“You’re every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different?”
Tom Peters, The Brand Called You
I never wear a tie. One of Bridge’s values is “Keeping it Real and Fun” – and ditching the tie means I keep it real and relatable. I use personal stories (almost every presentation includes one about my mum) and inject humour into my facilitation and keynote addresses. By staying true to who I am, I’ve built an authentic personal brand. The more authentic your leadership brand, the greater success you’ll have when living it. Humans are drawn to real, authentic people, not made up personas, so you need to embrace this to differentiate your brand.
As a brand specialist working with across a range of industries, my work often begins with an explanation of how, at the core, all brands have a unique set of values, a vision and a personality; ideally complemented with a clear direction and purpose; much like people.
“Your brand is a perception or emotion, maintained by somebody other than you, that describes the total experience of having a relationship with you.”
David McNally & Karl D. Speak, Be your own Brand
A strong personal brand is the successful self-packaging of who you are and what you stand for: your values, beliefs and purpose, expressed by what you do, and how you do it – including how you look and how you sound. When it comes to my own personal branding, one facet of which I had not been specifically conscious was how I dress and the colours I wear, and the affect that it has on how I am perceived by others. As part of my exploration into building a leadership brand, and in pursuit of my theory that ‘businesses are driven by humans, therefore behave like humans’ I had the opportunity to spend the day with Jackie and Helen at House of Colour.
House of Colour promises to ‘help you to look fabulous and radiate confidence in the colours and shapes that suit you as an individual’; offering master classes in colour, fashion and make up. Their philosophy is that when you look amazing, that’s the real you: “Your face lights up, your eyes sparkle and everyone pays you compliments.”
My day at House of Colour was spent looking at the power of colour, clothing and accessories in building confidence and in projecting the most positive version of myself, starting with the with the colours that best suited my skin tone. As humans, we have a relationship with colour and this experience enlightened my to the way that we choose colour in demonstrating our personality, and how sometimes colour chooses us.
Above: Watch what happened during my day with House of Colour
Based on what I took away from my day at House of Colour, becoming conscious of my outward projection, I wanted to put together some quick tips on building an authentic personal brand – one that projects a positive perception to the external world.
Ask yourself why.
Firstly you need to establish why you want to define your personal brand. An exercise in building your personal brand is an exercise in self-awareness and one that all people should embark on. Are you looking to move into a new career or gain a promotion? Are you looking to master an environment in which you want more control? To understand how this brand will add value to your desired future state is very important, and this step will help you to visualise in the later steps, when you are ready to unleash your brand.
Identify Your Brand Values
Like every brand, having a core set of values is key to guiding you and ensuring your brand maintains its integrity. Remember that these values will be the support network that underpins the actions and behaviours that bring life to your brand. An authentic brand will align with your core values, so take some time in defining these.
The list of values need not be extensive, and should be manageable and a true representation, personally and professionally. For example, if ‘innovation’ is one of the values that you respect in yourself and desire from others, then put this to the test by outlining actions that will bring the value to life. Always remember that your values are yours to own and are the gifts that have been given through life’s journey.
What will be your icing on the cake?
As with all brands, it is important to recognise what will really make you stand out. What is your USP? To find this, you will need to tap into your true passion in life – what excites you? How does this passion define the unique parts of your brand?
“Differentiation is one of the biggest factors contributing to a strong and successful personal brand, and the core of finding what differentiates your brand is typically embracing something unique about yourself.”
Your brand must encompass your true passion and purpose in life; embody your heart and mind and be the best reflection of you. Passion is yours to own and no one else can define this for you – so whatever it is, it helps you celebrate your uniqueness.
Look and sound the part
The devil is truly in the detail – I have seen many corporate brands miscommunicate their message or fail on execution. In corporate branding, we use terminology like ‘company voice’ to describe the way a brand sounds in its written and verbal messaging – the language it uses. For example, Coca Cola is always positive and happy, Innocent’s tone of voice is well known as laid back, playful and humorous and Mailchimp is tongue-in-cheek; whereas a government agency is more likely to use formal, easy-to-understand verbiage. The key to authenticity in your brand voice is a strong connection to your values, in written and verbal communications. When your voice is a reflection of what you believe in, it’s more likely to resonate with the people you are trying to attract.
From website design to advertising, to colour choice in a logo – it all says something about the promise and the personality of the people behind the brand. Yellow for the familiarity and warmth of McDonald’s arches; green for Starbucks’ sustainability and harmony; white for Apple’s intuitive and simple interface, purple for that luxurious, royal service of Virgin Atlantic (despite the red logo!).
Colour and emotion are intrinsically linked in both how we feel about ourselves and how the world sees us. This is no different when building your personal brand as all the choices that you make from the way you dress to the language you use plays part in the continuity and consistency of your brand projection.
Know Your Audience
Always be clear on your audience and ensure that you have enough flex in your personal brand that you can work openly with more than one audience profile. Being authentic means that you are unlikely to appeal to everyone, however you still have the ability to bring your light to a broad spectrum of people. A strong brand will naturally attract like-minded individuals, but also self-awareness will allow you to gain respect and build a connection with your audience without overpowering them with ‘100% real and authentic’ you.
Building your personal brand is not about being set in stone or having the attitude of ‘ this is how I am – take it or leave it!’ To gain self-awareness, you will need to seek out honest feedback from trusted friends, family members or advisors. In the early stages of building your personal brand, it is important that you practice humility and are prepared to take advice.
Great brands maintain a high level of self-confidence and have the ability to unite people from all different walks of life, but always remember that not everyone is your customer. It is important to stay true to yourself, and as with all clearly defined brands, your projected personality must be aligned to your unique offering.
Take Pride in your Brand Story
In the last few years, many companies have invested heavily in defining their brand story and making this the foundation for both their marketing and brand positioning. A brand story is exactly what it says on the tin – the journey that the brand has taken to reach the current state of who and where it is in its life cycle. It can be a collection of anecdotal stories that when brought together give the brand a sense of humanity.
From success to struggle, this narrative allows customers to forge a stronger connection to a virtual brand entity. This is no different when building your personal brand, in terms of having a better connection to your life journey. The stories that truly define the authentic you are the key to your sustainable success. Life has brought us all love, joy and pain; but when framed correctly, it is your unique story and one that will always make the best version of you.
Have some fun in building your leadership brand.
Learn to laugh at yourself, embrace your best qualities and be clear on your intent. All brands behave in a similar way as they share a commonality in knowing who they are and what they stand for. They are clear on the way they project their personality through each of their chosen mediums and are led by a higher purpose. Many great brands have changed the landscape of business forever, as have many individuals. So when building your personal brand, always remember that the best version of you will positively impact and influence many people. Stay true to yourself and keep your intent pure. The recipe for success sits in self-awareness, humility and bringing all of your best qualities to the forefront and sharing these openly with the world around you.