I recently had some interesting exchanges with a friend on what is meant by ‘personal branding’. We agreed about how branding works with consumer goods, hotel chains, etc., but we both found it difficult to imagine how it might work for an individual woman with a demanding professional career. Many of my clients at TfW fall into this category, but they often have little time (or energy, I suspect) to embrace the concept, let alone explore the possibilities. Here is a good way to think of branding.
Make a list of some miscellaneous products one can find in any high street store (and indeed the stores themselves), and notice that, just by thinking of the product in question, you conjure an immediate recollection of its colour scheme, the shape of its container, its smell or taste and even the font style of its name. The successful brands have a unique image that they present to the world.
I tried the same experiment with a list of friends and colleagues I meet regularly. Of course it was possible to quickly recollect faces and voices. But when it came to appearance, I was often stumped – I did not have a clear sense of their signature apparel. There was no consistent image.
More women are coming to me looking for help in creating their own brand. Why do they think they need a brand? I think because in the commercial and corporate worlds, the brand is a sign of value and success.
Then they describe garments that make them feel good, and ask for multiples. They invest in a wardrobe that they know will help them to feel confident, perhaps even powerful. But generally, their clothes choices are for traditional, understated classics.
The dilemma is that, on the one hand they need to present a memorable, striking image to the world, but on the other, they must not appear to stand out too extravagantly. Like wearing a uniform but with interesting additions…
I solve their dilemma by creating not the branding but the baseline on which to build the brand image. Every time I meet a new client, I first ensure that their basic ‘uniform’ will perform those essential personal functions – a flattering cut and proportions, with colours that complement the skin tone and hair type. With such a template established, it’s possible to create multiple variations on the same staple garments – jackets, trousers, dresses – so that they have in fact their own personal ‘prêt à porter’ wardrobe which they know will always allow them to feel comfortable and look good with a minimum of agonising over choice or assortment.
Then the personal branding can begin by choosing accessories to enhance the basic look. And why not look for a ‘signature’ accessory which will eventually deliver that all-important memorability quotient within the anonymous world of corporate dress? It need not be as extravagant as Dame Edna’s rhinestone glasses, but a consistent style of necklace, scarf or earring will be just as effective.