Just Me! The 'personal brand' explosion

November 14, 2013

If you were a fan of NBC's Must See TV in the 90’s, then you certainly remember the show Will & Grace, a groundbreaking sit-com set in NYC with four of the greatest characters to ever hit the tube: Grace Adler, a neurotic designer who struggled with life and relationships in hilarious ways; Will Truman, Grace’s former boyfriend, a prissy, narcissistic lawyer; Karen Walker, a wealthy, boozing, degenerate who was Grace’s assistant and a constant thorn in her side; and finally Jack McFarland, a neighbor and a flamboyantly gay, completely self-absorbed actor and performer wannabe.

The show broke many barriers of the time having to do with gender, alternative lifestyles, relationships, and sexuality, and it did it with clever scripts and terrific characters.  But it was ahead of its time in another way as well.

In the show’s first season, Jack decides he needs to create a compelling ‘brand’ to help his moribund performing career because of course, he lacks the self-awareness to recognize he’s not all that talented. Thus was born one of the first widely known examples of ‘personal branding’….”JUST JACK!

It was one of the show’s funnier bits, as he created a whole presentation behind “JUST JACK!”, framing his overly smiling visage with his hands as he shouted it out, and then morphing the concept in subsequent seasons to “JACK 2000!” to play off of the Y2K mania at the turn of the millennium.

I was reminded of this initial exposure to ‘personal branding’ in recent months because of the volume of articles and news items I’ve come across since joining CoreBrand that touch on that very topic. It appears that what was once ironic enough to be a sit-com gag is now quickly becoming a hot new trend in self-expression.

The term ‘personal brand’ is believed to have first been mentioned in a 1997 article in Fast Company Magazine written by Tom Peters titled The Brand Called You. In it, he basically says individuals are the CEO of themselves, and as such, they should think as would the CEO of Coca-Cola or any other business enterprise. As Mr. Peters wrote at the time, “you're every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different?”

So what’s behind the current explosion of the personal brand phenomenon that Will & Grace foretold back in 1998 and Tom Peters first wrote about in 1997? Well, obviously social media has a lot to do with it. Back in the ancient 90’s, there was virtually no social media as we now know it, and the Internet was often a slow clunky dial up connection for painfully slow browsing and emails. But now, through online social media sites, people are able to promote their ideas, beliefs, passions and personality instantly and creatively on all kinds of platforms that touch hundreds, if not thousands of people. Thus the need for people to start thinking about presenting a consistent image, or brand to their stakeholders. And that’s where a ‘personal brand’ comes into play, and why it is becoming a focus for so many.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but the idea of creating a personal brand per se did not come easily. In some ways, it feels very narcissistic and self-serving, and of course, I can’t get the image of Jack McFarland and ‘JUST JACK!’ out of my head! However, I’m smart enough to realize that I am likely in the minority, and that for the population of Millenials, Gen Y, and even Gen X, who grew up immersed in technology and a web-enabled world, where access to audiences is instantaneous and effortless, the concept of a ‘personal brand’ makes a lot of sense. So yea, I guess I have to start thinking about my own ‘personal brand’…. and I know, I know…‘JUST DAN!’ ain’t gonna cut it.

Have you created a ‘personal brand’, or do you have ideas about creating one?

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