Branding used to be for products. Now it is something ordinary people do to themselves, writes Peter York in his cover story for the Autumn issue of Intelligent Life. Isabel Lloyd interviews Esther (not her real name), the CEO of an international real-estate firm, who has used a personal brander since the 1990s:
I began employing a personal brander when I was just an agent showing clients round houses. I wasn’t even an office manager, but I knew that eventually I wanted to be a chief executive somewhere. I had read quite a bit about personal branding and knew it was important to get your personality consistent, so that people you work with know what to expect and know the signature style of your work. But I wasn’t sure what my brand was.
When I met my brander, the first thing she did was ask me what my aspirations were—what I wanted branding to help me achieve. We then talked about my personal qualities, and she gave me some very rapid-fire verbal feedback. Some of it was very confidence-building—she said I was intelligent, professional and articulate—but you could tell too that she was sizing me up, looking at how I was dressed, how I came across.
My clothes were the first thing she changed. She said they weren’t right for the boardroom, because they were too suggestive; her line was that they should encourage men’s eyes back up to my face. And oh my, did she take me shopping. We’d meet at 10am for coffee, and by 3pm I’d have a whole new wardrobe. It was wonderful: I don’t enjoy fashion, and she’d make all the decisions for me.
It was expensive, though—once, before a job interview, she told me to buy a £2,000 necklace. Do you think I’d ever buy a necklace that cost that much? But she told me: “That necklace says, ‘Pay me a lot of money’.” And I got the job. I probably would have got it anyway, but little details combine to make an impeccable package, and I do believe that makes a difference.
We still meet maybe every other month; she’s taught me to become more media-savvy, and helps me prep for important speeches, performance appraisals and difficult board meetings. It takes a lot of fine-tuning to end up in the boardroom, and it is now very, very common for board members to have someone helping them; it’s just that men don’t like to acknowledge it. I’ve found having a second opinion from outside the industry valuable; and knowing what my brand is, is like having a signpost for myself that’s kept me on point throughout my career.
If personal branding didn’t exist, we might have had some different election results in recent years. But I don’t believe it’s as negative a process as it might seem at first blush. You can’t change someone’s essence. All you can do is polish off their raggedy edges—and they’ll achieve a fuller potential if they don’t stay raggedy.
PIcture Credit: the tony santos (via Flickr)