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.
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.
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?