by Elisabeth Kelly
The difference between personal branding, personal style, and visual identity.
Personal Branding isn’t a new idea.
Celebrities of all genres have been carefully curating and crafting their image for decades (even before the advent of movies and publicists). Think Cleopatra, Marilyn Monroe or Paris Hilton - all women with a recognizable style that endures to this day.
Of course, it isn’t likely that you have a publicist or team guiding the decisions you make that will directly affect how the world sees you.
Your mom/kid/best friend isn’t exactly helpful when it comes to figuring out what looks good on you, let alone your “personal brand/personal style/visual identity”. After all, our loved ones can sometimes be either our biggest critics or our most delusional cheerleaders.
And what, even, is the difference between these seemingly interchangeable words? Are they all the same?
If you are just learning about the idea of having a personal brand, you might be unclear about exactly what it is and why personal branding has been all the rage for the past few years.
Personal brand vs Personal style vs Visual Identity
A personal brand is an outward expression of what you want the world to know about you. It includes visual information like colour, style, and patterns but also language, messaging, and reputation. While personal branding has become a buzzword in the marketing industry, the intention behind the trend is based on an important insight – in our growing digital community, it’s easy to feel small and irrelevant. Most people want to be seen and heard because, increasingly, we want to believe that our lives matter. That our time here has an impact.
By developing a personal brand, we try to claim a space that is uniquely ours. Something that leaves a mark that represents who we were and why we mattered.
Now, that might sound overly dramatic, but honestly, aren’t we all trying to live a life of purpose?
Personal branding is just a tool to help us define ourselves. Like many tools, it has multiple uses but we most often associate it with a tool for businesses.
If you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner, figuring out your unique brand can be critical to the success of your business. Knowing the specific niche, you serve and the need you fulfill is part of your brand messaging, but in today’s economy, customer’s want and need a connection with the person behind the brand, too (that’s why it’s called “Personal Branding” and not just “Branding”). People are more skeptical of brands than ever.
Havas’ 2021 Meaningful Brand Report shows that a “Survey of 395,000 consumers around the world finds cynicism at an all-time high; (with) less than half of brands seen as trustworthy (47%) and 75% (that) could disappear and would be easily replaced”.
To avoid your business disappearing into the void and being replaced by another, entrepreneurs and business owners cannot afford to ignore the necessity of a defined personal brand. Most importantly, a personal brand must be built on authenticity and a level of vulnerability that develops meaningful connections.
We live in a world that demands continuity both in front of and behind the proverbial “stage”. Having a persona that conflicts with the real person behind closed doors, is a sure-fire way to lose an audience. You can’t build trust with an audience if the backstage picture of your brand isn’t what it claims to be.
I’m sure you can think of examples of brands and celebrities who have gotten this wrong and lost credibility, respect, and even their livelihoods.
But it isn’t just the business community that can benefit from learning about a personal brand, non-business folks can apply similar tools to help them find clarity and confidence in themselves. And for your average person, thankfully, the stakes are much lower as you figure things out; you aren’t going to be “canceled” if things get messy along the way.
The self-help industry is booming as we all try to navigate the mental health repercussions of Covid-19, but wellness encompasses many facets including how we feel about and see ourselves.
Understanding your visual identity isn’t about your personal clothing style. It’s not about pencil skirts, or pyjamas, leggings, or fancy dresses.
Your visual identity isn’t just about the look or type of clothes you like to wear, it’s about why you wear them, how you feel in them, and the story you tell yourself about them. While it does affect how others see you from the outside – in discovering your visual identity, how YOU see yourself is what matters most.
In that way, visual identity is different from personal branding and personal style. In branding, it matters more how others experience you while our visual identity is centred around our perceptions of ourselves.
Personal style is more narrowly defined as looking at the exterior and the clothes we choose to put on our bodies regularly. Personal style can be seen as “relaxed” or “professional”, for example, but those attributes are not necessarily true of the wearer. Understanding your visual identity is doing the work behind the scenes to match your inner narrative with your outer look.
Unless you run a business, you likely don’t need a personal brand, but coming to grips with, and projecting a sense of who you truly are – your goals, fears, aspirations, beliefs, and lifestyle, can be enhanced by doing visual identity work so that instead of wondering “what’s my style” you can know that who you are on the outside matches with your inside.
Guest Blogger: Elisabeth Kelly of 'Strategically Elisabeth'
Elisabeth is a Strategy Consultant, Brand Coach, Copywriter, and digital content creator working in Ottawa, Ontario. Elisabeth's goal is to help female business owners break through the digital noise and make consumers obsess about your business as much as they obsess about their cat (which is a lot). For cat-related marketing, branding, mental health, and feminist-centred reading check out Elisabeth's blog at strategicallyelisabeth.com/blog-1