten consumer product brands:

  1. McDonald's, which was cited for its "consistent brand values, industry dominance, and a living personality"
  2. Coca-Cola, a brand with "worldwide appeal"
  3. Disney, known for its "integrated system in which each Disney property enhances and reinforces the whole"
  4. Kodak, a major brand since 1888
  5. Sony, a brand with a "clear focus on electronics, technical research and innovation, and a policy of global localization"
  6. Gillette, another long-term brand that has updated its image in recent years
  7. Mercedes-Benz, "the ultimate status brand embodying safety, heritage, and longevity"
  8. Levi's, a dominant brand that has struggled recently but still is strongly linked with American values
  9. Microsoft, a relatively new brand that has grown from a software leader to a much broader technology brand
  10. Marlboro, "the world's leading international cigarette brand, instantly recognizable by its red and white packaging and cowboy image"


The companies behind all of those brand-name products and the millions of others being pitched to you each day believe that a strong brand creates a bond with consumers by giving them something of value and by consistently delivering on their promise of doing it. When you go into a McDonald's restaurant -- whether it's in Boise, Idaho; Bangor, Maine; or Browns-ville, Texas -- you know what to expect. That Quarter Pounder with Cheese that you value so much will be there, and its taste will be consistent with those that you've had at other McDonald's. Companies with powerful brands have learned that you and I will keep coming back to their products, and sometimes pay a premium price for them, if they consistently deliver on that promise of giving us something we want or need.

Think for a minute about the people you value most in your work, your relationships, and within organizations or groups you belong to. They are people who deliver something you value, aren't they? They have skills, knowledge, or personal characteristics that add to the quality of your life. Their "brands" or reputations carry a promise. Do you have an employee or a coworker who comes through every time? A trusted adviser whose wisdom you rely upon? A favorite aunt or uncle whom you can always count upon to make you feel loved and appreciated? A friend who makes you laugh even in down times? Each of those individuals offers something specific that you value. The people who mean the most to you, then, are those who offer you the most value throughout your life. The individuals who stand out in the world around us are those who offer the greatest value to the most people -- just as those products with the strongest brands are the ones that offer us the greatest value.


Modern marketing experts attribute the development of brand images for products to the advertising world. David Ogilvy, one of the masterminds of advertising in the 1960s, and the author of Confessions of an Advertising Man, popularized the idea of creating a lasting brand image for products in order to create customer loyalty for the long term. Ogilvy believed in selling not just the product but also the physical or psychological benefits that are "promised" in the product's advertising and marketing. His approach led to the creation of the Marlboro Man and the Pepsi Generation brand images, among many others.

Ogilvy and his disciples in the advertising and marketing game believed that what was said or promised about the product through the brand image was every bit as important, if not more important, than the actual product itself. You and I don't always buy into this consciously, but subconsciously we may select a certain brand of car, say a Jeep Grand Cherokee, over another brand, say a Chevrolet Suburban, because the Jeep has a brand image that we find more appealing -- even though both models would satisfy our basic needs for getting to work, the grocery store, and the soccer game.


Today, it is all but impossible not to have the big brand names dancing in your brain because of all the brand advertising in newspapers and magazines, and on billboards, radio, television, and the Internet. Some of it is meaningful, but some of it is downright silly. If you read some computer ads, it sounds as though they are selling race cars, not desktops. But there is a method to this madness. It's all about associating a desirable image with a product in order to attract consumers to the product.

Some brand marketers talk about creating a lifestyle brand. Marketing scientists who study consumer buying habits say that brands can become so powerful that people incorporate them into their everyday lives. That's why you see the Eddie Bauer brand not only on rugged clothing but also on casual home furnishings, bedding, baby furniture, rugs, candles, lanterns, lamps, and garden accessories, not to mention a special edition of the Ford Explorer.

Once a brand becomes as well established as Eddie Bauer, the people who own it do their best to extend its reach so that it becomes a lifestyle choice. That means creating new products that bear the brand name and joining forces with other major brands, such as Ford, to reach entirely new markets.

From my experiences in the marketing business, I can tell you that successful companies like Eddie Bauer and others such as Johnson & Johnson, which makes and sells big brand-name products such as Tylenol, Motrin, and Band-Aid, spend millions and millions of dollars creating, advertising, and building their brand names so that you and I will ask for their products.

