How to “Be Your Brand”, not a Commodity

While reading Cycling – Philosophy for Everyone: A Philosophical Tour de Force, I came across the following quote: “The mobility of the bicycle reminds us much more of the old dream of being as free as a bird in the sky than a trip on the discounted economy expressway that commodifies our experiences.”

This one sentence not only captures the freedom of being a cyclist, but also the essence of personal branding. Uncovering, communicating, and managing your personal brand gives you the freedom to differentiate yourself, fly above others, and get noticed, rather than sit in crowd, blend in, and be ignored. William Arruda and Kirsten Dixson sum this up perfectly in Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand (Wiley):

“When you are just one of many others with similar skills and abilities, you don’t contribute to the diversity your organization needs to generate creative innovative ideas. Instead you become a commodity. And people don’t get excited about commodities.”

How can you avoid being a commodity, be free as a bird, and get people excited about your personal brand? Follow these 3 tips.


We often fall into the trap of identifying ourselves by our job title. While this is a valid representation of what we do, it actually groups us into the same category as everyone else doing the same type of job. Imagine if you introduced yourself the following way:

“We’re in the business of human connection and humanity, creating communities in a third place between home and work.”

Sounds like a pretty cool job and much better than if Howard Schultz, Starbucks President and CEO, simply said: “We sell good coffee.”

You need to sell an EXPERIENCE and describe it in such a way so that it differentiates what you do from everyone else. Of course Starbucks prides itself on its coffee, but notice how Howard Schultz does not simply say they are in the business to sell coffee! The Starbucks coffee experience can be summed up in just a few words: great coffee in comfortable surroundings served by an attentive staff and produced by a company that cares about our world. This is certainly an experience!

What you can do right now:

Remove your job title in your LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, profiles. Sell an experience that will give people a reason to follow, connect, friend, or add you to their circles. Instead of saying you are a “psychiatrist” tell others you are “The Shrink for Entrepreneurs who want freedom, wealth, and sanity” (@PeterShallard). Or, rather than identifying yourself as a “communications coach” say you are “The Evangelist for the global storytelling movement” (@getstoried).


If it is not unique it is a commodity and commodities compete on price. Remember, selling yourself as your job title does not make you any different from anyone else with the same title. When your are not showing the unique promise of value that you bring to the table, then people are not necessarily motivated to hire you and pay you a premium. By demonstrating your uniqueness you are promising an experience that others are willing to pay for.

Why are people willing to pay a premium for Starbucks coffee? Simply, we are attracted to Starbucks because we know wherever we are around the world we can easily walk into any Starbucks and have the same unique comforting experience. Their ‘Third Place’ experience even influences the design of their shops. While coffee takes center stage, the design is meant to make customers feel comfortable. Starbucks stores mix upholstered chairs and sofas with hard-backed chairs around tables. Most offer free electricity and Wi-Fi so customers can plug in and use their laptops. Soothing tunes are playing in the background and many locations even have a spot with books, newspapers, magazine, and games to encourage customers to settle in. They are offering a unique comforting experience that replicates that “third place between home and work.”

What you can do right now:

Find something that you are passionate about and connect it to your job. For example, I combine personal branding strategy with cycling imagery. I always thought of cycling as separate from my work, but in my own 360Reach personal brand assessment it was clear that everyone identifies me by my energy and passion for cycling. Therefore, I decided to clearly, consistently, and constantly demonstrate this uniqueness by using a cycling image as well as the tag line: “Personal branding with a spin.” Like a magnet it attracts people to what I do. They are intrigued by how I connect cycling with branding and want to know more.


Being good at what you do is no longer good enough, and simply waiting for others to recognize the good job you are doing is a waste of time. You must consciously act upon your authenticity and broadcast it to the world by standing out, showing up, and spreading the word. The question you need to answer is how do you differentiate yourself from all the others who are also doing a good job?

While Starbucks is about coffee, they differentiate this coffee atmosphere from other cafes in various ways. For example, Starbucks employees cannot wear strong fragrances that would interfere with the coffee aroma, and nearly all Starbucks around the world are non-smoking indoors. Interestingly, preserving the coffee-centric atmosphere was the reason that Starbucks abandoned its short-lived experiment into serving breakfast sandwiches. The smell of the sandwiches apparently overpowered the coffee aroma, making the shops smell like diners – an image that the company does not want to present.

What you can do right now:

I love the “Same/Different” exercise suggested by William Arruda. Simply take out a piece of paper, divide into two columns titled “Same” and “Different”. Write down all the things in the “same” column that are similar between you and others doing the same type of work. Likewise, in the “different” column right down what differentiates you. Finally, look at everything in the “different” column and mark all the items that are “emotional attributes.” These are the characteristics that provide the need and desire for people to connect with you rather than with others who have the same job or similar skill set. Use these characteristics to communicate how others will feel or what they will be like should they choose to hire, connect with, or engage with you.

By following these 3 tips people will be excited about you!  Do you have any other tips?  Please share your ideas below.  

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About the author

Peter Sterlacci Peter Sterlacci is known as “Japan’s personal branding pioneer.” In a country where fitting-in is the norm, Peter’s mission is to pioneer a ‘cultural shift’ by helping Japanese to stand out in a global environment. An avid cyclist, he combines cycling imagery with personal branding strategy to empower his clients to shift gears and sprint to career success. Follow Peter on Google+