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  • My Personal Branding Story Part 6: Narrative, Context, and Being a Purple Cow

    This is the sixth of ten posts where we follow Marcos Salazar’s personal branding journey, as he uses the concepts and four-step process outlined in Me 2.0 for his own career.

    In my last two posts, I described why I decided to use the concept of being a Renaissance Worker as my personal brand.  In many ways, adopting this brand was a risky because Renaissance Worker is not a term people are familiar with. In addition, if someone asks me what I do, am I going to say, “I am a Renaissance Worker.” Nope – that’s not going to fly and it probably never will. I was aware of both of these issues and while they may seem like obstacles to creating my personal brand, I actually see them as opportunities because they will require me to take a creative approach to communicating my brand.

    In this post, I will be discussing three psychological strategies – creating  a narrative, understanding context, and being a purple cow – in conjunction with the second step in Me 2.0 – Create Your Brand – to help you grab your audience’s attention and keep it. While I will be using these strategies in the context of being a Renaissance Worker, they can be applied to any personal brand. I will begin with offline strategies first and in my next post will transfer them to creating a strong online presence that will attract people to your personal brand.

    Create a narrative

    I was at a party this past weekend and like usual, I got the typical, “What do you do?” Now, if I had said, “I am a Renaissance Worker,” we all know I would have gotten a confused look. But even saying the typical, “I am a consultant at xyz company” would not have been any better.

    I rarely answer this question by just stating my day job because simply put, it’s a pretty boring response. If I’m talking to someone, whether it’s a friend, a date, or someone at a networking event, I want to be engaged. So what I usually end up doing is telling some kind of story.

    Brooklyn-BWhen I got asked what I did in New York, the person also said, “Nice shirt!” That night I was wearing one of my Brooklyn BoroThreads tees, so instead of simply mentioning my day job of, “I’m a psychology researcher for the Girl Scouts,” I took a cue from that person and started talking about how I had designed the shirt myself and it was from a clothing company I just launched in New York. I could have ended there, but that still would have not been too exciting.

    So I began telling a story of how I had met my business partner Gabriel via Craigslist when I subletted an apartment after breaking up with the girlfriend I was living with. Gabriel was my roommate for that month and we hit it off right away as we hung out in the apartment talking about how much we loved Brooklyn, funny things about New York, Amherst (where he was from and I went to college), and general tech stuff. This led me to talk about how  Gabriel and I were chatting at a café one day and noticed how New York was packed with clothing stores, but no one had ever really created hyperlocal clothing focused on interesting and quirky things about living in the 5 Boros.

    So before you know it, I was creating a narrative on the origin of BoroThreads and discussing funny stories, the way we come up with the designs, and how we end up seeing people on the streets wearing our gear and make it a point to go introduce ourselves (and sometimes buy them a beer). The person was really enjoying the story and I can guarantee that they remembered who I was much better than if I had just said, “I am a clothing designer.”

    Brain WiredThis illustrates an extremely important idea to keep in mind when communicating your personal brand: our brains are wired to think in terms of narratives. Storytelling is one of the few universal human traits that spans across cultures and all of known history. They captivate the mind and elicit emotions that become tied to themes, events, or characters. When this happens, our story gets implanted into memory easier and much more permanently. This is why creating a narrative about your personal brand is infinitely better than simply stating your job title.

    Context is key

    When talking about your personal brand, especially if you are a Renaissance Worker with many slashes like me, you always have to take into account the context you are in. For example, at the party I picked up on the cue of the person making a comment about my shirt, so that was a perfect lead in to talk about BoroThreads and clothing design. If I had started talking about Girl Scouts or my books, it would have been out of context and may have been harder to create a story or get them interested in one of my slashes.

    It’s the same when I am at a psychology conference. If someone asks me what I do, it wouldn’t really be appropriate to start talking about BoroThreads because that is not what people are there to discuss. So whenever you are in a situation where you may be talking about your personal brand, learn to take cues from your environment and the person you are speaking to, and then adapt your narrative appropriately.

    Becoming the purple cow in the room

    While telling a story will make you more memorable, one way to make your personal brand stand out is by having people see you as being unique or remarkable in some way. As a Renaissance Worker with many slashes, a good way to do this is by throwing out one of your other professional identities at the right time to create surprise and uniqueness.

    Purple CowSo at the party, when I was telling the story about BoroThreads I could tell they were under the impression that it was my full time gig.  So after I was done, I casually mentioned, “Oh, but for my day job I am a psychology and leadership researcher for the Girl Scouts.”  This seemed to have come out of left field and I did this on purpose because we are psychologically programmed to notice novelty and pay attention to things that seem strange or different. When they heard this, the person was surprised because they were not expecting to hear something like that and became curious of not only the fact that the Girl Scouts have a Research Institute, but that there was a guy working for them.

    So mentioning that I worked for the Girl Scouts as a psychology and leadership researcher right after talking about clothing design created a psychological disruption that forced the listener to spend more cognitive energy to understand what I had just said. The end result was creating a conversation that was a bit unusual and this led the person to pay attention at a much higher level.

    This strategy is what Seth Godin calls being a purple cow. Godin says, “Cows, after you’ve seen them for a while, are boring. They may be well-bred cows, Six Sigma cows, cows lit by a beautiful light, but they are still boring. A Purple Cow, though: Now, that would really stand out. The essence of the Purple Cow — the reason it would shine among a crowd of perfectly competent, even undeniably excellent cows — is that it would be remarkable. Something remarkable is worth talking about, worth paying attention to. Boring stuff quickly becomes invisible.”

    Discussing being a renaissance worker

    While I didn’t discuss the concept of a Renaissance Worker right off the bat, I did set the stage for talking about it using these strategies. And when I did bring it up, they loved the idea and felt they could really relate. So in creating a strategy for communicating your brand, always try to create a narrative, take your context into consideration, and find a way to present your uniqueness so you become the purple cow in the room.


    Marcos Salazar is the author of The Turbulent Twenties Survival Guide, which focuses on the psychology of life after college and what graduates go through as the make the transition from school to the working world. He writes a career adventurism and psychological development blog for young professionals at www.marcossalazar.com. You can connect with him on Twitter @marcossalazar.

    Marcos Salazar is the author of The Turbulent Twenties Survival Guide, which focuses on the psychology of life after college and what graduates go through as the make the transition from school to the working world. He writes a psychology and career blog for young professionals at www.marcossalazar.com. You can connect with him on Twitter @marcossalazar.

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