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3 Things Your Personal Style + Great Brands Have in Common

In a few weeks, I'll be embarking on my first official brand photo shoot for my styling business, Style Decoded. Which means I'll be sitting squarely in the same spot as many of my clients who do professional or brand photo shoots: in panic mode!

I'm kidding, but only partially. Why are photo shoots for your brand or business so stressful, anyway? Well, for one, there is a lot of pressure to nail it. Nail your outfit, nail your hair, nail your makeup, nail the look you're wanting to convey in these photos, nail the right location and setting for your photos, nail your personality and your brand's personality in a matter of few hours in front of the camera. No pressure, huh?

One thing I have realized in this process of doing a brand or professional photo shoot is that it can be tempting to jump right to the finish line. Meaning, you go straight to thinking about outfits, to searching for the makeup you want, or to find good poses, or the location you want to be photographed in. And yes, all of these things are important. But your time researching these things are fruitless if you haven't first gotten clear about what you want these photos to say about you - or your brand, in the case of women who are business owners or entrepreneurs.

To kick off our time together, my photographer sent me a short questionnaire so I could communicate what I was hoping for in the shoot. I was intending to breeze through this short questionnaire, but quickly realized, the questions were more challenging than I anticipated.

She asked questions like:

  • "What is your brand's mission?"

  • and "What feelings do you want to communicate with these images?"

  • and "What sets you apart from your competition?"

Clearly, if I hadn't already gotten clear on my styling brand, this questionnaire was going to force me to do it. And for good reason! What my photographer knows about how to create winning, mind-blowing photos that I will be proud of and want to use for my business is the same as what I know about creating a great outfit - or closet.

"You can't create the closet (or outfit) of your dreams if you don't know who you are. "

So here I was, finding myself in the middle of a process not unlike my very own process of defining a personal brand for my clients. Being asked to get into vision, and get clear up front, so that we can create something truly magical in the end.

My photographer was not going to let me jump to the end, as she knows it would produce an "ok" photo, but definitely not great. And when I work with my clients, I don't let them jump to the end, either, as I never want to risk settling for just an "ok" outfit that doesn't really feel like you. I can't go shop for you if I don't know first who you are - or who you want to be in this world. I wholeheartedly echo what Iris Apfel has to say on this matter:

"The worst fashion faux pas is to look in the mirror and not see yourself." - Iris Apfel

Or, in this case, to look in the camera and not see yourself.

Maybe some of you reading this now are in the same boat as me, needing to get your professional or brand photos taken within in a year or two. So I'd like to give you a bit more to think about on this topic of your personal brand, and why your style is such a big part of that equation. Starting with what your personal unique style has in common with great brands.

3 Things your style + great brands have in common

As I mentioned, your personal style is a big part of your personal brand. It's how people perceive you before you even speak. It's like your version of "packaging." And we all know how powerful packaging is when it comes to a retail environment. It's everything! Your "packaging" determines whether or not someone deems you as credible, trustworthy, exciting, interesting, smart, confident, and any other number of adjectives. And your "packaging" determines whether someone buys into you or not - or in the case of entrepreneurs and business owners, if someone hires you, or buys your product or service.

As someone who has studied, consumed, created and become an expert in branding over the last 20 years, I know that great brands have a few things in common:

1. Great brands are authentic.

They are who they say they are. When a sales person explains to a prospect what their experience will be, that is actually the experience that the consumer gets when they interact with the company - at all levels. Over time, they create trust by showing up just as they say they will.

2. Great brands are consistent.

Whether it's that the petit filet you order at your favorite restaurant is always perfection, or every time you call customer service at a company, no matter who you get on the phone or over chat, they are consistent. Also think about brands whose voice and visual elements are so consistent that you know who it is even before they tell you (Target commercials are a great example. I can recognize a Target commercial within seconds just by the music and visuals, even before mention of their brand.)

3. Great brands have a unique identity and defined value prop.

Has any marketer ever advised a brand to be more like a competitor, or fit in with the crowd? Hell no. Every brand's challenge - and pathway to success - is in finding how they can stand out. It's about finding and owning their uniqueness, and then flaunting it.

The same way great brands need to be authentic, consistent, and embody a unique identity, a great personal brand for yourself should also have these same qualities. But here's where sometimes people get it wrong with their outward appearance, and personal style brand. It's true that others will make quick judgments of us, whether we like it or not.

That's why I say, "Style is instant language."

Even though people will perceive us in a certain way, let me be clear that I'm not advocating for dressing to please others, to fit a standard, to wear certain labels or brands, or just simply play the part. What I'm advocating for is being intentional about the impression we leave. And more importantly, it's about showing up authentically and aligned. The goal here is to align our insides (our personality, our capabilities, our skills and talents) with our outsides. When we have the courage to show up authentically and aligned - whether it's in a brand or professional photo shoots, a work setting, in our businesses, and otherwise - it increases our ability to be successful and fully step into our power.

