A friend treated me to a birthday dinner the week before last. I was enjoying a three-week vacation in Naples, Florida, at the time, and with his being from three-and-a-half hours north in Clearwater, we were both in unfamiliar territory. So we decided on Italian and then just asked Siri to present us with nearby options.
Upon arriving at our destination, we entered the rather posh dining area of the restaurant we’d chosen. The maître d’ was dressed to the nines as were all of the wait staff, and each spoke with an undeniably Italian accent. From the lighting to the wall art, this place was authentic. We knew we had chosen well before we were ever seated. And though our dishes bore names one could have ordered at any Italian chain restaurant, the quality of the food was far from franchise fare.
As our main courses arrived, I noticed what appeared to be a tipsy patron annoying the kitchen crew. He was dressed in a garish Hawaiian-print shirt with four buttons undone. The lower buttons strained as they did their best to hold back an ample gut. Draped unevenly across the surfeit of chest hair was the expected cliché: a large gold chain. His bald pate was encircled by a too-long horseshoe of badly-dyed hair. It was hard to make out exactly what he was saying, but he was definitely harassing the cooks, who, I noted, were handling it pretty graciously (though I did wonder why no senior staff were making an attempt to intervene).
A few moments after we were into our meals, the blustering bald man approached our table. He smiled broadly, placing one hand casually on my shoulder and one on the low dividing wall to my right. Not much causes me to feel awkward in life, but I’ll admit that my adrenaline surged a bit as I prepared for how best to mitigate the situation.
“How you guys doing?” the man asked. “Everything good? Anything you need?”
It was then that the realization hit me: this was no patron. I don’t even think he was a manager. No, only one person could have gotten away with his appearance and approach with the staff – the owner himself.
We raved about the food and service, which was met with much nodding of head and replies of “Good, good”; and soon, the owner was off to another table, continuing his rounds.
This man was clearly successful to some degree. He owned at least the restaurant where we were eating, if not other restaurants or properties. The ambiance was just right. The staff were excellent. And the food was outstanding. I couldn’t help but wonder how, then, this man internally reconciled his own appearance with the overarching goals for his establishment.
One thing is certain: he believed he was putting forth a positive persona. We do very little in life without a perceived gain. But this man’s perceived gain did not appear to be aligning with reality; therefore, it does not appear it was helping him reach the goal he intended. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy with good intentions; but the image he was portraying was a deterrent to our finding that out.
In a previous post, I talked about the power of nonverbal communication – the ability to speak clearly without using words at all. The items covered in that post were choices we make in the moment, after communication has begun. However, some very important facets of nonverbal communication (for lack of a better category) must be decided well in advance of communication encounters. And these decisions speak volumes about us within the first five seconds of being in the presence of others. Assessments will be made. Judgments will be passed. And based on these, our verbal message will either be more readily received – or potentially hindered altogether.
A strong, clear, positive, unique and memorable identity is vital to the success of any business or venture. Significant time and dollars are invested to make certain that such an image and presence is both achieved and sustained. Most of us understand this and accept it as simple fact. Yet we somehow neglect to apply these same principles when considering our own appearance.
But here’s the thing: You are your own personal brand.
A walking billboard. A megaphone to the world. An ongoing advertisement. You are constantly sending out vibes, giving people clues about what they might expect from interactions with you.You are your own personal brand. Brand You. A walking billboard. A megaphone to the world. Click To Tweet
Are you confident … or easily taken advantage of?
Are you knowledgeable … or just faking it?
Are you trustworthy … or peddling snake oil?
Sincere … or smarmy?
Whether you like it or not, whether you think it’s fair or not, you are being assessed before you ever open your mouth. And the conclusions drawn may be accurate or completely off the mark. But they are being made all the same.
For this reason, considering your personal brand and identity is not optional. It’s imperative. Choosing to bury your head in the sand and continue on as you have been won’t make the issue go away; for in doing nothing, you’re still building your personal brand. It may just serve to work against you rather than for you.
Today, and in the weeks that follow, I’ll present some areas to consider as you seek to establish, polish or update your personal brand.
