Branding: this time, it's personal

When someone in an elevator asks me what Freckle is about, I say something like:

"We’re an agency that designs brands, campaigns and events."

The concept of brands in particular is what first got me excited about working in design. I started by dabbling in Photoshop, and went on to study advertising. I found advertising oddly inspiring. Perhaps this was because I suspected there was another angle to it than just manipulating society in order to sell them junk food and get rich by destroying their health — something about finding truth, or revealing hidden value in brands to change perception en masse — and indeed I found this attitude in Todd Sampson and our other mentors once I got into my studies. At Freckle we have this origami analogy: you take a piece of paper and ‘reveal the hidden value’, in transforming it into an animal.

I had the same suspicion when ‘personal branding’ first became a meme. What if we took time-tested concepts from brand strategy and applied them to the brand that is you? The idea is promising — but how far could you push it before the analogy broke down?

It seemed that for the most part, personal branding meant something like “Always wear the same quirky tie to networking events”. Frankly, that seemed a bit lame to me. We have probably all had the experience of chatting to someone at a professional event, and feeling like you never quite get past their well-rehearsed sales small-talk playbook. I always walked away from those interactions feeling a little ‘icky’.

Is personal branding more than just wearing a funny hat?

Is personal branding more than just wearing a funny hat?

Was personal branding limited to some kind of persona adopted by public speakers? I wondered if the Freckle approach to branding could work. Something about revealing the hidden value of ourselves. Now, that seemed a lot less icky as a goal. Empowering, even?

At the latest Creative Mornings Sydney meetup, I heard our approach validated by the (potty-mouthed) 'brand guy' himself, Richard Sauerman:

“There isn’t a brand persona ‘me’, and a real ‘me’... they’re the same fucking person.”

Amongst other projects, the brand guy runs personal branding workshops along similar principles as the Freckle way: looking to reveal the best of ourselves… and not just with a quirky tie.

Richard Sauerman at Creative Mornings Sydney. Creative Mornings is an international community of professionals. The Sydney events happen every month on the last Friday in the Workshop, Redfern.

Richard Sauerman at Creative Mornings Sydney.

Creative Mornings is an international community of professionals. The Sydney events happen every month on the last Friday in the Workshop, Redfern.

How to create your personal brand strategy

Brand strategy can easily be over-complicated — but in thinking about a personal brand we learned that you can get the ball rolling pretty quickly. If you’re starting with the attitude that you’re just trying to reveal the positive traits that are relevant to your goals, then chances are you already have a couple of items that come to mind. You know who you are, at least roughly. Mental blank? Sauerman would suggest that you might be letting anxiety get in the way ("Don't be bland… popularity is for mediocre people”). Make a short list. How can you align your communication to these traits? Now you have a personal brand strategy.

Personal brand checklist

  1. Write down your strongest personal traits
  2. Choose your ‘favourites’, the ones that align with your personal/professional goals
  3. For each favourite, brainstorm how a person with these traits might behave
  4. Select some behaviours that feel authentic for you to commit to

Example: yours truly

As a graphic designer, I thought about the traits that creative professionals are valued for. Some sprung to mind immediately: they have imagination and humour, they’re willing to fail, and they’re open-minded. Does my CV reflect these traits? I have created a CV that begins with long-form prose, and has no ‘past employment’ section. Of course, this is not appropriate for everyone but works well for my profession and skillset and, most important, feels authentic to me.

Example: Doctor Jason Fox

Having previously mocked quirky clothing as a personal branding tactic, I mention should Doctor Jason Fox, a public speaker, writer and consultant, who is an example of how to do it right. The difference is that it comes from an authentic place: his professional appearance is an extension of his personality.

Doctor Jason Fox: quirky style done right.

Doctor Jason Fox: quirky style done right.

Branding strategy is about consistently presenting the best parts of your product/service/group; seen in this light, personal branding is not something limited to entrepreneurs, or even to business goals. Is the world hearing what you’re trying to express?

Do you have a personal brand? What is it and how do you communicate it? As designers of intelligent communication, the Freckle team are always curious about how our readers reveal the hidden value of themselves or their teams using branding strategy, so feel free to drop us a comment or an email.