Brand Yourself! Brilliant Concept!

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But can it be sold on a website featuring violence and assassination?

I well remember getting out of the Army in 1960 and moving into a $40-a-month Manhattan walk-up railroad flat on East 71st Street—three rooms in a row with a bathtub in the kitchen and access to one of four johns down the hall, each with a big brass key to unlock the door.

I had no job and no idea what I would do with the rest of my life.

I was very lucky. Thanks to family connections I landed a $60-a-week entry-level job writing publicity releases and getting authors on radio and TV shows for Prentice-Hall book publishers in New Jersey across the George Washington Bridge.

In those early years I would run into eager young people with liberal arts educations like myself—but with little work experience and no connections—who were looking for jobs. Trying to be helpful, I asked, “What can you do?”

The answer very often was, “I like people.”

“Yes, but …” I would say slowly, “What can you do?”

What triggered this column was an Aug. 15, 2012 press release picked up by Reuters with the intriguing headline:

World’s First Online Personal Branding EngineTM Helps Individuals Learn How to Stand Out in Crowded Market to Win Jobs

I have amassed extensive files in my private archive on the techniques of branding companies, products and services and have done a number of stories on the subject.

When I read the press release about a system whereby individuals can brand themselves, I went off on a reverie—one of my flights of fancy.

The idea of men and women coming up with a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that enables them to stand out from a stack of résumés struck me as a stunningly brilliant business model!

Résumés generally give the chronology of what a person has done—education, jobs and responsibilities. All resumes look alike. Go through a stack of résumés, and it doesn’t take long for your eyes to start glazing over.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • Jon P

    Denny, this idea is hardly new. It was very popular in the late 90’s and in the years that immediately followed. But interest around the idea of personal branding seems to have cooled off over the last few years. Or perhaps it’s just the phrase "personal branding" that people have begun to deride. But certainly CEOs, athletes and celebrities have really worked this angle with Twitter, Facebook and other SM tools to promote their unique points of view and personalities. Also, quite a few marketers and branding experts have used this idea to build cultish followings for their own unique personal brands. Add to that how many one-man consulting businesses are out there (probably millions) trying to brand themselves. In a way, you’re a prime example, in case you didn’t already realize it.

    On Amazon, there are over 1400 titles in the category of personal branding, so by now, the idea has surely worked it’s way down to the masses, including recent college grads. Considering all that, as bizarre and off-putting as Hitman is, perhaps he’s got the right idea: find a narrow niche in a crowded field. A very narrow, but you have to admit, unique niche in his case.

  • Brent Gardner

    There’s a market for the cloak and dagger theme, and I’d say that he’s designed a site to attract that market. Within reach of my desk are several books I recommend: Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Carl von Clausewitz’s On War. They aren’t just conversation pieces. There’s some vital business lessons to be learned within them. Some people don’t like the comparison between war and business, as it’s not politically correct, or nice (and for fun, look up the etymology of the word nice). Business is very Darwinian. If you’re coming in second place a lot, you’re not going to survive. And while we’re on the topic of advertising that favors men – what’s wrong with that? There’s enough Honey Boo Boo on the Internet already.

  • Dave Culbertson

    Thanks for expanding upon an idea that isn’t new but certainly isn’t well known or understood. I distinctly remember being introduced to the idea: Fast Company magazine, 8/31/1997.

  • rkasnick

    6 years ago jobs were very scarce, especially in IT. I sent upwards of 200 resumes, answered countless ads, and got less than 5 interviews and no job offers. That’s when I decided to take a wild chance: change my cover letter to as USP, I embedded 4 excerpts of recommendations with names and companies (used with permission) from my Linkedin profile and started with : Here are 4 reasons why I should work for you! Result? My very first submission (on-line) elicited a response within 2 hours and a job offer the next day. YES, create a USP and brand yourself, it DOES work.

  • Michael White

    "Can we get on you Mastermind, Sybil? Next contestant, Sybil Fawlty from Torquay — special subject, the bleedin’ obvious!"
    — Basil Fawlty

    Nice article, Denny. I wasn’t sure if you were being serious or not about the whole "branding yourself" thing being a brilliant concept, because it’s not all that brilliant to me. It’s what all the career coaches advise job hunters to do if they’re trying to stand out from among other job seekers, i.e., come up with a USP.

    When I worked at Hobbs Herder Advertising, it was this very concept we used to drive our business model. Our job was to come up with a USP for individual Realtor-clients who wanted to stand out from among all the other real estate agents out there. It wasn’t easy sometimes. I interviewed hundreds of real estate agents in preparation for writing their personal branding brochures and collateral materials, and you wouldn’t believe how many would make the claim "Well, I offer personalized service" when I asked them what made them unique from other real estate agents.

    I’m guessing that your telling the hitman people that their concept is brilliant is a subtle way of needling them for making a grandiose claim of promoting what they claim is a unique concept — something that other marketing and career guidance people are already doing every day…sort of like telling a new restaurant chain that they’re “brilliant” for making the advertising claim, “we’re the first to offer great food at an affordable price.”

    If you really were serious in telling them they’re brilliant, then I’m probably missing some other point you were trying to make. My apologies. It’s only Tuesday after all, and I don’t have enough caffeine flowing through my veins yet.

    Keep up the good work!


  • Tim McCreight

    Hey Denny, nice post. I remember the head of the first agency I worked at, Neil Fox, saying that finding a new client was like finding a job and both required a marketing plan rooted in a USP. That would have been in 1989 or so. But what’s truly astonished me in the back and forth you shared was this bit:

    "Wars come and go. People get shot in theaters or schools. Embassies are attacked and people die. That’s just news, not marketing and branding. "

    Wow. Life and death are just news, not important stuff like marketing and branding. I suppose that’s a worldview. It just seems sadly backward to me.

  • helstoski

    Denny……Another fantastic insight…..You are right on target…….and what people don’t get is that is so simple. Who is your audience??