What’s YOUR Personal Brand — and How Can You Rock It?

I confess: I am a total branding nerd. I love reading about branding, talking about branding, thinking about branding. (I sound super fun, right?) Actually, what I’m really passionate about is helping people (like you) figure out their personal brand (or their business’s brand identity) and then how to make it work for them. I am a branding consultant for a variety of people, businesses and organizations, but I really get excited helping people who normally  roll their eyes when they hear the term , or upon hearing the term think to themselves, “Ew.” THOSE are the people I love to show how understanding their brand can help them understand themselves, succeed in every arena, and generally stop hitting their heads against a brick wall.

Any of this sound familiar? Read on.

Branding once meant burning a bull’s backside (ouch!) so people’d know whose it was. When we talk about branding today, there’s still plenty of bull to go around (and a certain amount of ouch), but branding isn’t just something to make cows and corporations distinctive. Branding is actually something that can be applied to everything and everyone. Including you.

Maybe you think brands are things with corporate offices, PR people, and over-the-top commercials. But we all have brands, whether we realize it or not, and succeeding in business (and in life) has a lot to do with how effectively your brand is defined, communicated, and understood.

Just What Is a Brand?

It’s more than just a tagline, a logo — or in Mr. Clean’s case, a big bald man with an earring. A brand is a perception, and branding is about crafting and communicating that perception. The trappings that help shape a brand’s image — jingles, mascots, vaguely homoerotic spokesmen — exist as shorthand to bring that perception to mind.

A brand is also an expectation, a promise, where consumers – in other words, other people – come to associate and expect things from you. Your brand may be about dependability, or it may be about unpredictability; it’s the difference between people expecting you to always be on time –or to show up in a funny hat and a new tattoo.

For example, if we ask 100 people to describe Kim Kardashian, they’ll give us fairly consistent adjectives (and mention a certain body part, I’m guessing). The same would happen if we asked folks about Apple, Fox News, or Martha Stewart. These are strong brands because they are associated with and convey specific sets of values and attributes.

Look at the photo of the woman accompanying this post. You don’t know her, so you can’t answer with any certainty, but admit it…you feel like you can maybe guess if she likes rock or country music, Barneys or Macys. You might make other assumptions. Of course, none of these may be correct, but the point is, we all make them. This one random photo suggests a brand.

 You have a brand too – and so should any business you start. Your brand lets people know what you’re about, what you care about, and what they can expect. A strong brand – whether it’s a person, product or service — attracts new customers and keep existing ones loyal. A strong brand is memorable. A strong brand is consistent. A strong brand is likable, even lovable, even when they’re not. (Think about it: Even the Grinch had a strong brand, and so does Oscar the Grouch.)

So, what’s YOUR brand? First you’ve got to make like Socrates and “Know thyself.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. You’ve heard it before. But there’s a good reason people are always yammering away about knowing yourself. After “be kind,” it’s about the most important job you have, a job that should precede any talk about paying jobs. It may sound corny, it may be corny, but it’s still true: You can’t begin to follow your bliss, build your brand, or even be truly happy until you figure out who you are—and who you aim to be.

Here are some steps to help you get started in figuring out “Brand YOU.”

Step 1: Describe Yo’self

If you were to describe yourself to a total stranger, what are the three or four things you’d say? (It’s important that you have no agenda with this stranger; I admit if I were, say, trying to date this stranger, I’d probably skew the data quite a bit, but that won’t help you in this exercise, and it won’t help me down the line with that stranger either.)

 For now, ignore your appearance unless that’s an integral part of who you are (covered in tattoos, purple Mohawk, etc.) and focus on the qualities, passions, experience and skills that make you uniquely you. Write at least two sentences, but no more than four. And now…

Step 2: What Matters to You?

Play Q&A with yourself. Think about the following questions. The answers represent your core values—a huge component of your personal brand.

• What are your values?

• What do you really care about?

• For what do you stand?

• What qualities are important to you in a friend, in a co-worker?

• What virtues do you consistently maintain, and which, in your humble opinion, are totally let slide-able?

• What gets you bent out of shape? What outrages you?• How do you insist upon dealing with other people, where are you themost helpful, and whom is it you’d most like to serve?

Step 3: The Fun Part

For this next exercise, your challenge is to create a list of 20 words that describe you. (Mostly adjectives and nouns. Need help? Use the list in the Appendix!) Think about who you truly are, what you strive to be, and how you’d like to be perceived. Go ahead, write down your 20 words. I’ll wait.

