Friday, May 23, 2008

YES, Looks Do Matter

Repeatedly, branding is a big topic here at Wendistry, but I'm always surprised by the fact that not everyone is aware of the power of creating a brand for oneself. Your personal brand is all-important, particularly when you run a business. Think Kate Spade, Martha Stewart, Oprah... these are all individuals who created entire businesses around their own successful self-branding. And they know that what they look like is key to conveying their company's success.

Yes, your business standards and ethics, your personality, and of course, your performance are all fundamental parts of your personal brand. You should have a clear understanding of who you are, what your values are and what you'd like to be known for to be able to develop a successful image. However, before you'll even have the chance to prove your outstanding performance and steadfast integrity, you have to make a first impression to get your foot in the door. And to do that, you're going to need to look the part (without trying too hard, of course).

With some knowledge that I've gained by working diligently with Ayo Fashola of Ice Cream Style to hone my own brand to accurately reflect everything that we're about here at Wendistry, here are her (and my) highest recommendations:

1. First impressions count. Clothes, hair, makeup, teeth......they're all a part of first impressions. Don't wait until you lose 20 pounds or land that next big client to start taking care of your image. Your client's first impression will be hard to shake if it's not a good one. If you are building a brand around yourself, keep in mind that whenever you leave the house, your brand goes with you. This doesn't mean that you can't run out for coffee in your sweatpants on occasion, but if there is an opportunity that you may meet a potential client, you'll want to present yourself accordingly.

2. Wear clothes that fit. If you remember only one thing from this article, please let it be these four words. Just remember the last woman you saw wearing a button-down shirt that was too tight or a skirt that was entirely too short for a professional environment and these images alone should be enough to convince you to wear clothes that fit.

3. Discover your signature look. Each one of us has unique features and style. What you perceive of as a flaw may in fact make you memorable. Think of someone like Jackie Kennedy: whether you liked her politics or not, she launched a thousand styles that were copied and are still considered classics... the pillbox hat, the big sunglasses. If you've been trying too hard to look a part, you'll end up looking like you're trying too hard. Instead, focus on those characteristics that make you unique and are truly you. Whether it's always wearing a particular accessory (think Bono with his sunglasses) or carrying off an unusual fashion choice (say, the ability to make mismatched clothes work well together), a unique signature to your style will make you memorable. Just be sure that the unique signature is authentically yours and represents what you want to say to the world.

4. Be consistent. Once you've established a style that works for you, stick with it. If you look like a carefree bohemian one day and a buttoned-up businessperson the next, potential clients may perceive you as inconsistent and therefore, unreliable. Because...

5. What you wear is a costume of sorts. What does your costume say about who you are? Since it can be hard to be objective about ourselves, ask for feedback from people who will tell you the truth. While you may think that your relaxed fit cotton casual pants say "approachable and low-key businessman," to someone else they may scream "hopelessly out-of-touch dork with pleats." I'm not saying that you won't be able to wear cotton, but you may have to shift to a pant style that is of this century.

6. Match your style to your business. (On a personal note, this is where I'm having the most difficulty adjusting... I just pulled 20 black suits from my closet. What am I? A professional funeral attender?? YIKES!) If you're a tax accountant, you'll probably find a suit and tie to be a more successful look than, say, grunge. There does need to be a certain correspondence between the nature of your look and your occupation. That's not to say that you can't be a flamboyant tax accountant, but chances are, you'll have more success in the entertainment industry than at a Fortune 500 company. (Again, I did spend 2.5 years in the financial services world, hence all the black, gray, navy suits. However, now I'm a marketing, strategy, and brand development consultant... creativity for clients is a key. So, creativity must be a part of my Brand Image and attire.)

7. Be authentic. Since every aspect of yourself contributes to your "brand," it helps to be authentic. If at heart you are a hillbilly, don't pretend to be part of the east coast elite. Though American society is relatively fluid compared to many other places in the world, pretending to be what you're not will not help you to achieve a personal brand. A personal brand is quintessential you. So, embrace those aspects of yourself that make you unique instead of denying them.

Finally, remember that no amount of branding on the outside will make up for a failure to deliver the goods. You'll need to know how to use your manners, collaborate and otherwise display the emotional intelligence and diplomacy that makes the world go 'round, while also delivering a quality product or service on time, no matter how good you look.


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