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How to Build Your Personal Brand

Industry professionals and a business school professor explain the importance of personal branding in fashion and share their advice on creating an authentic, standout brand in today’s saturated job market.
Fashion professional participating in an employee interest group meeting.
Fashion professional participating in an employee interest group meeting. (Getty Images)

Insider Advice, a new BoF Careers series, features advice from fashion professionals with lived experience, HR leaders and academics with global insight, with the goal of answering topical careers questions for today’s fashion employees, to help inform and guide you in your career. Check out the latest job opportunities with 4,000+ roles on BoF Careers today.

Hyperconnectivity is inherent in today’s job market, with technology unlocking new career opportunities for candidates through remote, flexible work, and by giving employers access to robust global talent pools. However, it also brings about a new set of challenges, as job seekers scramble to find ways to cut through the noise and stand out.

One way to create a point of differentiation for yourself is to build a personal brand. “At a basic level, your personal brand is how you are known by others, your reputation in the marketplace,” says Dorie Clark, a branding expert and consultant, professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and bestselling author of four books, including Reinventing You and Stand Out.

“You have to prove yourself a lot less. People [...] are more willing to take you seriously, more willing to listen to you, more likely to think of you for opportunities and [are] willing to pay higher prices to work with you.”

Developing a strong personal brand can help you distinguish yourself in the workplace and stand out in an interview process, as employers often research candidates’ social media profiles, or use those of freelance creative talent as references for their work and approach. What’s more, some 49 percent of hiring professionals said their organisations plan to increase investment in virtual methods of recruitment and candidate engagement, according to a 2021 survey by recruitment software company iCIMS.

Much like brands concocting signature designs or campaigns to express their identity — think of Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking jacket or Tommy Hilfiger’s modern Americana aesthetic — the elements that make up your personal brand can help your audience and colleagues understand you and recognise your working style instantly and intuitively.

What you’re striving for in fashion is to be able to articulate in a moment, in a visual, who and what you are.

“The goal in fashion is to always be able to complete the sentence, ‘Oh, that’s so fill-in-the-blank brand, that’s so X, Y and Z.’ [...] What you’re striving for in fashion is to be able to articulate in a moment, in a visual, who and what you are,” says Raina Penchansky, chief executive of influencer management company, Digital Brand Architects, whose clients include content creators Aimee Song, Chriselle Lim and Mikayla Nogueira, among others. “Having your personal brand and perspective is now a calling card for traditional jobs.”

Now, BoF Careers collates advice from industry professionals and academics in this space to serve as a guide on how to create an authentic personal brand to help you stand out in today’s saturated job market.

Define Your ‘Why’ and ‘How’

First, consider why you are looking to create a personal brand — it is important to reflect upon your motivation, your creative ambitions and future career goals to draw up an initial framework. Defining what it is that drives you in clear terms, like acquiring niche expertise or landing a promotion at work, makes it easier to immerse yourself in the branding process.

“Know what you’re trying to put out into the world. Are you trying to be informative, entertaining? Are you trying to be aspirational, relatable? First and foremost, you have to understand what you’re trying to accomplish, and then you have to figure out what are the tent-pole ideas or the core pillars of your brand. Then build around those,” advises Penchansky.

Once you have a clear idea of “why” you need to grow your brand, consider the “how” — the required skills and resources to develop and manage it. This insight will inform the messaging you later disseminate in support of your personal brand.

“The idea of [asking,] ‘how do you describe yourself? What do you stand for? What’s at the core of your brand?’” is a crucial part of this exercise, says Penchansky. “You have to understand what you’re trying to do and who you’re trying to speak to — who is your audience, who is your community, what do you want them to get from you — or [what] are you trying to be in front of them.”

Massimiliano Di Battista, co-founder and chief executive of creative talent agency MA+ Group, has been guiding up-and-coming talent for over 20 years across photography, creative direction, styling and beauty, in New York, London, Paris and Milan. Editorial clients include Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Love magazine, while advertising clients include Christian Dior, Givenchy, LVMH and L’Oréal, among many others.

For creative talent, he recommends creating content that “shows [your] vision, [your] creativity and [your] signature,” while also demonstrating your commerciality. This not only demonstrates your style of work, but also your adaptability and approach as a creative. “If you’re a great makeup artist, you cannot just be incredibly creative. People will hire you for the creativity, but [you need to consider] how to adapt to a brand like Estée Lauder or [...] MAC,” he adds.

Di Battista also recommends asking peers to review your presence online, to allow some objectivity and constructive feedback. “Creative talents tend to get very attached to their work and to their approach, so it’s important [for them] to have somebody who believes in them [...] but still has an objective outsider approach that allows the talent to perfect their skills, improve their services and become better at what they do.”

Align Your Personal Brand Online and Offline

Your social media is a fitting space to express your passions and demonstrate your skills in a genuine, relatable way. Utilising different features on Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest or even LinkedIn can foster a rounded idea of your capabilities and interests, which in turn helps recruiters, colleagues and mentors form a more holistic impression of who you are.