These giant companies understand the long-term benefits of building a brand that stands out from the crowd. So should you! But I'm not selling anything, you say. That is not true.


If you have any goals or dreams for your life, then, whether you realize it or not, you are already pitching your own "brand" every day in many different ways -- whether you are a high school student hoping to make the grade for college, an athlete vying for a position on a team, or a businessperson working to get ahead of the competition. You may never have thought of applying the branding process to your life, but others have been doing it for years. Candidates for public office have been packaged like brands since the days of "Honest Abe" and "Give 'Em Hell, Harry" Truman. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was packaged as a dynamic, athletic presidential candidate even though he was generally confined to a wheelchair. John F. Kennedy's brand managers frequently arranged for the press to photograph him playing touch football or roughhousing with his children, yet we later learned he had such a bad back that he often had to sit in a rocking chair.

What about brand-name celebrities? As I'll show you in a later chapter, they have been packaged and branded since the earliest days of Hollywood, when studio actors and actresses were given whole new identities in order to sell them to the press and the public. Today, the concept of personal branding -- creating a distinctive identity that makes a person stand out from the crowd -- has become so widely used that headhunters, college advisers, and career counselors encourage job hunters to "package themselves" as a brand in the workforce marketplace.

Why is branding a good idea for you? Because the world of work has changed, and because, as I've discovered, it's a wonderful way to take responsibility for your own happiness and success in all aspects of your life.

In bygone agricultural and industrial societies, people's lives were generally charted out from birth. The majority of men and women never left the villages or cities where they were born. Most stayed within the jobs or professions and class levels of their parents. The world was a smaller place. People typically knew each other from birth. They knew each other's families from generation to generation.

That is no longer the case in our knowledge society. Today we are fairly bombarded with choices and opportunities. It's increasingly rare to know where you will be living or working ten or even five years into the future. Class mobility has also hit hyperspeed. A fast move up can come with a surge in the NASDAQ, a bonus check, or a job offer that includes stock options. We are always on the move, and as a result, it is more difficult to let others know the value we represent as individuals. That is why it is now so important to take responsibility for managing every aspect of your life. It's not so much about having control. Nobody can control what happens to them, but we can control how we respond. Building a Life Brand helps you to understand your own strengths and your own weaknesses. It encourages you to keep building upon your strengths throughout your lifetime so that you are prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that most appeal to you. A well-defined personal brand will also help you more easily determine which opportunities don't fit into your life plan and which ones are worth pursuing because they fit into your long-term goals.


When you create, manage, and keep expanding your Life Brand, it gives you an advantage over those who simply drift along, or get swept away by the tide. "History's great achievers -- a Napoleon, a da Vinci, a Mozart -- have always managed themselves. That, in large measure, is what makes them great achievers," notes management expert Peter F. Drucker in a Harvard Business Review article entitled "Managing Oneself."

"Now, most of us, even those of us with modest endowments, will have to learn to manage ourselves. We will have to learn to develop ourselves. We will have to place ourselves where we can make the greatest contribution," he added. "Managing oneself demands that each knowledge worker think and behave like a chief executive."

Creating a Life Brand provides you with a system for doing just that. It positions you as the head of your own company whose primary product is your life. The goal of your Life Brand Inc. is to create a fulfilling and productive existence, one you hope will be valued long after you've gone.

The father of product branding, David Ogilvy, died in July 1999 at the age of eighty-eight. One month later, the company he founded in 1948 -- the giant advertising firm of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide -- announced that it was remaking its corporate identity by adopting the handwritten signature of Ogilvy as its official logo. "We've embraced the truth about the brand known as Ogilvy; humor, uniqueness, boldness, individuality," said one of the firm's executives in a news story. David Ogilvy's Life Brand was so strong that even after his death this global corporation chose to link itself to him and the integrity and high standards his name still represents.

My goal in writing this book is to help you build that kind of life: one that people will remember, respect, and honor long after you've moved on.

Let's get started.

Copyright © 2001 by Graham-Williams Group

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Stedman Graham is chairman and CEO of S. Graham and Associates, a management and marketing consulting firm based in Chicago. He is the author of ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. Graham lectures and conducts seminars for businesses and organizations around the country. He is a former adjunct professor at Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, and is currently a visiting professor at several other universities. Active in philanthropy and community work, he is on the international board of Junior Achievement, is founder of Athletes Against Drugs, and is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Free Press (May 9, 2002)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780684856988

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