I have been thinking a lot lately about personal branding. Tom Peters, the author of the best-selling book "In Search of Excellence" (1982) also wrote a book called "The Brand You 50" (1999), stating " The white collar job as now configured is doomed. ...So what's the trick? There's only one: DISTINCTION. Or as we call it ... turning yourself into a brand ... Brand You."
Internet techology has now given us a myriad of ways to build and maintain one's personal brand or image in the world, with web pages, blogs, video sites, podcasts, social sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and Twitter.
40 years ago in the late 1960's when I was an architecture student, I thought (as did many of us in those egalitarian days) I would succeed strictly on merit. Appearances would count for nothing. It didn't take too much time out of the univerity to figure out this was wrong. Appearances are a form of communicating merit and therefore are central to succeeding based on merit. In today's world, it is much easier to communicate and present merit, but it helps to be purposeful in building image.
Yesterday, on Earth Day in America, I wrote a message to one of my Vietnamese colleagues in Ho Chi Minh City recommending that she emulate Michelle Kaufmann, the foremost American architect and designer bringing green design to American homes and families. I want to share that message with you:
Have a productive Earth Day today!
Since you sent to me the link to the Smart House at the Museum of Science and Industy in Chicago, I have been catching up online with the work of Michelle Kaufmann, the architect. I told you that we had worked together for a large firm in San Francisco, KMD Architects. She had been working with Frank Gehry in Los Angeles when my boss asked me to call her and send her an employment proposal to come and work for us in San Francisco, and she did. But she was a very energetic and ambitious young woman, so I knew we would not be able to keep her for long. After two years with us, she formed her own firm and has been extremely successful ever since. She also hired away from us a young architect whom I had worked closely with to be the president of her company.
I am sending these links to you because I think Michelle is a great role model for you. I know I would have accomplished more in my life if I had known of such role models when I was younger. So please pay particular attention to Michelle's passions and what she has accomplished with a lot of energy and an outgoing fearless personality. I think that you have many of the qualities that Michelle has, and that you can accomplish great things yourself in pursuing your passions.
First of all, remember the concept of "branding". We usually think of branding as applied to products. But branding is also very important for highly-effective individuals. Everything that you do creates your "brand" in the eyes of the people you work with and encounter in life. So you need to reflect on yourself and understand what your passions are and what you want to convey to others. Then you need to act in everything that you do to build the brand -- that positive reputation.
Building your brand means paying careful attention to the design of what you produce and how these things are presented. Look at Michelle's blog for example:
She uses a consistent design and color scheme in everything that she does. Notice that she writes very well and puts out ideas that can help other people meet their goals, in this case of leading more environmentally productive lives. Notice also that although her education was in architecture, she brings together many related disciplines to move towards her overall goal of "green living". She is very good at landscape architecture, interior design, product design, furniture design, and graphics design. She has also produced a series of videos (very professionally done) that present innovative but small doable ideas for green living. The videos are also available for subscription on YouTube.
On her company website,
she uses the same graphic motif and images as used on her blog. Michelle started her architecture firm because she wanted to buy an environmentally sustainable house for her family, but could not find what she was looking for. So she developed this idea to design a house as a product that would be fabricated in a factory and then brought to the site to be assembled. There have been other attempts to build factory-built (or pre-fabricated houses), but none of them were as beautiful and environmentally sustainable as her designs. She built one of her first prefabricated houses for Sunset Magazine, a widely-read western-living magazine in California, which brought a lot of attention in a very short time to Michelle and her new firm. Since then she has designed several different house designs for prefabrication and many have been constructed. She also designs custom homes using prefabicated elements. The house shown on the following web page is one of my favorites, and notice what a pure modernist design it is.
Santa Barbara House
The use of technology is very important in extending your brand awareness, and Michelle uses the available tools very effectivly. In addition to her blog and the company website online, she also uses YouTube and Twitter to constantly move her ideas out to interested people and attract new contacts. Obviously, these tools are only effective if you have something of value to say or present. It amazes me how Michelle is able to communicate almost everyday several times a day very interesting tips and ideas on her Twitter feed. I enjoy keeping up with her ideas this way. I know that Michelle is an exceptional person and has boundless energy and ability to easily project ideas and her personality. The rest of us may be able to accomplish a fraction of what she does, but that is what makes her such an effective role model for us.
Best wishes for you,