OK, now that you’ve got your list of 20 descriptors, I want you to narrow down that list to 10 words. It isn’t easy. We’re complex people with many facets to our personalities. We’ve got lots of interests and values and often they contradict each other. Which of these words is really essentialto who you are? Are some redundant? Some that can be combined into one? Some that are true but maybe not exactly what you’d like to put out into the world as being “what you’re about”?

Step 4: The Tough Part

OK, you got your ten words, right. Great — you’ve refined your list, you’re getting closer to the core of who you are and how you operate in the world.

Now it’s about to get really hard.

We’re going to hone your brand even further. If you could only choose four of these 10 words to describe yourself, which would you choose? You’re on a serious word budget now, so we’re getting down to the nitty- gritty of what makes you you.

 Now it’s less about words canceling one another out and more about honing a message. It’s also time to really think about other people as well as yourself. What do you want other people – employers, potential employers, teachers, friends, co-workers, future customers, boyfriends, potential boyfriends — to think when they encounter your brand?

Decide with specific qualities make you uniquely “you”. (This is sometimes called your unique selling proposition, or USP.) Once you have your 4 words, experiment with using them in a phrase, or turning them into a short description of who you are. Maybe you’re a “smart, playful ‘craftaholic’ rocker”. Maybe you’re an “athletic, enthusiastic and irreverent computer whiz”. Or perhaps you’re a “funny, detail-oriented go-getter passionate about the environment.”  You get the idea.

Find Your USP, ASAP

When I work with people on their 20-10-4 Personal Brand Words Exercise, I am often struck by a common mistake. People would say something like, “I’m really good at surfing, I love horror movies, I play guitar and have amazing penmanship—so, what’s my personal brand?”

Your unique selling proposition (your USP) is not meant to be a personal ad for a dating site. Your personal brand is your pithy way of capturing how you uniquely and reliably bring value to the table with your service or product.

Your USP is a way of expressing who you are and should also convey what you offer, what you value, and what people can expect. It should be consistent, engaging and something people want. (And if they don’t want it now, you can persuasively tell them why they should.)

Think about your customers, what they might want, what they might need, and especially what it is about you that answers the question, “What’s in it for them?”

Don’t get me wrong, though. You don’t need hordes of people to want your USP—just enough people.

While it’s great to have something scalable that will draw the multitudes, to operate a successful business, you really just need a certain number of people who really want what you have to offer. In the long run, for sustainable success, it’s much better to have 1,000 true fans rather than 10,000 visitors who are “meh”. In addition to the 1,000 true fans being your brand’s loyal core audience, they give any advertisers, partners or sponsors a specific audience. This “purity of eyeballs” is very valuable. Think about it…let’s say you sell a product called Spooky Eyeliner. Would you rather pay $100,000 for an ad on a general interest site with 1 million viewers or $100 for ads on a Goth website with only a five thousand regular users — but that is targeted to teen girls and gay guys? You’d go for the “purity of eyeballs” at the Goth site, right? Advertisers don’t want to waste money; they want to efficiently target their product’s particular psychographic.

As you think about your personal brand, think about what you have to offer in terms of what people do or what they might want or need. Let’s say you’re that surfing, horror-movie aficionado who can rock out and dash off a legible letter I mentioned earlier. Now say you want to start your own party-planning service. I should hire you because…?

First: Tell me why you’re a good—no, great—party planner. Based on what you’ve told me about yourself so far, I might imagine you’d say that you’re full of ideas on lots of ways people can have a good time; you make the whole planning process fun; you can improvise to make everything look seamless; and as fun-loving as you are, you’re also detail-oriented and nothing’s ever sloppy. (I’d totally hire you!) Think about how your brand attributes translate into value for others.

Your Brand Needs to Tell a Story

Your brand does tell a story — and hopefully that story’s happy ending will include you getting hired, selling something, being booked, or at least being remembered.

Look for how your brand/story makes you special and how it makes what you do appealing. That fictional party planner that I want to hire might decide to go with a werewolf hanging ten on a surfboard as her logo, or she may just decide to find a phrase, title or tagline that expresses her brand promise of “perfection powered by imagination and fun”. (As you know, perfection isn’t always so lighthearted, so knowing you can getclass without anal obsessiveness can be mighty attractive.)

The point is, as you explore your personal brand, don’t just think about you. Think about your customers, what they might want, what they might need and especially, what it is about you that answers the question, “What’s in it for them?”

