In search of the perfect dress for my first big fundraising event, I was desperate to find something that would magically transform me into what I thought an effortlessly badass PR woman would look like. What would she wear? And how did I find the right dress to become her?
“What about this one? It’s kinda edgy, right?” I was trying on dresses with one of my best friends, and was eager to know what she thought of my latest selection.
Her face twisted and she reluctantly offered, “Well, yeah, but… it’s not… you.”
I was used to faking it to make it. When I observed women on various leadership panels or at networking events, I found myself studying their clothes, their demeanor, and their speech…
But that can be dangerous.
From the time you’re in kindergarten, you’re told to BE YOURSELF. But in a world where personal branding is so important and everyone is eager to differentiate themselves, how exactly are you supposed to do that?
HERE ARE THREE KEYS TO BUILDING A CONSISTENT AND AUTHENTIC BRAND:
#1 Don’t be afraid to rock the boat.
In an effort to win more customers, clients, or followers, we sometimes try to cater to everyone. But a safe, all-encompassing message or brand that everyone likes is not only boring, it holds no value.
When you take a firm position, one of three things could happen:
a. Increased loyalty among those who share your viewpoint and appreciate your perspective.
b. Some in your audience disagree with you, but remain engaged because they respect your (thoughtfully crafted, confidently presented) opinion.
c. People disengage, which is fine because not every client, partnership, or follower is meant to be maintained). You’ll avoid wasting time and other investments on connections that are not a good fit.
#2 Watch your mouth.
Whether you are negotiating, tweeting, selling, or networking, use language that reflects your real personality.
Avoid using words or phrases that you would not use in real life. If your target audience is a younger crowd, don’t use “lit” to try to connect with them if it’s not a word you would normally incorporate in conversation. Even worse, it’s obvious that you’re trying – and there is no bigger turn-off then the stench of desperation. Working to communicate your professionalism and expertise? Avoid using words simply to impress clients, because that can be equally unappealing. Ironically, it could also expose you as a novice and paint you as unexperienced.
Before working in public relations, I was the chair of the English department at a local high school. I was promoted to the position at the ripe age of 24, eager and determined. But I spent my first department meeting PROVING that I belonged there (using so much education jargon that my head was spinning), and I failed to let my true self shine through. I spent months getting comfortable with my own style, and eventually garnered enough confidence to be myself. Whether I was speaking with students or principals, I used language that was appropriate, yet natural. It earned me even more credibility and respect, and I wish I’d done it sooner.
Know your audience. Know yourself. And speak accordingly.
#3 Offer only what you value.
Writing a blog or newsletter? Crafting a speech for a conference? Imagine yourself as an audience member and assess what it is your care about. If you were reading that newsletter or listening to that speech, what would you be looking to take from the experience?
I recently began thrifting and reselling vintage jewelry for fun. I only invest in the pieces that make me swoon, instead of offering items that I think others will like. At one point, I questioned whether or not I was limiting myself by only selling what I like. But at my first weekend market, several people made remarks about me having a “good eye” or liking my “style”.
Pursue the things you care about. When you do, the connections you’re building and the business you’re getting become more meaningful.
It also makes your brand more memorable.
When working to express an authentic brand, resist the temptation to copy what other women are doing. Admire them, take notes, and follow their advice—yes.
But remember that the strongest, most unique brands emerge from authenticity.
Be yourself. Chances are, we’ll like it.