The 5 things you need to do to define your personal brand

Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.
— Unknown + Allison Walsh
You’re either remarkable or invisible. Make a choice.
— Seth Godin + Allison Walsh

Do you have a personal brand identity? That was a trick question. You do. Everyone does. Even if you don’t realize it or think it’s important, you’ve got one. So just in case you maybe want to put some thought into it, here’s a little primer. 

When I think about personal brand, I can’t help but think about my partner, Isaac. I can guarantee as I write this that he has never, ever had an active thought about his personal brand. But he has one, and a strong one at that.  His brand’s cornerstone is integrity and consistency. It’s buffered by intelligence and depth of thought and character. His bushy beard adds to his persona. People think of him as the strong, quiet, intelligent type. [swoon]  Quick! Think of five to six famous people who have strong personal brands and then 1-5 words or a phrase that you think describes them. Go!

My list:

  • Oprah Winfrey – controversial, groundbreaker, generous, master communicator
  • Danielle LaPorte – woo girl goddess shaman 
  • Samuel L Jackson – edgy, smart, creative
  • Manny Pacauiao – smart, fierce, sweet
  • Lance Armstrong – liar liar pants on fire 
  • Katie Couric - bubbly, smart, fun

What makes their personal brands strong (good or bad)? Let’s break it down:

    1. Your Appearance
      I’m not talking about being the prettiest face ever to show up on You Tube. It’s not about looking perfect and it’s definitely not about being boring or generic. I’m talking about having a strong personal look and totally owning it. It was the brilliant Brendon Burchard who wrote a book called The Millionaire Messenger who helped me get over my hang up that everyone who blogs and builds big successful businesses has to look perfect. Whatever. So not true. You don’t have to be the skinniest or the best dressed. Just don’t be dull. Kind of like, um, Oprah! She’s fantastic and hardly confirms with society’s definition of beauty.  Whatever your “look” is, your appearance does tell people something about your brand. The question is, is it telling people what you want them to know? 
    2. Your Ability to be Articulate 
      What’s far more important than how you look is what you say, and how you say it. If you are trying to interact with anyone who is human then you are in the communication business. If you are struggling to get your point across, or can see that people are glazing over when you interact, maybe you need to take a class or ask for help from someone who does it well.  Whatever you do, be articulate and be yourself (see a theme emerging here?).
    3. Your Credibility
      Unfortunately, Lance Armstrong provides a great example for this element. A really effective way to earn yourself a crappy personal brand is to be a big fat liar pants on fire. Conversely, being a person with credibility, who backs up your promise as a human with actual evidence of being a good person, tells others who you are.
    4. Your Integrity
      There’s a popular concept flying around lately that frustrates the heck out of me. It says that you shouldn’t apologize because it makes you look weak. Au contraire mon ami!  I have found over the course of many years of making mistakes (of the small and very, very large variety) that apologizing, earnestly apologizing, is one of the most powerful things you can do as a human being. If you’re wrong, just own it. Take responsibility. People respect it and it’s  impossible  for  a  situation  to  escalate  if  the person  who  screwed  up  owns  it.  Mistakes happen.  No  one  is  perfect,  and  no  one  is  going  to  try  to  make  me  feel  badly  for  not  being perfect.
    5. Your Individuality
      File this under: bummer. If you are truly yourself, and that person is fundamentally good and kind, you will still irritate people. You can’t please everyone, so why try? In a pot of boiling water, lobsters will pull the guy who is escaping back into the water (ugh, so gross). That happens in human nature, too. It’s so insidious. You know it’s true, when someone starts shining a little “too” brightly, others try to knock them down. Your job is not to let it get to you.  When I was young my dad told me that some people wouldn’t like me just because of how I wore my hair. Of course it was code, that some people just won’t like me, full stop. It stuck with me forever. Now, I like to use the “he’s just not that into you” school of thought when it comes to other people. If someone doesn’t like me, I’m not going to waste my energy trying to make them like me. That concept can be challenged by certain people like family members, but in the end of the day, if someone wants to like you they will find a million reasons to like you. If they don’t, they will find a million reasons not to.  So if some people just aren’t going to get you or like you anyway, why wouldn’t you just double down on YOU?  So if you like wearing your hair big and curly, or kitty cat ears to the grocery store, or dig tattoos and piercings, wear thick black eyeliner and big 80s hair, or like electro opera – whatever! – just rock on with your bad self. Because owning who you are will attract like-minded weirdos to you, and then you are surrounded by your weirdos. The people who don’t like it can go find their weirdos and leave you the hell alone. File that under: freedom!

    Jot down 6-10 words/phrases that you would love for others to say about you when you aren’t in the room. Now ask yourself, “Am I representing that brand?” If the answer is no, you know what to do! 

    What’s your personal brand? Let us know in your comments below!


    Allison Walsh

    Since graduating from law school more than 20 years ago, I have worked in and around the legal industry, helping businesses cut through the noise and find their marketing sweet spots. Want to turn your firm’s volume WAY up? I can help!