A brand is not a tangible thing. It can be valued, but cannot be owned. A brand is the collective sentiment felt about you or your product. Since we’re talking about personal branding, we're talking about you. When somebody conjures up your name, what comes to mind? Are you reliable, trustworthy, fun, exciting, honest, hard-working, respectful, etc.? At its core, branding is fairly simple—its’ setting an expectation or set of expectations and then either failing to meet, meeting, or exceeding those expectations. Strong brands are strong because we know what to expect from them. Stronger brands are stronger because they exceed your expectations. Participating in their brand says something about us and our tribes. There’s a reason for the saying, “You're only as good as the company you keep.”

Zappos is commonly referred to as the gold start of customer service. They have a brand that is centered around providing a superior experience for the people who choose their business. We can spend money on all sorts of design (and we should), but word of mouth will make or break your brand. Trust is paramount. Don’t try to ‘create a brand’ based on what you think people want. Instead, it will be well worth your time to more fully and deeply understand who you are at the core of your being, learn your strengths, passions, values, and talents, and then work on contributing to the world around you.

In an article that appeared in AdAge, executive vice president of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic Services Pete Blackshaw writes:

Zappos is a game changer, and it found value -- and ferocious word-of-mouth and brand advocacy -- in a place most of us leave for dead and certainly don't consider even close to being a media channel: customer service. They took this "cost center" input and turned it into an unassailable asset, fortified by the founder-CEO's sometimes "cult-like" (arguably irrational, by the typical marketing book) obsession with serving the consumer at all costs. It wasn't flaky. He approached this with focus, discipline, real incentives and an obsession over a "different" set of numbers. (Is Customer Service a Media Channel? Ask Zappos, 2009)


Your goal for your first assignment is to begin collecting information from which you will learn what your brand really is. The reason this assignment is first is because it might take some time to get the responses you need in order to move forward with what you uncover in the next lesson.

  1. Make a list of ten people. This list should include some people you know well and some you don't. If you can, include family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Try to include both people you are in communication with currently as well as the past. Former partners can be good for this as well.
  2. Make a brief note, email, tweet, Facebook post, or phone call to the people in your list and ask them know you are working on personal or professional development and would appreciate their help and feedback about who you are.

A few examples of notes are:

  1. Dear [insert name here], I am working on better understanding my gifts and talents in the world. Could you please describe me in three words, I would really appreciate it.  Thanks.
  2. Dear [insert name here], if you had to describe me in three words what would they be?
  3. Dear [insert name here], could you describe a time when you felt we were most connected?
  4. Dear [insert name here], could you describe a time you felt I was most me?