Unlabel by Marc Ecko [Book Summary & PDF]

With Unlabel, you will learn how to discover your own voice by overcoming fear and taking action, what it means to deliver on your promises, why failure is essential, how to understand how your product or service makes people feel, and how to recognise if your nostalgia for the past is hampering your ability to envision your future.





Who is this book for?

Unlabel is a bold, visual, and honest approach, ideal for everyone who wants to build an authentic personal brand, grow a bootstrap start-up into a sustainable business, or balance creativity with commerce.

About the author

Marc Eckō is an American fashion designer, entrepreneur, investor and artist. He is the founder of Marc Eckō Enterprises, a global fashion and lifestyle company. He is also the founder and chairman of Complex Media, a network of 110+ websites that generate more than 700 million page views and 70 million unique visitors per month. Eckō serves as an emeritus board member to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Big Picture Learning and Tikva Children’s Home.

In this summary

With Unlabel, you will learn how to discover your own voice by overcoming fear and taking action, what it means to deliver on your promises, why failure is essential, how to understand how your product or service makes people feel, and how to recognise if your nostalgia for the past is hampering your ability to envision your future. Let’s dive in!



This book breaks down the anatomy of a personal brand as demonstrated by Marc Eckō’s Authenticity Formula:

  • Authenticity (1)
  • is equal to your unique voice (2)
  • multiplied by truthfulness (3)
  • plus your capacity for change (4)
  • multiplied by range of emotional impact (5)
  • raised to the power of imagination (6)


We’re all a brand. How people see you, feel you, understand you, and make assumptions about you when you are not in the room are pieces of your personal brand. Marc Eckō’s philosophy on branding is simple: unlabel.

When you unlabel, you create an authentic personal brand that transcends the gatekeepers (the critics, the haters, etc.) who want to put a label on you. You talk directly to the heart of the goalkeepers (the ones who vote, the buyers, the fans, etc.). They are the only judges who matter.

When you unlabel, you can grow both creatively and commercially. You can be an artist without being a starving artist. You can sell without selling out.

To be a brand, however, you must be a creator, not merely a consumer.

“Create” can be anything; you don’t have to be an artist or musician or inventor. Maybe you create code or ads; or, if you’re a dental hygienist, you “create” clean teeth.

People can take your job. No one can take away the brand you’ve created and your ability to create again.

“Fight for it. Defend it. Die for it.”Click To Tweet


Authentic brands have a Unique Voice, which is a function of three variables: Action, Fear, and Self.


Fear can immobilise you and trap your creative voice. Before you can take Action, you must overcome your Fear.

Fear in our DNA. We’re afraid of fire because we respect its power. Thanks to this Fear, though, we’ve learned to leverage fire, govern it, cook meat, and keep our homes warm.

Too much Fear could prevent you from taking risks, which you need when creating and scaling a brand. In business, you need to have a healthy amount of Fear, when it comes to playing with the fire of debt, loans, and financial leverage.

Having an overly majestic, larger-than-life “vision” can also cripple you with Fear. Start by thinking about the next 18 actionable hours, not the next 18 years: Action > Fear


An authentic brand is more than just an idea. Talk is cheap. An authentic, Unique Voice requires Action.

If you’re not careful, you can let weeks, months, and years slip by without Acting on your passion.

You can’t find famous companies, artists, or individuals who have a low Action score, because by definition, if you’ve heard of them, they’ve probably taken plenty of Action!

As you take Action, you will meet Gatekeepers that stand between you and your path. (Vogue magazine, the major labels, etc.)

Most of them are not real. The gatekeepers are not the goalkeepers.

The goalkeepers are the ones who actually keep the score. In fashion, it’s the people wearing your clothes. In music, it’s the people listening to your creations. In business, it’s who’s buying your products.

Goalkeepers matter. Gatekeepers think they matter.

Likewise, when you start becoming a ‘pro’, people will often get defensive and call you a fraud. They act like another kind of gatekeepers. Shake them off and don’t allow them to shut down your Actions. Create an environment that lets you take Action.


A strong sense of Self, both internally and externally, is the engine that powers your brand. You can’t have a Unique Voice without being healthily selfish.

Great brands learn how to be self-referential without being predictable, creating moments that elegantly refer back to their core values, delighting their consumers, fans, and followers.

Taking Action doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to love you. Showcasing your Self is no guarantee for success, either.

To reframe your Self into a scalable brand, you need to represent core values with a worldwide appeal and present a visual definition – a logo – that symbolises these values and the vision for the brand.

Once you find a sense of Self that feels authentic to you, embrace it – especially as you face criticism.


The notion of truth is the crucial part of expressing an authentic brand. You (as a person or a company) are always changing, and your brand is always changing.

What You Say

What You Say in branding is nothing more than streams of connected promises that need to be delivered. It’s critical that these “promises” be truthful.

Great brands are established through the relentless repetition of promising something, and then delivering on what they promised, often beyond expectations.

Think about what your brand really means, that’s not limited to a product or industry. Go deeper. Think about its values, how it can be tweaked, reframed, and spun into something more interesting.

Of course, impressive promises create great first impressions, potential, and favourable perception. But outwardly everyone can look good.

Promises need to be combined with a massive dosage of “the Do”.

What You Do

What You Do needs to match and back up, or exceed What You Say.

Nike didn’t become a colossus just by talking about sneakers. Are YOU just saying it, or are you doing it, no matter the circumstances, or even if you’re out of your comfort zone?

When doing, you’ll create some really ugly stuff and often you won’t get it right. That’s part of the process.

