Image and branding are all about creating the right first impressions. Even though people keep repeating the maxim that you should never judge a book by its cover, it is exactly what these same people do all the time! In fact, it is probably because of this quirk of human behavior that the maxim evolved in the first place!
Knowing this, you should be prepared to accept the fact that physical appearance plays a very important role in projecting the kind of personal image you want to. Think very carefully about this aspect of your personality because once you create that first impression, nothing you do will make people alter their perception of you. You can bend over backwards to dress differently, talk differently or behave differently, but that first impression lasts forever.
Your Physical Appearance
The first step to creating your ‘personal brand’ is to identify what kind of person you are. This will help you in the next stage – achieving a physical avatar that matches that personality. For example, if you are an introvert or a person with very conservative views on things, then flamboyant clothes might not be in your best interest. The key here is to send a consistent message to people you meet for the first time. If they see you in a severe black suit, they’ll expect you to talk in hushed tones and generally maintain a serene demeanor. Maybe that’s why you don’t see rock musicians walk on stage wearing tuxedos or formal pinstripe suits! Even if you are an incorrigible extrovert, you may not want to wear leather pants and color your hair purple when you go to work – well, not unless you’re that same rock musician we talked about just now.
The key to achieving the right personal appearance is, of course, hygiene. It doesn’t matter how great a person you are if you have body odor and wear clothes that are not clean and neat. Personal hygiene should be the first step in achieving the look you want – whether that look is a toned down one or a loud one. Good grooming is something that people warm up to very easily, and that’s your ticket to making a great first impression.
You don’t have to go to speech class or join Toastmasters International to speak well. You might do these things to improve your speaking skills, but in this context, we’re referring to the way your voice sounds.
Your voice must always be gentle, even if it is naturally hoarse. The quality of your voice depends on how you deliver your words, not the actual tone of your voice. If you have a high and squeaky voice, don’t be discouraged: you can practice speaking at a lower pitch to avoid getting on people’s nerves.
If your voice is naturally deep, then you’re lucky because a deep, reassuring voice is something that people immediately feel comfortable with. Ever wonder why parrots don’t make good hypnotists? Picture this: “Waaaaaaak, your eyelids are getting heavy…waaaaaak…you’re feeling sleepy….waaaaaak…polly want a cracker…waaaaaaak!!!” Hypnotherapists know that a deeper voice has a more soothing effect on the mind, so they actively practice speaking in a lower-pitched voice.
The other aspect of speech is your delivery. This refers to how you pronounce your words and whether you give the right intonation, and the attention you give to choosing your words properly. You can be a fast talker, but, if most of what you say comes out as garbled speech, then people are not going to want to listen to you. If your rate of speech is very slow, then people may lose their patience. The key is to find the right balance that works to enhance your personal image. Speak clearly and look at the person to whom you are speaking. Nobody likes a person who looks at the floor or at the wall when they’re speaking to them.
The third factor that goes into your personal branding efforts is your behavior. This is closely connected with people gaining your trust, and, like first impressions, is something that usually lasts forever. This is how you build a reputation – or break it.
The things to keep in mind are basically your social skills. Do you constantly interrupt people in the middle of a sentence? Do you make eye contact when talking to someone? Do you offer to help carry stuff when you see someone struggling with a package? Do you rush into the elevator or wait for the people inside to come out first? Do you dominate meetings with your loud voice and your opinions that only you are interested in?
Think carefully about how you act and behave in public: it will form a part of your personal brand whether you like it or not. People who don’t know you can only judge you by your behavior as they see it. After all, it’s the only reference point they have, right?
Think of your personal brand as you would any other ‘product’ on the market. Coke would just be a fizzy drink in a bottle if not for their branding efforts. Harley-Davidson would be just another motorcycle manufacturer that makes big hogs if not for their constant advertising and superior branding activities. The fact that these companies have been able to brand themselves effectively means that you can do it too, on a personal level.
To a great extent, creating a good personal image is about selling yourself. Identify your unique selling proposition as “a fun guy to hang out with” or “a dependable pillar of support” or “a fair leader” or whatever you like. Just be sure that the various elements we’ve talked about above are congruent with each other and with that personal tagline. A “dependable pillar of support” might not be the right choice of brand for you if you constantly renege on your commitments to people. Similarly, people won’t buy the “fun guy to hang out with” bit if you’re a sourpuss at every office party.
The secrets to personal branding, therefore, are consistency and congruence. Your grooming habits need to match your choice of attire, which, in turn, need to be in sync with your speech, mannerisms and behavior. People can be fooled easily, but for how long? If you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.