Clothing – Personal Brand Strategy #1
What you wear says a lot about who you are. I read one of those “Imponderables” bathroom books once, where someone asked, “Why do old guys like to wear their pants pulled up so high?” The proposed answer may surprise you, but it is simple enough: “People of every decade tend to wear the clothing that represented their youth and heyday.” If you watch any classic films with Bing Crosby or Fred Astaire, you’ll notice that high-waisted trousers were in fashion during the late 1920s – 1940s. So men who grew up during those decades tend to wear the style that makes them feel young and “hip.”
Only thing is … it’s not young and hip anymore.
We all have leanings toward the things we enjoyed from our younger years, from music and movies, to fashion. And while you may not be able to find parachute pants very easily any longer (though I know quite a few people who’ve held onto them and still wear them to the gym), you still likely have things in your closet that need to go.
So those braided belts – sorry, toss ‘em.
Flat-front pants have been in for a while now, so ditch those pleats (unless they are a part a full, matching, high-end suit and are being worn with the jacket on). They’ll only serve to quickly earn you the label of fuddy-duddy.
Ladies, while Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, has managed to bring sheer hosiery back into fashion, standard “nylons” will date you.
My aim is not to provide an exhaustive list of fashion dos and don’ts, but merely to say that fashions change. In order to stay current, browse through any style magazine appropriate for your age range (e.g., GQ, Details, Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, etc.). You don’t need to order anything. Such magazines simply serve to give you an overall picture of what’s current; then you can go to your local department store and find similar, cost-effective options.
Don’t try to squeeze into clothes that are the size you wish you were. When you wear clothes that are too tight, or oversized, you actually accentuate the problem areas you were trying to hide. No one is looking at the number on your tag, they’re just looking at you. Dress the body you have. Even if you hate shopping, always try clothes on before buying them, and try on the size below or above what you normally wear; then buy the one that looks right, not the one that strokes your ego. And bringing along an honest friend never hurts.
Still feeling out of your element? Make the investment of hiring a one-time wardrobe consultant or personal shopper to help you get the right look for you. These professionals are experts in making choices that flatter every body type, and they can teach you some fundamental principles of clothing and style, as well.
One more thought on clothing before we move on. Just like any personal brand, you should give some thought to developing your own unique “signature look.” Remember, the goal of personal brand and identity is to stand out and be memorable. So while wearing appropriate-yet-bland business attire may technically appease the powers-that-be, it won’t get you anywhere with your personal branding identity. This doesn’t mean being eccentric (though if you can pull it off with class, go for it). But it may mean considering new options. Could you be the guy with the chic and interesting bow tie collection? Maybe you’re the one with the whimsically ironic socks that everyone’s trying to get a glimpse of as you walk by. Or are you the girl who wears well-fitted yet bold floral prints with impeccable style? You can still look 100% professional and appropriate donning pants that aren’t black, navy or gray; and even a colored or patterned shirt or blouse instead of standard white can set you apart.
Eyewear – Personal Brand Strategy #2
This is an area people often overlook. And let’s face it – eyewear can be expensive. It’s tempting to just settle for utilitarian frames or to buy from a wholesaler online. But consider the hugely important role that eye contact plays in communication. If you wear glasses, then, they are as much “windows to the soul” as your eyes themselves.
First, don’t order online. Wholesalers offer better prices because the frames they sell are either produced in bulk (i.e., unflattering) or are out of style. See a licensed optician who understands facial structure and fashion, as well as your specific vision needs. The right pair of glasses can completely change your look and “vibe,” not only in the way others perceive you, but in the way you feel about yourself. Even if they cost a few hundred dollars, it’s absolutely money well spent.
By the way, you don’t have to have vision problems to enjoy the style benefits of statement-making eyewear. You can rock it with a great pair of non-prescription frames.
Lastly, remember that fashions change. You should consider updating your frames at least every two years, or whenever you have your eye exams done.
Don’t misunderstand me here. This doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on clothing and accessories by expensive designers. What it does mean is that you need to be mindful, honest and proactive, and to treat your personal brand as the important investment that it is.
Be sure to check back next Thursday for more tips on maximizing the potential of your personal brand image. In the meantime, do you have questions, comments or suggestions of your own? This is a community, so please do share your thoughts below.