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Why You? A Personal Branding Primer with Debbie Millman

by Emily Potts
art & design, featured

In preparation for her new class on Personal Branding, we spoke with author, designer, and podcaster Debbie Millman about the importance of branding YOU and why it matters no matter who you are or what you do.

What is a personal brand, why do you need one, and how do you create one? 

I believe that the definition of branding is “deliberate differentiation.” In order to stand out you need to know what it is that you—and only you—can do, and no one else can do quite in the way you do. This is all about having a strong point of view about what you are capable of, and a meaningful philosophy that you believe in. Then you must be able to communicate with passion and enthusiasm and sincerity.

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In today’s competitive business world, you must to be able to understand what it is that you do that is unique and why, and you must be able to communicate that in a really easy-to-understand statement. This is often called the elevator pitch. If somebody asks you, “What do you want to do when you graduate?” or “Why do you do what you do?” or “What do you want to do next in your career?” Most people don’t have a clue, especially if they are just starting out.

Your answers to these questions allow someone to quickly understand who you are and what you stand for. Your replies set the stage for differentiating yourself from others, and is a far cry from the standard answers, which include meaningless sentiments such as, “I’m a people person”; “I want to make the world a better place”; and “I want to contribute to something good.” (Please note that these are all noble descriptors, but they are a given in today’s world; nearly everyone says these things, especially when they have nothing else to say.)

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The best possible answer to these types of questions is derived from having a strong point of view, or what is more commonly called a philosophy or mission statement in business. I call this your personal brand. You need to be able to instantly answer with clarity, courage and purpose, and do this from your heart. Ultimately, you need to believe it so thoroughly that it becomes part of your DNA.

It’s not something false, it’s not something phony, it’s not something that you’re hoping will impress people, it’s just an honest and authentic part of who you are. That is the centerpiece of where your “brand” is born. Your brand is the distinct you; who you are on your best day.

Your personal brand embodies what you stand for. For example, the great football coach Vince Lombardi had a standout philosophy. As he said with great zeal: “I never lost a game.” During his career as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, Lombardi led his team to five NFL Championships and victories in Super Bowls I and II. But his career record of 105 wins, 35 losses, and six ties belies the declaration that he never lost a game. When asked to defend his statement, he staunchly replied, “I never lost a game. I just ran out of time.”

Does everyone need one or just creative people? 

EVERYONE! Being creative isn’t a handicap! In today’s world, who you are and what you represent in the marketplace (whether on your website, social media, or your résumé) is as important as your work and ideas. This doesn’t change if you are a designer or an electrician or a widget manufacturer.brands-telegraphHow will having a personal brand help someone in their career? 

People will hire you and pay you in order to sell more products, communicate ideas better, move things off of shelves, to write code, to invent and innovate. But when we work for someone, we are essentially asking them to give us money to do what it is that we love. But they’re not interested in what WE love, they’re interested in moving more product or communicating more clearly or winning an election or inventing new marketplace opportunities. What we need to realize is that our employers are looking for a return on the investment of giving us that money to do what it is that we love. They are hiring us to help them.

In interviews, we signal our affiliations and beliefs. We telegraphically communicate who we are by the way we look, the things we carry and the way we carry ourselves.

In addition, you must be able to understand how to communicate what you can do and what benefit you can provide in a memorable and intelligent manner. Every single one of these require an understanding of how and what we convey and why. That is developing a compelling personal brand. Your individual set of attributes, beliefs and behaviors.

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Emily Potts

Emily J. Potts has been a writer and editor in the design industry for more than 20 years. Currently she is an independent writer working for a variety of clients in the design industry. www.emilyjpotts.com