Today, “personal branding” is a hot topic, with experts like Dan Schawbel writing books and powerful posts, and leading interesting discussions on Linkedin®. Years ago, when “branding” was something that only large corporations did, how did we create our own personal “style”? A style which would distinguish us from everyone else? A personal presence which clients, customers and even friends would wish to associate with, learn from, do business with or even be entertained by? Celebrities and high profile individuals then had ‘image consultants’, as they have branding experts today.
Years ago, hiring a consultant was not an option for me, so how did I accomplish a distinctive “style”, and do it successfully, before there was Social Networking (Linkedin, Facebook, twitter etc…) and all the neat tools we have today through the internet to communicate our individual presence (brand), and disseminate our influence?
I remember working through the process, of who and what I was and how would I communicate this, especially since the first impression was often a face-to-face meeting or a hand written letter! I usually opted for a handwritten communication; instead of the boring “Times-Roman” typewritten letter or note; primarily because I actually had designed each letter of my alphabet very carefully, in order to create a very distinct handwriting which showcased many things about me; including a focus on design, clarity, directness, and attention to detail (which some might call obsession ☺).
I needed to create a recognizable and memorable first impression when actually meeting someone face-to-face for the first time. One time my father asked me to meet a relative from Germany at London Heathrow airport, a relative whom I had never met before. If I held the usual iconic red rose for meeting a stranger in a public place, there might have been an identity mix-up, as there were numerous red roses being waved around at the airport. So I opted instead for wearing a red hat. Now fast forward to 2009 and my guide Nelson is meeting me at Shanghai airport; I’m easy to spot in my now trademark red hat!
Choosing a red hat as a “tag” in the 2009 world of personal branding would be perhaps both bizarre and inappropriate? However, it has been a component of my personal “style” through the years and with this in mind, I asked both clients and friends, …what does the red hat say about me?
“It says you are not afraid to try new things or be different, because not many people dare to wear a red hat. As a client this represents to me the type of designer you are, not afraid to try something new and different and it’s how I wanted you to approach my personal residence”
“In many cultures red means you are very positive in your actions, & I want to work with positive people who solve problems, not create them! This was especially important for me when you handled the major renovation on my house and we encountered many surprises!”
“The red hat shows you are out to create a distinctive impression that sets you apart and people will remember you by. This reflects what you do as a designer, distinctive design people remember.”
“The red hat shows a powerful person who gets her way and can get things done. However it also shows a person who does not take herself too seriously and has a great sense of humor. I’ve seen you wearing a red designer hat on a construction site under your hard hat! ”
Today, by the time we meet someone in person we have already made several first impressions; through email, social networking, blog postings or by phone. The people I meet usually know what I look and sound like and I wonder if the impact of the first face-to-face meeting is the same today as it was many years ago? I don’t think so, and at initial meetings these days, I wear standard black designer/business attire instead of the one-of a kind clothes I designed and made myself when I first started.
What we accomplish now via the internet, we used to rely on radio, TV, newspapers (print) and public speaking. It was how we got exposure. Corporations and high profile individuals hired PR agencies to get placement in media, however this was not an option for me. I was perhaps lucky or had designed a format that worked, to frequently attract media to showcase what I was doing or promoting. Radio or TV interviews were usually live, and I loved the excitement of having one shot to do or say something significant! I guess blog radio is bringing this “aliveness” back again. Hooray for that!
I have noticed that public speaking is an important vehicle for personal branding. In the late1980s I was fortunate to meet Katie Vandermark, who had worked with Donald & Ivana when they first introduced themselves to New York.☺ Katie was an Image consultant, eyewear designer and public speaking coach, and helped me project my personal “style” into the public speaking I was engaged in at that time. There are so many subtle nuances, gestures and inflections when one speaks to a group, which can subliminally communicate a “style” or personal brand. Amongst other things she helped me incorporate my type of humor and also to feel comfortable with using my hands for emphasis.
In designing a personal style we were perhaps far more focused on carrying everything through to the nth degree; including driving the appropriate auto, office design and even the personal residence. Everything in ones professional and personal sphere of influence was designed to reflect ones personal “style”.
I recently had a twitter conversation with Chris Abraham about driving the appropriate car in this economic downturn. Chris said his 2001 classic and subdued BMW was a “pass”, or “OK” in today’s economy, but I don’t doubt his car was originally purchased to convey the exact image he desired, appropriate to himself and the times.
Was what I did years ago creating a personal “style”, personal branding? Does personal branding today go to such extremes to be consistent between both ones professional and personal life? Or is personal branding just a focus on the image one presents to the world for the purpose of doing business?
Any comments, suggestions or continuing discussion; please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.