When people ask me what branding means, my response is simple. I tell them a brand is nothing more than “what people say or think about you when you’re not around.” The purpose of branding is to provoke a favorable perception and create a memorable experience for the people your brand needs in its corner to thrive.
Another definition of branding—and one I often use with my clients—is “the process of strategically telling your story to earn trust from decision makers to help you achieve one big goal." That goal could be to generate revenue, increase your social following, earn a promotion or negotiate a more competitive raise. Whatever the end game is, a well-crafted brand is an indispensable tool you shouldn’t be without.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Take Apple, Google, Amazon, and Chanel for instance. Each of these businesses wouldn’t have the recognition they have today without a brand to amplify what they stand for. In a matter of seconds, I was able to take each company and associate a series of words to describe the brand. See below:
Innovative, practical, modern
From the first iMac to the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad, Apple is all about revolution. Their products are sleek and contemporary, without sacrificing functionality. And there’s no denying how user-friendly they are too. But Steve Jobs knew the power of branding too. He used product launches to reinforce Apple’s values and influence public perception. Inevitably, he drove sales in the process.
Friendly, fast, effortless
I can’t be the only one who looks forward to a new Google Doodle each day. To me, it’s like the search engine’s way of saying “hello.” Brands that can make me feel good go a long way. Then there’s Google Drive, which I use to manage all my files for my business. I know my work will be saved as I go thanks to the “All changes saved in Drive” message at the top of the page. And when I need search results in an instant, you can count on Google to deliver.
Quick, wide-ranging, reputable
I’m convinced there’s nothing you can’t get from Amazon. If their product assortment isn’t enough, then consider the fact that you have ship it to your doorstep in a quick as a few hours. It’s easy to find what you’re looking for and the customer reviews are a valuable resource too. It’s not easy to earn consumer loyalty these days, but Amazon’s done it with by amplifying everything that makes it great.
Feminine, elegant, exclusive
In the fashion industry, it’s a rite of passage to purchase your first Chanel bag. Think of it as a sign you’ve made it. And that euphoria is a direct result of Chanel’s branding. They’ve made their products available to a small segment of the market on purpose. So when you finally buy a product—bag, fragrance or clothing from its seasonal ready-to-wear collections—it means something.
Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s legendary creative director, also creates out-of-this-world backdrops for his runway shows that earn hundreds of thousands of social shares. That exposure introduces new audiences to the Chanel brand and makes its products that much more covetable.
Each of these businesses is who they are because of the products and services they offer. Brand stories are useless without something for them to stand on. A unique URL, clever logo, and appealing color palette are never enough.
“IS IT ME OR IS EVERYONE TALKING ABOUT BRANDING THESE DAYS?”
Nope, it’s not just you. Brand management goes back generations. But thanks to social media, the buzzword is at the tips of everyone’s tongues for two reasons:
1) You have more control of your message
Back in the day, there were only a few ways to connect with people and share your story. Not anymore. Now, there’s a platform for every preference. And it’s easier than ever to own your narrative. From your profile picture to your bio to the content you create and share, it’s possible to create and attract life-changing, career-defining opportunities with nothing more than a solution to a problem and smart branding.
2) There's so much noise to cut through
Here’s the other side of the coin: Because everyone has the same access to these platforms as you, there’s so much clutter to navigate. And people—you may be one of them—are realizing it’s hard to stand out without a thoughtful brand story.
That’s where a clear, consistent and compelling brand story comes in. Through visual identity and content strategy, you can become the go-to person in your area of expertise saving your audience time and frustration. Find out how you can bring value to the decision-makers in your market then tailor your brand messaging to solve their problems.
MY PERSONAL BRANDING BACKSTORY
A strong personal brand leverages a combination of style, expertise, and relationships. And done right, your personal brand will also grow your influence.
But believe it or not, I didn’t always drink the personal branding Kool-Aid. I thought education and talent were enough. But when I couldn’t land the job of my dreams, I knew I had to be more intentional about how I told my story. Thankfully, it all worked out.
My personal brand helped me break into the fashion media industry with no internships or close professional contacts. And by the time, I’d left my post as an editor at Lucky magazine, I’d used my influence to earn a weekly style column called “Ask Michael.”
Here’s how I did it:
I streamlined my style and developed a uniform of ankle-skimming skinny pants, button-down shirts layered under crewneck knits and lace-up dress shoes.
I wanted to evoke a sharp, pulled together look. And to show off my creative and quirky side, I mixed colors, prints and textures to show off my creative and quirky side. I quickly earned a favorable reputation for my sharp, pulled-together personal style.
I think of expertise as the intersection where your passions, gifts, and authority meet. I’ve always been passionate about personal style.
My earliest memories are of my mom and I shopping on the weekends. We would go from department stores to thrift stores—and it’s from her that I learned how to effortlessly mix high and low.
Fast forward a couple of decades later, my gift of communication and broad understanding of the fashion industry and shopping helped me stand out in a competitive industry.
I started The Stylish Standout in 2013 when I lived in Dallas. Then, it was an editorial platform where I wrote trend reports, shared style advice and published shopping guides for my audience. There was a method to my madness: Since I didn’t have any strong industry relationships, I needed writing samples (or “clips” as we call them in the journalism world) to prove I had what it takes.
