The secret of success: self-branding

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September 16, 2013
The secret of success: self-branding.

wdd.brand.thumbWhen I speak to senior students at art schools, there is one major thing I try to impress upon them: to freelance is to run a small business, and a freelance design business has all the needs and headaches of running a bakery, pizza parlor, or crack house — although a crack house basically only needs a steady supply of product, and doesn’t need advertising, bookkeeping, furniture, and their collection methods are a bit different than any other business.

Usually, this is when several students run to the president of the school, in tears, to demand their tuition back because no one ever told them it would be so hard to be a designer. Welcome to the reality of business!

Part of that business is the same thing a competent designer will have to know to sell their services when a client with a new business wants a logo to start their road to success. There are many discussions on a logo vs. a brand. I can assuredly write that the two are intertwined but still two different things.

When you start your freelance business, you will need both.

Where to start? 

A logo is, quite simply, your signature; your name; the symbol by which people will identify you at first, or second sight. If you were a sweater, it would be your label, and embroidered logo. Your logo design, of course, should reflect your brand. 

A brand is who you are as a person, or company. Are you fun, and frivolous? Are you service-oriented with a thousand-year history of service? If you were a sweater, your brand would be how you feel when being worn. Stiff, and scratchy, or warm and soft? Mine would be easy to rip off my body! 

So, you really need to consider who you are, and who you want others to think you are. When deciding, it’s best to be truthful with yourself, and your branding. Of course, having the name, Whiney, Paranoid Design” may not be a winner when clients are weighing you against No Baggage Design.”

What they don’t tell you about branding 

In all of the articles I’ve read on branding, no one ever touches upon the mystical part, if you will, of pushing your brand. It’s not so much a secret, nor is it frowned upon, it’s just that so many people aren’t creative, and some people can’t carry off their own brand. Like the TV evangelist who preaches against sin, and is discovered with numerous prostitutes in a Motel 6, you need to reflect the brand faithfully, as if it’s your first nature… which it should be, anyway, or you will lose brand respect. 

Throughout my life, I’ve marveled at some people with very out loud brand. A famous cartoonist I knew, wore tweed sport coats over a T‑shirt, with white cotton pants, and navy blue deck shoes and no socks. Every day. In the wet of the spring, in the sweaty heat of summer, the chilly winds of fall, and the ice and snow of winter. Always the same outfit and no socks. Everyone knew him coming down the street. 

I’ve met a lady who wears nothing but red with red lipstick, and a red hat. It’s been many years, and I don’t remember her business, but I would know her in a moment if I saw her, and want to know what she has been up to.

Still, outfits and quirky accessories are pretty tame. A famous illustrator I knew many years ago, always had a band-aid on his face. Same spot, every day. People discussed if he had a melanoma, or a hole, or diminutive twin hidden on purpose. Becoming so familiar, it became his personal brand.

I’ve known plenty of accidental brands over the years. The most you can hope for is that the brand is flattering, or makes a great story at a cocktail party.


Then there are those who create a lifestyle around a brand; usually, it’s fine artists, and fashion moguls that live their brand 247. It’s not just what they do, it’s also the people they know, and hang around, the places they are seen, and the number of photos they get in the society, or business page in the local newspaper.

Hunter S. Thompson had a lifestyle brand — insanity with deliberate drug-fueled freak outs to punctuate his subject.

Andy Warhol was at all the best parties, gallery openings, exclusive night clubs, etc. Warhol was as much a part of his brand as was his actual creative work. Some say his personal brand was a bigger part. 

This is networking to the extreme. Granted, connecting via networking is a huge part of business. If you decide to burn it up with a personal brand that is at all the right places, then be prepared to be lonely, and without real friends as you are on, as mentioned, 247, being a character. There’s nothing wrong with it — it’s just that keeping it up is a major effort, and burnout is common among most branding social climbers. 

How far does branding go? 

Sometimes we need to evolve our lives, and our brand goes with us. Skulls and snakes are replaced by babies and kittens in personal logos, freelancers grow their businesses into design firms, and sometimes your brand just isn’t working.

The largest corporations do it (like the recent Yahoo!™ logo change, still awaiting the new branding to catch up), so, there’s no reason you can’t change what feels old, no longer you, or something that just hasn’t been working, like a logo with skulls, and snakes, AND babies, and kittens! 

Do you have an odd brand? Are you still trying to find what makes you, you? Let us know all about it in the comments.

Images ©GL Stock Images

WDD Staff

WDD staff are proud to be able to bring you this daily blog about web design and development. If there’s something you think we should be talking about let us know @DesignerDepot.

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