“I often advise talent that, on a digital level, they don’t only showcase their work, but to make sure that there’s something personal about them, that there is irony, that there is an engagement, even pictures of themselves,” says Di Battista. “People want to see how you look, what you do, how you dress, how you behave and all of that.”

Clients can place great value on social media pages that reinforce a compelling personal story. “When the grid or the stories look almost perfect or ‘done’, it just feels a bit too cold, like a portfolio — and that’s not what you want to see,” says Di Battista. “[Post] moodboards or a [source of] inspiration, or [that] you went to see an exhibition. It’s all elements to showcase your personality, your interests and your taste.”

Social media is particularly valuable for emerging talent in light of its associated low production cost. “You [don’t] need to have an expensive production team in order to be successful on social media,” says Clark of Duke University. “A young fashion professional might build up a great following by doing something really simple, like showcasing on Instagram finds from thrift stores that they think are cool and unique, and explaining why. [...] That’s certainly a way that you can deploy social media without a large budget.”

Be cognisant that while having a good social media strategy is useful, it’s not the totality of your personal brand.

Clark also recommends creating more educational content that benefits others, as it helps show off your expertise while also offering a point of difference and insights for your followers.

However, keep in mind that your personal brand consists of more than just your digital presence, with positive in-person interactions often serving as a springboard to new opportunities and greater professional responsibilities.

“People assume that personal branding just means building a social media presence, and that’s a part of it, but it’s certainly not the entirety of your brand,” says Clark. “Ultimately, your brand is how people think of you. Everything goes into that, from how you treat people to how quickly you get back to their messages; what you talk about; how you dress. [...] We have to be cognisant that while having a good social media strategy is useful, it’s not the totality of your personal brand.”

Offline, being able to connect with others is paramount in cultivating a community and network — and how you do so can reflect on your personal brand. Professionals might demonstrate their interests and expertise by attending networking events, taking part in employee resource groups or activities like Lunch and Learns in the office, for example. These are tangible ways to share useful knowledge while also engaging your peers.

“[Consider] what that means in terms of the events [you] go to, the associations or the collaborations or the things that [you] do. How does it all reinforce what [your] brand looks like, [your] core brand messaging,” says Penchansky of Digital Brand Architects.

Hone Your Personal Brand With Authenticity

Developing a coherent narrative about yourself requires strategy, but that does not negate remaining your genuine self. Maintaining a consistent tone of voice across all mediums — company emails, internal messaging apps, personal social media or in-person interaction — is imperative to project a uniform, reliable and relatable personal brand.

“It’s not just about creativity for the sake of creativity,” says Di Battista. “There needs to be an ambition and a strategy on how to [become successful]. A lot of creatives come into the industry lacking that strategy or that business acumen, and that does not allow them to grow further [and] achieve their full potential.”

Having people relate to you and understand you is so important to one’s personal brand.

Adapting your overall style of communication may initially feel contrived if you are not used to presenting yourself in a strategic, considered way. To maintain a sense of authenticity, anchor your personal brand in your unique interests and expertise which set you apart from competitors. For example, in terms of your methodology, it might be about creating designs that hinge around your heritage, developing a set stylistic approach to your external communication methods, or expressing personal interests by sharing news stories on sustainable developments in the industry.

“A personal brand [has] so much nuance because [you] have to layer in your personal narratives, your ideals, what [it is] you stand for — especially in this day and age, having people relate to you and understand you is so important to one’s personal brand,” says Penchansky.

Evolve Your Narrative Alongside Your Career

As creatives and professionals gain experience and hone their craft, they should be proactive in keeping their community up-to-date with their work and evolving interests and expertise.

“One of the big misconceptions is that [a] personal brand will just take care of itself as a by-product of doing good work,” says Clark.

“There is a term in psychology called Cognitive Misers — it means that whenever we have the opportunity to conserve intellectual energy and not think, that’s what we’re going to do. People are very much cognitive misers when it comes to other people [...] and so they’re not taking the time to re-evaluate what they know about you. [...] It’s important to take action to upgrade people’s perceptions of you and to force them to recognise [your professional development],” she adds.

Be sure to update your network about upcoming or completed projects, collaborations or promotions that align with your desired personal brand. This can be as simple as posting on social media a project you were involved in, or a recent accomplishment.

Offline, Clark proposes that whenever someone asks ‘What have you been up to lately?’, have a thoughtful answer that pushes their understanding in the direction of how you would like to be perceived. “If you want to be known for keeping up with trends in Asian fashion, you can say, ‘I just read this fascinating book or article’, or ‘I just came back from a trip to Japan where I was researching A, B and C.’ That is planting seeds that over time [lead people] to understand [your interests and expertise].”

She adds that, in signalling such projects for others in your network, you are indicating specialisation in certain areas which can lead them to tap you for collaborations or perceive you as an authority in a specific field. “It gives you a hook and a reason to talk to people about the thing that you are passionate and knowledgeable about.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Digital Brand Architects’ clients include Rent the Runway, Target Beauty and Diptyque. This is incorrect. Their clients include content creators Aimee Song, Chriselle Lim and Mikayla Nogueira, among others.

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