One questions that I keep hearing again and again is how to brand yourself, while maintaining a professional image. You want to brand yourself based on who you are inside – an authentic you – but depending on your circumstances, you may have to hold back some of your clothing choices and language. You aren’t Lady Gaga, so you can’t wear her coat of frogs to work and get away with it, without embarrassing yourself. You aren’t Ozzy Osbourne, so eating a bat before you give a presentation to your colleagues would be deemed inappropriate! What I’m trying to get at is that you really have to know your place in the world, as well as your audience and the type of setting you’re in.
Celebrities can push the limits
Most celebrities can get away with almost anything, except the occasional sex addition, in Tiger Woods’ case. They can be themselves completely because their audience is different than most of yours. While you try and appeal to management, they are thinking about putting on an entertaining show for their fans. As mentioned in the two examples above (Ozzy and Gaga), they may stir things up to get publicity, but, at the end of the day, it’s their own creativity that prevails. You’ll never see either of them as CEO’s for a major company because employees and customers couldn’t take them seriously.
- Lady Gaga: Imagine Gaga as the CEO of Microsoft. The company would lose millions of dollars, a lot of credibility, and she would be asked to resign quickly, due to stockholder anger. The Gaga brand can’t succeed in those conditions, but it can succeed in Hollywood because that kind of differentiation is accepted.
- Ozzy Osbourne: If you showed up for work today and you were greeted by your new manager, Ozzy, would you honestly be able to keep a straight face during your first meeting with him? No. Ozzy can’t succeed or be respected as that kind of businessman in that setting. He can sell clothing, albums, tickets for his tour and action figures, but if you put his name on a business proposal, your coworkers would think it’s fake.
The workplace has limits
You can bring your dog to work at Google and most startups and marketing firms allow you to wear jeans and sometimes a t-shirt. If you’re in sales, then you almost have to wear a suit and if you have a different corporate job, business casual is expected. For the most part, it’s hard to have a memorable appearance when everyone wears the same white dress shirt and dress pants each day. Similar to how some private schools have uniforms, the workplace creates a feeling of balance, yet lacks individuality.
If your brand is about wearing shorts and a hat all the time, then you can’t carry that into the workforce. You would have to find some other way to make money, while maintaining that appearance. For instance, you could start your own clothing line or do stand-up comedy, but if the income from either can’t support you, then you still have to suffer in your dress pants at work.
In the corporate world it’s all about “acting the part.” This means that you can’t dress and behave like a CEO if you still have the “associate mindset” and presence.
How to be yourself without losing everything
The object of this post is to help you identify where you can be yourself, while making money, and how to avoid hurting your brand in the wrong situations. Life can be complicated if you don’t put yourself in a situation where you can be yourself! Joining a company that makes you dress like someone you aren’t, isn’t acceptable in a world filled with an endless pit of choices.
- Understand who you are and be honest with yourself. Take into account how you want to dress and behave, the people you want to surround yourself with and the types of work environments where you can be yourself (and succeed).
- Identify your strengths, your current marketplace value, as well as your financial situation and family responsibilities. By doing this step, you’ll know if you can afford to be yourself 24/7. If you can’t, then you might have to have more than one job, until you’re financially stable.
- Examine the audience (the companies) that would best reflect your authentic brand. The best way to do this is to ask peers what their experiences are like in their companies. You may also decide to start your own company so you can have more control over your brand, appearance wise.
- Create and communicate the brand that aligns your passion, expertise and allows you to make money. Money matters when it comes to being yourself, while maintaining a financial status that can support your lifestyle. Passion will force you to work hard enough to succeed in being an expert in a subject.
Are you having issues branding yourself, while maintaining a professional image?