If you’ve created thirty things and twenty-nine of them are disappointing, the trick is to find your ONE star, build around it, and optimise it. As Marc Eckō says:

“The new mind-set: core. Always core, core, core.”

You should be proud of that one superstar. It will build your business. For more solid execution, think of a brand as a triangle with three legs:

  1. Governance: influence, control, order;
  2. Swagger: how one presents and carries him or herself to the world;
  3. Brute Force: beastly or animallike strength or energy exerted, without constraint.

Which part of the triangle are you? Seek out people who don’t look or think like you; these are probably the other two legs of the triangle that will help you take massive action.




This is the most complex part of the formula. It measures your ability to grow, learn, change, and evolve through failing hard and failing fast, and then responding to that failure.

Human Factor – Humility minus Hubris.

We see examples all the time of people who clearly know something, but their Hubris eclipses their Humility.

Humility is one of the few variables in the formula that are okay to max out. It’s never too late to be Humble and learn from your mistakes. Will you embrace the Humility to know What You Don’t Know?


What You Know divided by What You Don’t Know

You can be the most Humble person in the world, but eventually you need to couple that mindset with some actual, real-world Knowledge. The best Knowledge is the kind you get through experience, which, in turn, comes through failure. You need it. And it is inevitable.5. Emotional Impact

More important than what you make is how that stuff makes people feel. Authentic brands seek to render an Emotional Impact.

As a brand, caring about Emotional Impact is your duty. What are you making your audience, customers, or end users feel?

When you leverage your brand to make people feel, it needs to come organically. Challenge yourself to move beyond simple billboards or ads.

Foil marketing is a great way to create an Emotional Impact. What is a foil? It can be anything or anyone that serves, by contrast, to call attention to your own merits.

If you don’t have a good foil, invent one: in Apple’s “1984” spot included a fictional Orwellian dictator, suggesting that if you hate evil dictators or the status quo, you should buy a Mac. But there’s a flip side, too.

When you grow your own personal brand from your Skin To The World (“How you make people feel”), you can injure the brand that’s from your Guts To The Skin (“how you feel”).

Finally, you can’t be so focused on how you make people feel that you lose sight of what you make and how you market it. The two need balance.


The Imagine Factor is a function of three connected forces: Vision for the Future, Loyalty to Nostalgia, and the Delta of Now.

Delta of Now

There’s no way to envision the future without the knowledge of where you are right now. It’s critical that you have the mental space, consciousness, and sobriety to fully inhabit the present.

Loyalty to Nostalgia

Neither the Future nor the Now can be contemplated until you’ve cleared away your Loyalty to Nostalgia, and all the baggage of comfort that may come with it. Do respect history – learn from it & leverage it – but don’t get too comfortable.

The baggage of nostalgia comes in many different forms: your parents’ nostalgia, your industry’s nostalgia, and your culture’s nostalgia. But the most dangerous nostalgia is your own.

Artists, salesmen, and CEOs all have one thing in common: we get proud. This nostalgia can blind us to the future. Even more damaging, it can make us lose sight of the Now.

That’s why you should take seriously the concept of an exit plan. Yes, your company (idea) is precious. But don’t cling to it. Like caring for a child, a company needs a contingency plan in the event of unforeseen circumstances. It’s never too early to think about it.

Distribute your interests. Distribute your risks. Distribute your company’s equity. Don’t hoard.

Vision of the Future

Once you sever your Loyalty to Nostalgia, once you inhabit the Now, finally, you can build a Vision of the Future that delivers the promise of your brand.

Your Vision of the Future should be earned, fought for, and worthy of your creations. Not just a future of twenty years from now, but a future of twenty minutes from now.

Not a vision of their future. Not a vision of the gatekeepers’ future. And not a vision of the future that’s so far away that it’s only achieved once cars are flying through space.

Vision of the Future is about having the courage to dream big, but it’s also about having the discipline and the focus to look at what’s in front of your face, right Now.


Key takeaways

  • Unique Voice is established only once your Action overcomes your Fear, and once you have a sufficient sense of Self.
  • This Unique Voice is truthful, because What You Do is greater than What You Say.
  • Your Capacity For Change will be the multiple of your Humanity and your Know-How, which will help you adapt to life’s rocky waters.
  • Because your personal brand will be defined by more than What You Make, your pursuit of a maximised Emotional Impact will remind you to never underestimate how You Make People Feel.
  • This is then raised and amplified by the power of your Imagination.

Further reading

The Start-Up of You is written by Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of Linked In along with entrepreneur Ben Panocha. The book explains why you need to manage your own career as if you were managing a start-up business. Taking advice from start-ups, and the entrepreneurs who run them is key to accelerating your career in today's ever-changing and overly-competitive world. Well worth a read if you are looking to take control of your future and career path.

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle. An essential book that unlocks the secrets of highly successful groups and provides readers with a toolkit for building a cohesive, innovative culture, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Talent Code.

Guidelines is my eBook that summarises the main lessons from 33 of the best-selling self-help books in one place. It is the ultimate book summary; Available as a 80-page ebook and 115-minute audio book. Guidelines lists 31 rules (or guidelines) that you should follow to improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health, succeed in life and become a happier person.

Action steps

  1. Become a creator and determine what you’re creating.
  2. Work with the Authenticity Formula to Unlabel your work.
  3. Identify who your Goalkeepers are – they are the ones that matter, not the Gatekeepers!
  4. Download the complete book on Amazon.

This summary is not intended as a replacement for the original book and all quotes are credited to the above mentioned author and publisher.