Watch closely, I’m about to coin a new phrase.
Are you ready?
Branding is the new black.
Okay, well, maybe it’s not that new. But it is true.
Kate White begins the chapter, “You, the Brand,” in her book I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This with an anecdote about how she had run into an old colleague of hers, a model, and asked her if she was still doing any modeling.
“I’m really more of a brand now,” the model told her.
I couldn’t help rolling my eyes when I read that. It sounded so… ugh, pretentious. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the model is right. It’s not just companies that are brands these days, people are brands, too. If you want to be remembered, especially by potential customers or employers, it’s crucial to define what makes you different. Here are three steps to doing just that.
1. Define Your Brand
This may be the most challenging part, because there are so many things that make you you. How do you go about presenting it all as a brand? Kate recommends considering how you live your life and what you’re drawn to. Look at the brands you prefer. What do you like about them? What does your choice of brands say about your own personal brand?
Here’s an easy activity you can try that I used to help me define my personal brand. Draw a circle in the middle of a piece of paper and write your name in it. That represents You the Brand. Now think of all the terms you would use to describe yourself and the values you represent, and anything you think symbolizes who you are, and plot out your brand map. Are you an expert in a certain subject? Are you organized, clean-cut, outgoing, feminine?
Part of my brand is a couple of colors, teal and orange, that I identify with strongly. I looked around my room and noticed a subtle pattern of the two colors, which had been there long before it became a part of my brand. I think my subconscious may have been trying to brand me without me even knowing it!
Glamour magazine did a profile of musical artist Janelle Monáe last year, and they asked her about her signature look. Janelle often wears black and white, and always with red lipstick.
“When you walk into a room, it sets you apart,” she tells the mag.
It’s also very simple, subtle, and you can tell from her photos that she totally owns it.
2. Narrow It Down
Find your focus and stick to it, Kate advises. When you’re first starting out, it’s a good idea to dabble in the things you love and enjoy doing, but if you try to be good at everything you won’t find anything that is truly your own. Focus on being good at a few key things, because your specialty can be part of your brand.
Look back at your brand map and think about which of the defining terms you listed really pop out at you. It could be what you do for a living, adjectives that describe you, or issues you’re passionate about. Ask people who know you well what words they would use to describe you. Sometimes it’s true that your friends and family know you better than you know yourself.
The key to a great personal brand also is consistency. The choices you make should be true to your brand. When confronted with a choice to make, ask yourself, “Is this aligned with my brand?” Stick to what you represent, and know when to say no to the things that don’t fit the image of your brand.
This goes for your signature look, too. Kate says not to forget about the details: the way you dress, the accessories you wear, even the stationery you use. She says to “develop a fab signature look that you’re known and remembered for in a great way…Calling a look your own really adds clout.”
What matters most in your look is comfort. Julie Kelly, career coach and blogger at Her Career Advice devotes a post to this. She says her signature look is a sophisticated skirt of dress, because that’s what she feels best in.
“When you have a look that empowers you, run with it. As your career evolves and you mature, both on a professional and personal level, your look will change. It makes sense that it would,” Julie writes. And it doesn’t need to be complicated; maybe a style of jewelry you like to wear, or a certain color lipstick. “The most important thing is to be true to yourself and create a look that makes you feel confident.”
3. Finally, Flaunt It
You’ll know you have your brand down if you’re truly passionate about it. So live it! I mentioned before how I realized that I have a subtle orange and teal theme going in my room, as well as in my jewelry, and even in my bath towels! It was completely unintentional, but I realized when I noticed it that it felt uniquely me. My brand also says (or screams, I sometimes think) “organization,” so my desk at work, my wardrobe, and my schedule are as organized as I feel comfortable with.
Make sure your brand is one that you’re proud of, and reinforce it at every opportunity, says Kate. Take on as many assignments and projects that enhance your brand or your specialty, and learn as much as you can on your own time to make it stronger. Try speaking on a panel, writing a blog, teaching classes, or attending events where you can talk up your brand.
One of my favorite personal brands is Betty White. She’s sweet (Golden Girls), sassy (Off Their Rockers), and she stands for a cause (animal rights). She is a perfect example of what Julie wrote in her blog about your look changing as you mature. Betty is an older lady, but rather than fight to maintain the same image, she lets her brand adapt to her age, and her age becomes a part of her brand. Brilliant.
So, what’s the takeaway from all this? Let your brand come naturally, and stick to it. Don’t force yourself into an image you’re not comfortable in. But if your brand changes with time, let it change. It should be you in and out, so go with it.
What represents your personal brand? Tell us in the comments!