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How to Craft the “Public You” with Branding

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Do you really know who you are? What about who you’d like to be, or how you’d like others to perceive you? If you could craft a first impression of yourself for thousands or even millions of people, what would it look, sound, and feel like?

If you’ve read my No-Fail Branding Tips for Doubters, you know a bit about what it takes to get a brand strategy off the ground. However, the deep branding work of understanding oneself is only useful if people understand, appreciate, and remember the “public you.” Who is the public you, you ask? Only you know the answer. It’s someone you have to create, based on what you know about yourself and your audience.

A Brand New Awakening

This weekend, I attended the Wordstock Festival in Portland, OR, a stylish re-imagining by Literary Arts of the one-dinky book fair. During one of the talks I attended, Writers Maggie Nelson, Heidi Julavits, Elisa Albert, and Emily Chenoweth discussed the challenge of penning autobiographical nonfiction about exceptionally personal topics, like childbirth, motherhood, and family relationships. When asked how each of them handled the sharing of such intimate, painful, and even unflattering aspects of their lives and selves, each replied with a variation of “what you read isn’t really me.”

What? Autobiography is a non-fiction genre, correct? Yes. What these authors were getting at is that what comes out on the page, after months of creating, editing, and making choices about what to share, is separate entirely from the initial thoughts passionately scrawled on notepaper– and the person who scrawled them. The narrative voice in each story transforms into a new creation, a character that is simultaneously the author herself and an object she has created for the purpose of storytelling. 


This, Dear Reader, boils down to expert-level branding. Each author gleaned what was necessary to convey about herself in a given setting and used this raw data to create a public voice and persona, one that lives on in the pages she has published. While this was more the result of creative process than intentional branding, there is much we marketers and business owners can learn from their approach.

So how can you harness the literary feat of self-recreation in your own branding efforts? It’s a simple process, half intention and half self-caricature.

Intention: Who Do You Want to Be?

We’re all evolving beings. In order to create a branding campaign that will represent you for the next one, two, three years or more, you need to consider your “goal self.” What traits do you want to further develop and become known for? What activities do you busy yourself with now, and what role will those activities play in your ideal future? Create a version of the not-so-distant future you, and you’ll have an excellent start at a public persona that is both you and not you, a combination of your best intentions and current occupations.

Drop a hobby? Have a baby? Branding is fluid and can update based on what changes for you. Just make sure to highlight only the icing on your life’s cake. Your audience needs to engage with your standout traits and activities – not your every psychological nuance. Potential clients crave the very best – and simplest – version of you. 

What Are Your Best and Most Noticeable Traits?

Once you understand who you want to be, get crackin’ on who you are now, at a very, very high level. Do you consider yourself to be outgoing, compassionate, and involved in community outreach? Or are you dignified, reserved, and trustworthy, a behind-the-scenes power player?

Imagine these traits as if they were physical aspects of your personality, exaggerated by a caricature artist. You know, the ones sketching images of Obama for the New Yorker or doing $5 charcoal renderings of you and your sweetheart on the streets of New York’s Times Square. Artists of this type brilliantly emphasize one or two physical attributes while minimizing others, creating an image of impossible proportions that conveys a public persona. Many of these drawings are used to convey satire and remove the glitz and glamour from movie stars and political figures, focusing on the negative, the unattractive. While we want to create a positive image, your public persona should have a similar effect, sharing noteworthy aspects of you in a compelling, relatable, and engaging way.

The best way to create self-caricature is to hone in on your current, standout traits. Next, utilize your website, SEO, and advertising to focus solely on chosen aspects of yourself, as they inform and benefit your business. If you’re an interior designer who is obsessed with dog shows, you may want to include an image of you holding your prized pup on your About Me page. If you’re both an electrician and a “weekend warrior” who runs Tough Mudders like they’re a walk in the park, you may wish to brand yourself using strong, git-er-done language, and include the occasional badass race photo in your social media.  

Jeff Bullas is a great example of someone who gets positive self-caricature. First, his logo includes a charmingly exaggerated sketch of Jeff, with his name in a speech bubble. Next, he chooses an authoritative, light-hearted, and accessible approach to sharing the information on his site, which includes a thorough examination of marketing topics using concise language and helpful hints. His public persona is helpful and direct, with a subtle sense of humor. Note his use of video toward the bottom of his bio page to share his own story and introduce you to the public Jeff (and his awesome Aussie accent!).

Don’t worry: with a good branding team behind you, your first impression will be more like the first drawing than the second. 

Not this.

So This Persona Isn’t Really Me?

No. However, this public version of you does need to be 100% authentic. Think of it as a photograph of you from last year’s Christmas party. That photo is an accurate representation of you, as you were, and probably still are. However, does this photo contain every deep nuance of your personality? No. What it does contain are some essentials about you – how you look and how you present in public, including your sense of style (unless it was an ugly sweater party) and social responsiveness (were you smiling? Frowning? Duck-face-ing?).

Your public persona is the same. It contains essential data about you, highlighted and brought to the fore. Hopefully, it can serve as an introduction to others before they meet you, putting your best face forward at the service of your company, product, or service.

Curious about how we do branding here at Webfor? We’re curious about you, too! Drop us a line sometime.

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