Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out by Marc Ecko,
Touchstone Books, 304 pages, $30.00, Hardcover, October 2013,
You are not a label; you are a brand. This is Marc Ecko’s message in this edgy, blunt, and honest-to-the-point-of-vulnerable book that details his rise from a kid who spray painted t-shirts to a young man running a $500 million global corporation.
This book is the story of how I unlabeled myself, defying classifications so that I could grow both creatively and commercially. It’s a personal story, a business story, and a prescriptive course for anyone who wants to grow a brand.
Brands are often thought of negatively as the domain of advertising, but a personal brand can be a powerful tool. … It takes real effort, imagination, and follow-through to create your authentic personal brand.
Marc Ecko barely made it through college. He wasn’t an heir to a family company, picking up a torch and running with it. Instead, he was studying pharmaceuticals, designing hip hop t-shirts for friends, and obsessed with music and the culture surrounding it—a typical kid in college, perhaps more interested in the distractions than focused on the task at hand. But he was keenly interested in the emotional impact of how people dressed, talked, acted, what they liked, and what they might like next.
In any business, at the most basic level, you’re making stuff. But more important than what you make—whether it’s a product or a service, physical or digital—is how that stuff makes people feel. Authentic brands seek to render an EMOTIONAL IMPACT (Ǝ!). This impact is measured not only in the force but also the range, or the spectrum, that it can travel.
This focus lead him to start a company that produced t-shirts that he designed, which grew into an empire that produced full clothing lines, art, and even video games. The lessons within that process are broad because creating a brand encompasses every aspect of business, from the small to the so-big-you-might-never-have-to-worry-about-it. Whatever your organization does, Ecko will make you think about what else you might be able to do, what kinds of issues you’ll need to consider and what kinds of challenges you’ll inevitably face in order to get there.
I read this book cover-to-cover, unable to put it down. But as high level as the insight is, and as much as I recommend it, this is not a typical business book that will appeal to all readers. While there are the common charts, graphs, and even equations seen in other business books, this is a complex story about an empire that was built on hustle, determination, and a learn-as-you-go attitude, and it includes some language and experiences that may make some uncomfortable.
But, perhaps that is the point. Unlabel is as much a book about failure, frustration, and near catastrophe as it is about success, fulfillment, and fantastic accomplishment. Ecko has dealt with them all, and wants you to know that it takes a fine balance of self-belief and humility to build a big-time brand.