So what is a personal brand? I could get all technical on the subject, go on about the amount of time it takes for someone to form their first (and strongest) impression of you, how many times in the first five seconds they re-evaluate that impression, blah, blah, blah. I choose not to. I choose to talk about how to create the impression I want to create. How to help that impression to reflect if not the values I hold most dear, at least the ones I hold most public.
In my case, I am going for a brash, rebel, against authority and against the world image (because that really is who I tend to be, at least in my heart of hearts). Part of that is my jacket. I tend to wear an old leather jacket that I picked up in a used clothing store in Montreal. It has band logos and names painted on it (all bands I genuinely like and listen to, in fact the Dead Kennedys logo is the reason I bought it). My hair changes regularly, although it tends to be unkempt and chaotic (and not always its real colour). Then there are the shoes. For years I wore military surplus parade boots as my main footwear, but since I found Parkour I wear Nike Free’s. The Nike Free’s tend to be very beat up unless you meet me just after I buy a new pair (climbing walls will do that to a pair of shoes). Cargo pants and either a t-shirt or an old sweater complete the ensemble. At least in 3 seasons, since this is Canada I wear a much warmer coat in winter.
That image isn’t fake. People know when it’s fake, so it really isn’t worth doing. If I came out all in soccer hooligan gear, looking like a jock thug it would fail. If I came out in khaki pants and a dress shirt, well it would fail miserably. I may be a computer geek, but my teenage years were as much about drugs and crime as they were about anything else, hell I dropped most of my RPG time (yes, I used to play dungeons and dragons, and as an adult I started to play it again) in favour of just getting stoned. My clothes reflect that truth. On the other hand, I got tired of that image for a bit as a teenager and started wearing suits. I can do the suit thing, I can pull that image off, but it has to be a real suit, something with a bit of distinction and class. That brand is not one I pull off day to day, but when I pull it off I rely on a middle class education and grand parents with a bit more money than average.
Why am I telling you this? Not just out of narcissism. The first reason is that I can’t give you another impression of me, I can’t stand in front of you and show you who I am. You have to get it from these words and my photo. The other reason is to show you how much goes into a personal brand. The way I walk (I am light on my feet from Parkour, confident stride, shoulders square, head up), the way I look (straight at you when I talk, my eyes tend to wander when you do), my glasses (understated, top frames, no bottom frames, dark but thin), the colours I wear (black, grey, understated), all of that makes up most of the first impression. When I meet you, the same things play into it. Do you look me in the eye? If so, is it confrontational or confident? Do you wear brash, garish colours? If so, are they well thought out or crude? All of this decides right away how I will perceive you, even if it isn’t intentional.
My Fiance thinks that clothes are the deciding factor in how much respect you receive… she is half right (also, one hell of a dresser…). Clothes are one of the factors that decide how you are perceived, but if the clothes don’t work with your personality it will be subconsciously perceived as false. The most important thing is to match who you are with how you look, not matching how you are supposed to look with how you look. Remember, if your clothes don’t fit those around you, then you will tend to stand out in peoples mind.
Charisma is also important. Personally, I can be kind of abrasive sometimes. People tend to either like me or dislike me on first meeting. That is largely because of my general arrogance. I accept that and use it to craft a (very much based on the real me) eccentric genius persona (okay, eccentric and kind of bright?). If you are the kind of person who is well liked right off, go with that. If you are disliked right away, that is still better than not being noticed…
In the end, a personal brand is just getting noticed, and making sure it is for what you want to be noticed for, however you achieve that.