As you work on crafting your personal brand’s message, explore how your skills and brand attributes might make you attractive to potential clients. Think about how your personal qualities, interests and experience might make you uniquely well-suited to serving (and uniquely appealing to) a particular niche market. (A “niche market” is the special group of people who want what you got!)

Remember, in business and in life, when you think about giving people what they want or need, you are much more likely to get what you want and need as well. As motivational speaker Zig Ziglar says, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”

Don’t Be Such a Pitch!

Have you ever heard of the term “elevator pitch”? An elevator pitch is your succinct line or two you have at the ready to describe who you are or what you do, so-called because it should be short enough to communicate during an elevator ride.

You do need a pithy pitch, but it shouldn’t be a straight report or breathless sales job. That short summation has its role, but it isn’t the most effective way to get people interested or engaged in what you do, and it certainly isn’t an effective way to secure a potential customer or valuable referrals (the lifeblood of a successful entrepreneur).

The real purpose of an elevator pitch to describe a situation or solution so compelling that the listener wants to hear more after he or she has left the elevator.

In other words, it’s time to get your “do do” flowing. (No, not that. Ew.) What you want to do is master what author Kevin McCarthy calls the “Do Do Dialogue”. Rather than merely reciting a canned, rote explanation of what you do, the “Do Do” approach has you engaging people by forging a connection between them and what you have to offer.

Remember how I said you need to stop thinking about what you do in terms of you, you, you? Well, the elevator pitch is fundamentally a “me, me, me” one-way street where you verbally shove your spiel at someone (and sometimes that someone is trapped in an elevator, no less).

No matter how quick and painless, a pithy pitch is still a pitch, something you’re throwing, when what you really want to do is play catch. In other words, you don’t want to corner your prey, you want to connect with a potential customer or someone who can connect you to some. As Kevin McCarthy puts it, you want to engage in a “dialogue, not a data dump.”

Simply put, the “Do Do” Dialogue goes like this:

When someone asks you what you do, instead of going into your little canned song and dance, instead ask a question—as in, “DO you know…?” (That’s where the ‘Do Do” comes in.)

Let me give you an example. Let’s say your business is making delicious vegan cupcakes. When someone asks you what you do, you in turn might say, “Do you know that it’s almost impossible for families who are vegetarian or vegan to find kid-friendly food for their children’s birthday parties?” Or you might ask, “Do you know that while 1 in 12 families is vegan, there’s hardly anywhere in this community where they can go to cater their parties, or send out for delicious desserts?”

With this strategy, you’re now in a conversation. You’ve created a dialogue, an opportunity for the other person to ask questions, mention they have some vegan friends, or even talk about you’re shared love of delicious desserts! With the “Do Do Dialogue” you speak with, you don’t talk at, other people. It’s not all me, me, me—the focus now shifts to them—and often, whom they know.

Let’s say you’re a personal trainer. Instead of saying “I’m a personal trainer” and having the person to whom you’re speaking nod politely and hope you’re not judging his or her belly bulge, you might instead ask, “Do you know most people who need to lose 10 or 15 pounds only need to make one change in their workout to see results? I help people make that one change.”

Do you see the difference between the old-fashioned elevator pitch and the Do Do? Practice some Do Do dialoging of your own. Instead of practicing how to sell people, you can practice learning to connect with people. And that’s really what building success (and life) are all about.

Great – you are on your way! Now that you’ve figured out your core brand attributes, and your “Do Do pitch”, be sure to check in here at Dametown to continue to get tips on how to best let people know about the awesome-ness that is “Brand You”.

Or contact me, Dixie Laite, the Mayor at Dametown, if want personal, private, and frankly, awesome branding consulting!







Dixie Laite - Dame Town Writer

Author: Dixie Laite

Hi, I'm Sarah "Dixie" Laite, and I live in New York City with 5 parrots, 1 dog (Dr. Waffles) and 1 husband (Jeff). I love classic movies, animals, and haunting flea markets, ebay and TheRealReal. All my life I've been obsessed with figuring out how to navigate life as a woman. There are endless books, TV shows, gurus, guys, movies and magazines out there to guide you. But now that I'm closing in on 60, I noticed that the old rules don't apply, and most of the role models aren't old enough. I'm older now, I know more and weigh more. I'm eager to be inspired and to inspire others in return. Let's get a handle on this shit and figure it out together.

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