"I don't have a photo shoot coming up. How is this relevant to my life now?"

While I'm framing this conversation around professional and brand photo shoots, there is a larger perspective to consider. Now more than ever, it’s time for women to step into their power, just as they are, in a fully integrated way. Our workplace dress codes have shifted dramatically as a result of the pandemic allowing even more freedom to show up in a way that feels like us. But showing up authentically and fully integrated poses some challenges, as we may fear rejection, worry that we'll be subject to judgment, or fear that we won't fit in. As I mentioned before, the greatest and most successful brands don't fit in. They stand out. The same goes with you.

I listened to Breńe Brown's Dare to Lead podcast where she interviewed America Ferrera. (Do yourself a favor and listen to part 1 and part 2 of her interview with America; it's truly amazing and inspiring.) One thing Breńe said in part 2 of her interview caught my attention, enough to make me pause and jot this down in my Notes app:

“We are always orphaning the parts of us that we are afraid we can’t protect, or we are afraid that will hold us back. Every time we do this we cut some of our power off.” - Breńe Brown

And this reminded me that we actually lose our power as women when we don't step fully into who we are. What I so commonly see women do in the workplace (or in photo shoots!) is fall into old rules or dress standards that are outdated, leaving us all looking the same and feeling like we are in a uniform. And in doing so, our true personalities get lost. This is doing no one any favors. (You, your co-workers, your clients, prospects, business associates, and anyone else you interact with.)

Stepping into your power through style and creating your own personal brand is a key ingredient to success in things many of us are doing now…

  • Leaving the workforce to start your own business. How do you want clients and prospects to see you? How can you be a reflection of and embody the brand you are trying to build?

  • Changing jobs, and doing interviews. What impression do you want the interviewer to have of you, even before you speak?

  • Working from home and finding that balance between comfort and your style. (Side note: Did you know that what you wear has a direct impact on your productivity and focus?)

  • Going back to work in-office and navigating new dress codes. Now that dress codes have relaxed in many work environments, how can you fully embrace the way you always wanted to dress?

  • Showing up authentically in brand or professional photo shoots. How can you show up in a way that makes you feel proud of the photos and what they represent, instead of feeling like you crossed an item off your list.

In all of these instances, there is no better time than now to step into a style that feels innate to you. Put your stake in the ground and let what you choose to put on your body be a direct reflection of who you are in this world.

Assess your personal style brand

I hope all of this has your wheels turning about how you're showing up. Again, I emphasize, it's not just about how others perceive you, but how you want to be seen in this world and how you will feel when you can align the two.

So let's take this a step further and do a quick assessment to see how well your insides are aligned with your outsides.

  1. First, get out a piece of paper, and create two columns.

  2. Now, I want you to think about how you are showing up now. What adjectives would you use to describe yourself? Jot those words down in the first column. Don't judge or criticize yourself with the words that come to mind; just write them down honestly. Remember, the first step to change is simply awareness.

  3. Next I want you to think about how you want to be seen. If you've done any visioning work for yourself, or goal setting, channel that woman of your vision, and envision how she would show up. Write these words that describe your highest self in the second column. Don't hold back or let anything potential or perceived barriers limit you.

  4. Look at the words you just wrote in both columns and ask yourself: Do these two lists match? If so, great work! You have achieved internal/external alignment! If not, we got some work to do. (I got you... keep reading!)

Ok, I need better alignment. What now?

Listen, if you're feeling like you're a bit lost after doing that exercise, and feel as if you're standing at the base of a really big mountain to climb, I'm here to tell you you aren't alone. And I'm here to help.

There are two things you can do now to take your first baby steps towards getting clear.

#1 If you have a professional or brand photo shoot coming up, start asking yourself the bigger picture questions about how you want to be seen, rather than jumping to the details of what to wear. Ask yourself:

  • What do I want these photos to stand for?

  • What things do I want to communicate with these images?

  • What is my personal brand and how can that come through in these photos?

#2 Enlist my help to define your personal brand! My Style Brand Intensive virtual program is designed to give you confidence about your style, colors and best shapes in a 2-hour intensive session and is where I start with all of my clients who are wanting to enlist my help with their photo shoot outfits. If you want to know more about this program and how I can help, feel free to set up a free 30-minute style consult on my calendar right here to get the ball rolling!

About Me

Hi, I'm so glad you're here! I'm a Personal Virtual Stylist and owner of Style Decoded. I'm a Midwest born fashion lover on a mission to help women show up with more authenticity and alignment at work and in their businesses through their style, and feel 100% confident in their own skin every day. Styling is my passion but it hasn't always been my job. I spent 20 years of my career in client service, advertising, developing brands, blogging, podcasting, and creating marketing and social social strategies for my clients, ranging from Fortune 500 giants to individuals building their personal brand online. To say I know a thing or two about marketing and client service is an understatement! Now, I love teaching women how to define and own their unique personal brand through style.

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