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How important is your personal brand?

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

Hint: it tells the world who you are without you saying a word!

There are only three options to this question: very…not…and what is a personal brand?

We are well into months of work-from-home duty, virtual meetings, and trying to keep the days of the week straight. The trip from the bedroom to the living room or home office is getting shorter and shorter, and many are now paying less and less attention to what we look like on screen – when we do turn on the camera.

When the issue of “how to dress” or “how to look” is brought up in conversation, either in person or as a social media post, you can be assured that some of the first responses will be similar to, “Why does it matter? I should be judged for my intelligence and performance rather than my looks.” And many will agree, and then feign irritation at being asked such a ridiculous question.

And on some level, I do agree. Our outward appearance doesn’t always match the quality inside. The ole’ “don’t just a book by its cover,” response applies well, or even a “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” I’ve fallen victim to it. Years ago I thought a homeless woman has wandered into our office, when in fact she was the multi-millionaire farm owner friend of my boss. I got my young ego checked but good that day.

But then there’s the flip slide. If visual cues weren’t so important…and branding did nothing to influence anyone or shouldn’t hold any influence over you…they why is there an entire industry operating with just that goal?

One industry report says that the marketing industry is “expected to reach $107,540.6 million by 2026, and grow at a CAGR of 14.3% from 2019 to 2026.” Just the brand awareness segment alone “is predicted to generate a revenue of $33,739.7 million.” That’s a nice little chunk of change that deserves attention.

Wait…what is branding you ask? According to Brandingmag (and apologies for being rather long, but I love it!), it’s “a marketing practice in which a company creates a name, symbol or design that is easily identifiable as belonging to the company…and helps to identify a product and distinguish it from other products and services. Branding is important because not only is it what makes a memorable impression on consumers but it allows your customers and clients to know what to expect from your company. It is a way of distinguishing yourself from the competitors and clarifying what it is you offer that makes you the better choice. Your brand is built to be a true representation of who you are as a business, and how you wish to be perceived.”

Read that last part again: how you wish to be perceived.

Yet, some of the same people who understand the importance of marketing and branding sound almost offended when the idea of one’s physical appearance is brought up. They claim that your clothing and anything else about your appearance should be neither judged nor used to define anything about them.

Somehow, these same professionals miss the point of appearances – they represent your personal brand and convey your message, in very much the same way that a company logo, corporate color scheme, and corporate brand is developed.

Corporations and companies spend countless hours and big budgets on developing their brand because it’s a vital first step in developing a relationship with their potential clients. And although there are no actual – or major – changes with a product or company, it’s not unheard of to see grand re-branding efforts to ensure their companies stay in step with current trends and customer expectations.

Marketing firms and professionals are hired to create this branding, this awareness, this attention, and the best and most highly coveted are typically highly educated, trained, and experienced.

Why should it be any different for a personal brand? Is it because you don’t think they’re important, or that they even exist?

Let’s try this. I want you to create a vision in your head of an investment banker.

Visualize everything associated with it: the building, the parking lot, their office; the atmosphere and ambiance, surroundings, smells, and the sound. Imagine the reason you’re there, what your expectations are.

Now tell me – and be honest with yourself – what would your reaction be if they meet you wearing a tank top and flip flops?

Conversely, when you go to the beach, if someone is walking on the sand in a suit, they probably look a little out of place, and maybe a little weird.

Or think of the last wedding you attended in the United States. If the bride didn’t wear traditional white or ivory, what was the reaction? And did you wear white? Probably not, because that’s not socially acceptable.

And if Nike, or Coke, or Disney, or any other global brand suddenly changed their logo and branding, would you instantly recognize them? If another brand you followed or liked was inconsistent in their branding or messaging, would you trust them?

Granted, these are basic and pretty obvious examples, but the reasoning behind each one can be tied to visual expectations. Yes, also social constructs, which can be difficult overcome, but it’s all still visual.

So when you hear someone say, or even say yourself, “I shouldn’t be judged by what I wear,” it’s just a cold hard truth that we are hard-wired to do so, usually subconsciously.

Where people can become disenfranchised with style and appearance is with putting too much emphasis and importance on the brands they choose or bowing to an expectation of how they’re “supposed” to look. Yes, style should be individualistic, and people should be free to dress how they like without judgement.

But we’re human beings. We’re not programmed like that. We are, without question, visual beings.

Why else would social media be so effective?

Not only is 50% of our brain capacity used for vision, but “human vision is more akin to speech than photography. From infancy, our brain learns how to construct a three-dimensional environment by interpreting visual sensory signals like shape, size, and occlusion, how objects that are close obstruct the view of objects farther away. Even nonvisual cues, such as sounds, and self-motion help us understand how we move in space and how to move our bodies accordingly.” (Susan Hagen, University of Rochester).

Branding and marketing.

There are extensive studies that show how vision cues control our behavior in the world. Visual discrimination, and information helps us form the world around us – so the image we share of ourselves isn’t always for us – it’s to convey a message about us to others.

Like…consumer branding and marketing.

Our visual cues are linked directly to our thoughts, feelings, and memories. Colors themselves can imbue expectations and emotions. Textures, shapes, and patterns create interest, shadows, and movement. And consistency – or a signature look - creates a brand. A message. A wholeness. An expectation.

Branding and marketing.

Do I have personal bias on the subject? Of course I do. I’m a certified image consultant. Personal branding is kind of what I do. But more than that, I am passionate about people living their best lives and being their true authentic selves. I truly believe you can’t do that unless your outside messaging matches your internal information. And where to start? With the recognition and understanding your personal branding – the external shell of what you wear – IS important, IS relevant and isn’t overlooked or shunned aside.

And if you still don’t agree with me, then I expect you to wear old sweatpants, a baggie hoodie, and a baseball cap pulled low to your next job interview. It shouldn’t matter, right?

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