Nowadays the face behind any given product, be that a blog, magazine or designer label, is just as important as the product itself--if not more so.
"Consumers today are buying into a lot more than just a commodity," said Marc Beckman, co-founder of Designers Management Agency which reps Proenza Schouler, Andre Leon Talley and Nicola Formichetti.
Consider Anna Wintour or Karl Lagerfeld--their personal brands are inextricably connected to those of the companies they work for. When people buy a Chanel lego bag, they're buying into Lagerfeld's kooky, high-fashion lifestyle almost as much as the brand itself.
A figurehead with a strong personal brand is not just a boon for the company; it's a powerful asset for the individual, making them less dependent on any given organization. That's why having a personal brand is even more important for entrepreneurs or free agents, like models and bloggers. Cara Delevingne and Kate Upton are not necessarily the most beautiful models out there (though to be sure, they're up there), but they are genius self-promoters.
It's a concept that successful personal style bloggers have mastered as well: BryanBoy, The Man Repeller, The Glamourai, all have their own distinct voice and image which sets them apart in such a crowded space.
Whether you're an editor, blogger, or designer, having a strong personal brand may be the key to success in the fashion industry.
"Developing a brand is important in that it goes hand in hand with developing your overall personal voice and point of view," Raina Penchansky, Chief Strategy Officer at Digital Brand Architects, which represents brands and top bloggers, said. "Your brand is what gives you the ability to determine what you want your growth strategy to be and where you ultimately want to take your vision."
"It is one of the most critical elements of building a sustainable long term business model," said Beckman.
So how can you tap into your own personal brand? We've put together a comprehensive guide on how to effectively brand yourself, with input from industry experts like Beckman, Penchansky and Kelly Framel of the Glamourai.
1. Know That You Can't Fake the Funk Everyone we spoke to couldn't stress this point enough. Don't try to come up with a personal brand that's not, well, personal. Don't fall in with trends or try to fill a perceived void just for the sake of doing it. Your personal branding strategy needs to feel intrinsic and authentic.
"A brand has to be rooted in something organic and authentic, it can't be created from nothing or something disingenuous," said Penchansky.
"Consumers are too smart," Beckman added. "They won't be fooled."
Framel, for instance, has built her brand around accessible glamour (hence the name of her site). She uses her background in designing and styling to inspire readers to create high-gloss looks in real life. And she makes sure this point-of-view extends to every platform, from Instagram to Twitter and back. "I've created all of this from a deeply personal place and therefore it has been very instinctual," said Framel. Not only has this helped Framel gain loyal followers, who, particularly when it comes to personal style bloggers, are keen on sniffing out any phoniness, but it also makes Framel's day-to-day decision-making a whole lot easier.
2. Have Talent, Skill and Dedication to Back it Up
Just like consumers won't fall for a disingenuous marketing ploy, they also won't be fooled if your product--be that your blog, designer label, party reporting skills, etc--isn't up to snuff.
"If it's not a superior product, [consumers] will walk away," said Beckman--no matter how snazzy your personal branding strategy.
Work hard, stay dedicated, and make sure you're creating something that is high quality; file copy on time, update your blog constantly, tie up every last detail. Most importantly, you have to believe in what you do.
3. Stand for Something.
Now, it's time to go deep. Beckman recommends setting some time aside to think about what's important to you, what appeals to you, and what you want to say. Ultimately, you need to figure out what you can bring to the industry that no one else can. This doesn't mean you have to be the next Karl Lagerfeld or Cindy Crawford; simply having a unique point of view will do the trick.
"The word brand gets thrown around a lot but what's really most important is finding and developing your point of view," Penchansky said.
4. Don't Try to Appeal to Everyone So, you have a general idea of what you want to say and what kind of image you want to represent. Great. Now get specific. Now get even more specific. Whittle your branding strategy until it's crystalized into a single, super-niche concept. And whatever you do, don't try to appeal to everyone.
"A lot of young designers fail because they're trying to please everyone and that's not the right way to do it," Beckman said. "[Instead] they need to aim to please a specific group. If their audience becomes too broad they become vanilla; they stand for nothing. Let certain segments hate you, then you know you're onto something."
Penchansky said one of the most common mistakes aspiring bloggers make is to follow the pack too much. "Trying to edit yourself to fit into a trend might gain short term results but ultimately does not help with your long term growth as a blogger or brand."
5. Write it Down. The first thing Beckman does with all his clients is create what he calls a "brand soul" document.
"It analyzes every element, it defines the brand vision, the brand mission statement, the core values what the positioning statement is, what the competitive landscape is, and where they fit in it."
It doesn't necessarily have to get too technical. "I guess if I had to characterize [my branding strategy]," Framel said I would say it's just me, it's the girl who dreams of faraway lands and wants nothing more than to find them, who believes that life is worth living beautifully," said Framel.
It sounds whimsical--and we're pretty sure Framel just jotted it down off the top of her head--but it's actually a fantastic branding mission statement, perfectly crystalizing everything Framel and her blog stand for.
Writing down the basics, in your own words, will help you stay consistent and save time when you need to make tough decisions down the road.
6. Communicate Your Brand. Again. And Again. And Again. Once you've figure out what you want to say, and who you want to say it to, it's time to get your message out there. In this day and age you have access to all sorts of platforms to express yourself--a blog, Twitter account or Instagram account being some of the more obvious ones.
When it comes to your social media and online presence, there's no one right way to do it. "[Social media platforms] are all unique and serve different purposes," said Framel. "When I find a story that needs to be told or simply a moment to be shared, I pick the form that serves it best."
The most important thing is that you stay on-brand and consistent. "Stick to your narrow focus and stand only for that in an repetitive and ongoing way," said Beckman.
"It's important to stay true to your vision," said Penchansky. So don't get distracted.
7. Foster Brand Culture Just being the awesome you that you are is a great first step, but you can't build longterm success on that alone.
"Just to have a strong personality and to look really good doesn't mean you're going to create a long term sustainable business," Beckman said.
Ultimately what makes a brand successful, isn't the brand, or the face behind it, it's the consumers, the fans. Develop a personal rapport with your target audience, respond to messages and encourage discussion.
Even if your business is about say, custom belts, try to think of your audience on a more holistic level. What music do they listen to? What car do they drive? What kind of vacations do they take?
Asking these questions will help you figure out how to expand your brand beyond the parameters of your business and build a strong brand culture.
8. Don't Be Afraid to Say No So, about those tough decisions: Some of them will be about saying no. To really good offers.
Once your business starts picking up steam, you'll start getting approached by other brands to partner up. These can be amazing opportunities--and often involve hefty paychecks--but be wary. One wrong partnership could alienate your audience and ruin your credibility for good.
"Opportunities come through our office and we reject 99% of the offers because they just don't fit with the brand we're working with," Beckman said.
Luckily, if you've taken all the steps so far to develop the brand, you'll have a pretty good idea about which brands are a right match, and which ones aren't. Invest in your brand's future, and wait for the right ones to come knocking.
9. Be Patient "Brand development, if done the right way, takes time," said Penchansky.
Don't expect to come a sensation over night. Put in the work, stay on brand, and be consistent--don't abandon your ethos when the going gets tough. It may take longer to develop, but in the long run, your brand will be the stronger for it.