Glass Slippers and Hiking Boots: What Our Branding Footprints Reveal

Branding is like fitting someone with a glass slipper. The ideal client slips into it as easily as Cinderella. The worst is an impossibly tight squeeze, his expectations as oversized as Drizella’s enormous foot.

Most clients are neither beautiful princesses nor ugly stepsisters — they just need some polishing before they’re ready for the ball.

Glass Slippers and Hiking Boots: What Our Branding Footprints Reveal | KOTAW Content MarketingSuccessful branding balances perception and reality. Few of us are — or need to be — picture perfect. We just want the world to see us or our products in the most favorable light possible.

This sounds easy, but gets complicated quickly.

Let me use myself as an example. Part of my personal branding efforts here at KOTAW Content Marketing will be to tell you about myself, to share with you experiences that shape me and the work I do for you.

Mirror, Mirror

So I could start by telling you that one of the most important parts of my work week is the mountain hike I take most afternoons. I could continue sharing the details of those hikes, how they inspire ideas, resolve problems, etc. etc. But if I consider the story as part of my brand, I must stop and think:

What will people perceive when they imagine a woman who makes a habit of hiking in the mountains? Someone lean, wearing LL Bean boots and a safari vest, carrying a water bottle in one hand and a bag of granola in the other? Someone weighed down not just by her backpack but by her tree-hugging evangelism and self-righteous disdain for anyone who doesn’t share her enlightened views?

That’s what comes to my mind when I hear the words “woman,” “mountain” and “hike” in a single sentence.

But the reality of my walks in no way resembles this perception. In the first place, I’m curvy, not angular. And I don’t own hiking gear. I wear whatever I donned in the morning, usually designer sweats and an overpriced t-shirt. I typically carry a McDonald’s iced tea (unsweetened, extra lemon) and a cookie in one hand and a dog’s leash in the other. I don’t walk for the exercise, but I do lie to myself about the number of calories I burn on these outings, particularly on the days when my cookie is a Danish.

Am I an environmentalist? I don’t litter and I recycle, but I fail to separate items strictly to city code. I shut off the tap water when I brush my teeth, but I water my grass. I drive a fuel-efficient car, but use more electricity than 98 out of 100 neighbors, according to a recent utility bill.

I might hug a tree but, based on my earth-saving efforts, it probably wouldn’t hug me back.

Too Many Secrets or TMI?

How much, if any, of my hiking reality should I have shared? Should I have told you nothing and let you think what you wanted? Should I have omitted some of the less-flattering details? Put the parts I wanted you to remember in bold type or all caps? Added a photo so I didn’t have to explain anything?

Those are the types of questions a branding specialist asks — and tries to answer — all the time. This is an important part of the branding process but, carried too far, the task can become all-consuming and ultimately defeating. Success lies in the details, but not all the details are critical.

If my ability to gain your respect is thwarted by your perception of my hiking habits, then I’m not doing a very good job writing your content and promoting your brand. What I write, think and say on your behalf matters. What I wear on a mountain trail doesn’t. At least it doesn’t matter enough to me to change my dressing habits. Or to try to hide them from you.

Your brand is your identity. It’s not a measure of everything you and your company say and do. Your clients and customers don’t have to understand, accept or appreciate everything about your company in order to buy your brand.

Choose your branding efforts carefully. Pursue what matters most. Carefully protect what you wish to remain private. Move slowly into branding territory that the Internet has made both necessary and treacherous.

If you toss too many balls in the marketing air, you may drop the important ones. Change what needs to be changed — perception, reality or both — and live with the rest.

Wear glass slippers when the occasion calls for it. But after hours and away from the spotlight, what you put on your feet is no one’s business but your own.

Now it’s your turn to share! How do you determine which parts of your personality and lifestyle are called for in the recipe that creates your brand — and which parts should remain secret ingredients? 


  1. Julian says:

    What a great philosophy you’ve got here! Everything you say can be applied to every facet of life, both professional and personal. Everyday, in every situation, we must all choose what aspects about ourselves we are going to reveal and which we will keep private. We have to determine — often on a moment’s notice — how we want the person in front of us to see us. We all have a million versions of ourselves. I like what you say about the importance of considering how you want others to perceive you but that it’s also important to not make yourself crazy trying to analyze how you’ll be perceived by others after carefully choosing what you reveal about yourself. Because like you say, everyone has their biases and their pre-conceived notions so it’s impossible to know exactly how others will react to what you’ve revealed.

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Yes, Julian. Even this comment leaves me wondering, “What will people think?” But it doesn’t stop me from writing. If your branding efforts are true to who you are, you will occasionally stumble but you’ll never take a fall you can’t recover from.

  2. […] right execution through KOTAW’s strategies, many businesses have reaped the rewards of ‘inbound marketing success time and time again. Follow Katherine on Twitter or […]

  3. […] With the right execution through KOTAW’s strategies, many businesses have reaped the rewards of inbound marketing success time and time again. Follow Katherine on Twitter or […]

  4. […] that’s OK.  Personal branding is not about striving for perfection.  It’s about being […]

  5. […] Lire l’article original en anglais ici : KOTAW Content Marketing Glass Slippers Branding Footprints … […]

  6. OH MY – this was before we met, sweet Kat! I was just checking out your Plus profile and found links to several old articles #HUGSSSSSSSSSSSSS


    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Yes, it was! It was among the “get started” posts I wrote so I wouldn’t have a blank blog when KOTAW went live. So happy you found this one!



  7. […] from unwinnable client relationships, don’t expect a client to fit your needs as perfectly as Cinderella’s glass slipper. Like you, clients are flawed. And that’s OK. People’s quirks keep entrepreneurship interesting […]

Join the Discussion