When I relocated to New York, someone who wrote for the site posted a job opening in the fashion closet at Lucky, a magazine I dreamed of working at. Because of our existing relationship, I replied to the LinkedIn post and in eight minutes, I had an interview with the hiring manager. It was the beginning of an unforgettable career in fashion media.
Each gig I received in fashion started with a referral. Remember, branding is what people say or think of you when you’re not around.
This is another popular buzzword, but it’s a necessary component of personal brands. Standout brands are able to authentically provoke a change in thought or action. You don’t have to use gimmicks, bribery or threats in your work. Analyze where your decision-makers currently are, visualize where they want to ultimately be, then create a bridge to take them there. There are thousands of ways to do it. Use a combination of style, expertise, and relationships to connect with people.
“BUT DO I NEED A PERSONAL BRAND?”
I’ve got news for you: You already have one! It’s never a question of if you need a personal brand. The issue is if you’re using it as leverage to achieve your goals.
My clients are always blown away when I remind them they already have the personal branding ingredients I mentioned in the section above: style, expertise, relationships, and influence.
Does what you wear earn the respect you want from the decision-makers? Are you staying up to date with the trends in the topics you’re an expert in? Do you network with an intention to connect with potential collaborators? Are you using your influence inspire the kind of action that will benefit your bottom line?
If the answer to any of those questions is no, then keep reading.
3 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL BRAND
My friend Jovian Zayne, who founded the International Day of Purpose and The OnPurpose Movement, says “you can’t be your best self by yourself.” And it’s true in life and with personal branding. There’s some truth to the notion that birds of a feather flock together. Your personal brand provides a platform for you to create meaningful relationships with like-minded peeps.
Your personal brand can’t be everything to everyone—and it shouldn’t try to be. However, it should shine a light on a gap in the market and remove any doubt that you’re the one they should trust. In my case, I focus on supporting the success of highly motivated leaders and achievers by helping them streamline their style and build their personal brand. I rely on a mix of touchpoints (this blog, my website, social proof like testimonials to name a few) to reinforce my expertise to make my brand accessible to potential clients and showcase my expertise.
Your personal brand doesn’t help you identify who you are and what you want—it spotlights who you aren’t and what you don’t want at the same time. As a result, you save time and money because you’re not dabbling in areas that don’t amplify your strengths. Instead, you can focus solely on soul-feeding passions that help you earn a living and achieve your goals.
6 FEATURES OF A PERSONAL BRAND
At The Stylish Standout, these are the half-dozen areas I focus on when I’m building a personal brand:
What to buy based on your budget, body, and lifestyle—and how to wear it
Strategies to help you create work-life harmony, master your time, practice self-care, and maximize technology
Techniques to cultivate, nurture and leverage relationships to encourage long-term connection and collaboration
How to find and fill gaps in the market, whether you have a 9-to-5 or own your business
Ways to build authority and expertise through content, public speaking, products, and services
6) Beyond The Brand
Channeling your influence towards philanthropic causes that make an impact after the clothes
6 PERSONAL BRANDING MISTAKES TO AVOID
When you know better, you do better. Steer clear of these slip-ups—they’ll sabotage your personal brand.
1) Too-Trendy Style
Whether it’s a runway image, the homepage of your favorite retailer or a personal style blog, I get it: It’s hard not to become overwhelmed by the avalanche of trends each season. There are so many sources of inspiration—runway images, your favorite retailers, and fashion magazines. The key is to think of trends as accents to your style uniform to keep it fresh and modern.
2) Biting Off More Than You Can Chew
Have you ever been out to eat and found yourself full from the bread basket before the main course arrives? That’s the feeling you’ll get if you don’t edit your goals and the focus of your brand. Choose one big goal each year or quarter, then break them into smaller achievables each month. This will make it easier to optimize your personal brand to make the most significant impact.
3) Poor Relationship Management
There’s a list of former bosses, mentors and colleagues I email at least once a quarter to check in. I share update them on my recent wins (and setbacks) and also share my upcoming goals. I also make an ask to grab a coffee, share my latest service or connect me with a potential client.
But before I send that quarterly update, I’ve sent my network several “just saying hi” notes to congratulate them on their wins, support them through any of their setbacks, and offered to connect them with anyone who I think should be in their community. Be sure to give three to four more times than you ask. That’s a good rule of thumb in life and business.
4) Misguided Positioning
I often use the word “decision-makers” in my business because that’s who you should always be focused on. They’re the people who will help you achieve the goal you created your brand for. My decision-makers are potential and current clients, visitors to my website and blog and business partners. So I position my brand to reach them.
Is your primary decision-maker your boss? An investor? Millennial women of color? First-time homebuyers? Put your brand in front of those people. Anytime you’re focused on an audience that doesn't include your core group of decision-makers, then my brand runs the risk of creating confusion.
5) Inconsistent Messaging
We’re creatures of habit. And we love to know what we’re getting into before we take the dive. That’s where messaging comes in. Before you write your next tweet, Instagram post or blog article, finalize your brand’s core messages. I suggest starting with your values, what you’re passionate about and what skills or services you perform at a high level.
6) Squandering Your Influence
Earlier in this post, I mentioned how social media has given everyone access to a platform. And few things are more viral these days than a tweet or Facebook share. Are you using your brand for good? Now is not a time to sit on the sidelines. Decision-makers want to know where you stand before they determine if your brand is right for them. Don’t straddle the fence.