7 Top Tips on How To Differentiate Yourself & Your Brand
Here, Dr Lisa Orban (pictured right) takes us through some personal branding methods of standing out, building a brand and crafting a reputation that will serve you well for the long game.
1 Differentiate yourself from your label
It may sound counterintuitive, but developing your own personal brand separate to that of your label will help your career long term. A strong, independent personal brand can enable you to change direction, or move on in the future without becoming synonymous with just one label, company or product. Karl Lagerfeld exemplifies this; he has been a creative force behind fashion houses such as Chloe, Fendi, and Chanel, yet he retains his very own distinct brand.
Defining your own personal brand includes both inner branding (your passion, purpose, vision, values, strengths and what you stand for) and outer branding (your unique personal style, presence, communication, and personal impact). What makes you as a person unique, differentiated, relevant and compelling? How do you communicate this and to whom? This effectively translates into working on your own personal PR; one that highlights your personal brand through social media, press, or public speaking or networking events, rather than becoming overly fused with the brand you represent.
2 Be Authentic
Fashion is one of the few industries where you can be authentically you, so celebrate it. Take heart from our Grand Dames of fashion Zandra Rhodes (pictured with Lisa below) and Vivienne Westwood. Despite being icons of the fashion world, you very much feel that what you see is what you get. Zandra Rhodes often opens up her London home for sample sales, allowing her clients to take a very personal glimpse into her vibrant world. She, like Vivienne Westwood, has a very distinct and memorable outer brand, from her signature hair colour to her bold patterns to her colourful home.
Zandra Rhodes with Lisa Orban
Equally important is conveying authenticity through your inner brand attributes (e.g., passion, purpose, vision, values). Vivienne Westwood is an exemplar here; she has put a lot of energy into political and environmental statements over the years, and now through her Climate Revolution campaign (pictured below), she wears her causes (quite literally) on her sleeve.
3 Work on being memorable
Creating a unique design signature, one reflective of their personal brand, can also help designers increase awareness of their brand. One way to create a memorable signature is by featuring a specific skill in your craft. Mary Katrantzou, for example, is often hailed as the pioneer of the digital print revolution, and stands out as an innovative and memorable visual brand. Mary Katrantzou’s designs also tell a story; she often shares personal inspirations behind her brand by blogging about art that has influenced her and people who have touched her, which translate into the unique visual language of her collections.
Explore ways to bring your own personal signature and story into your creations: Is there a special or exclusive textile or embellishment that you particularly enjoy working with? Do you possess a specific skill that sets you apart? Is there a unique shape or cut that represents your distinct flair? Is there a cohesive or thematic story behind your pieces that is reflective of your personal brand? How do you communicate the personal story or inspirations behind your design signature?
Capturing Zandra’s distinctive style
4 Stand for something
You don’t have to drive a tank into the heart of politics like Vivienne Westwood to make a statement. You can still be a socially responsible brand and stand for something by aligning your brand with a charity that resonates to you personally as a designer. There are many ways designers can liaise with favourite charities, including everything from offering items for goodie bags or auctions at charity galas to setting up their own charity arms. Kenneth Cole, for example, has not only donated his product to charities like amfAR in the US, but has also set up his own charity foundation. Zandra Rhodes has been a long-standing supporter of the research charity Breast Cancer Campaign and now serves as a Breast Cancer Ambassador. You don’t have to be a global name to embrace social responsibility. For example, Rachel Salway of Roseannah is tirelessly running campaigns against human trafficking and uses her growing brand to spread the word. These designers know that being associated with initiatives like this can enhance their brand while doing good at the same time, a win-win.
5 Don’t forget the visuals
Designers or fashion entrepreneurs have the unique opportunity to be walking adverts for their own brand. This can work brilliantly on a personal branding level if it feels authentic to you. So if you have your own jewellery line and it reflects your own personal style, you need to be wearing it! Many designers cultivate an authentic personal style that is synonymous with their label. Carolina Herrera, Diane Von Furstenberg, Ralph Lauren, Vivenne Westwood, for example, all have an outer brand that reflects their label. From a personal branding perspective, it is critical to create a personal style that is both unique and authentic rather than to simply copy the style of the brand you represent. For example, Sarah Burton’s understated, relaxed style (which, in many ways, was similar to Alexander McQueen’s style) is in direct contrast to her elaborate creations for Alexander McQueen. Going back to Karl Lagerfeld, we see a strong outer brand that has largely remained consistent throughout his various fashion house tenures. Think about what elements you can consistently add to your personal style that are unique, and above all, authentic.
Equally important are other visual markers of our brands. Think about your logo, your business cards, and your website. Have you just outsourced these to a designer who is going to “come up with something” or have you really sat down with them and explored your unique brand? All of these little but important things make an impression and need to really reflect your personal brand.
6 Tap into the power of cobranding
Co-branding is essentially a partnership between two brands that leverages each other’s reputation, and in turn can amplify awareness about a product, service, cause…or person. Think Stella McCartney joining forces with Adidas to create an athletic chic dimension to her name, or Alexander Wang’s futuristic design collaboration with H&M. This corporate co-branding effect also happens with people…who they stand next to, who they work for, who they support, who they collaborate with, and who or what they affiliate with can have a huge impact on their personal brand. Joint branding with others can feel like a daring move, but when done strategically, it can give your brand a powerful boost. Even if this only means hosting an event together, or collaborating on a small and select networking group, a well matched collaboration benefits both parties….and who knows where this could lead?
7 Work on impression management around the clock
Outer branding isn’t just about personal style. Your personal presence, body language, communication skills and personal impact all factor into your brand. A lack of eye contact or unsure body language will reflect badly on your brand and make you memorable for the wrong reasons… or not memorable at all. Passion for your work can be conveyed very powerfully thorough the personal impact you create, including energy level and body language. What personal presence do you have when you walk into a room? Are you making an impact on those around you, in conversation or online?
Equally important is to give some thought to monitoring and managing your reputation, in particular your on-line reputation, and the impression you may (or may not) be communicating to your audience. While our reputation is earned over time, we can damage it in a heartbeat, through anything from inappropriate behavior, careless remarks or being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Think back to John Galliano’s anti-Semitic remarks in 2011. Not only did this incident severely compromised his strong personal brand, but cost him his position as Dior’s creative director, demonstrating that our personal brand hinges on our reputation, even when we are “off the clock”. Behave as if someone watching…and if you do, it’s more likely you will act the part.
By Dr Lisa Orban