The Keys to a Strong Personal Brand

In this day and age, it’s more important than ever to stand out.

Whether you’re a fresh grad looking for a job, an advertising agency trying to get the client’s attention, or a startup looking to grow its business, it’s become evident that you need to differentiate yourself from everyone else.

As always, the question is how?

The Nspire Innovation Network hosted this year’s inaugural Discovery Series at Western University, themed around helping students build their personal brands. Over 80 students showed up to hear Loose Button cofounder and CMO Aditya Shah and Richard Ivey School of Business Management Communications lecturer Jana Seijts share their experiences and expertise with personal branding.

Shah began his speech by sharing a challenge he faced as a student looking for a job. After working five terms with larger corporations, Shah wanted to move into explore what it’d be like to work at a startup.

In his first interview with a startup based in California, his interviewer asked him what co-op was. Shah was stumped. “I didn’t really know what to say, because every time I had talked about co-op, it was the biggest thing in the world. I had to explain what I did there. More importantly, he wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to add value or not.”

Shah was interviewing for a four-month term with these startups, and they weren’t sure what a student could accomplish in that time.

“I ended up putting together a list of five things that I could do for them over the summer. These were all five things that I got from my different experiences.” His story naturally already showed his interviewers something about him: his prior career experiences added to his credibility, and his wide variety of experience displayed his versatility.

He also pointed to his time spent helping lead the Impact Entrepreneurship Group as a major learning experience. That’s how he stood out.

The story fast forwarded to his time at Loose Button, where Shah’s challenge was to make the company stand out. Shah and Loose Button had entered subscription commerce as it had started to take off; within a span of six months, over 35 companies around the world stepped into that same arena. How were they going to stand out?

Shah pointed to his partnership with Flare as one example of how Loose Button stays different from the rest of the subscription cosmetic companies. He also elaborated on another Loose Button initiative, the invite-only Food for Thought Lunch & Learn series, which connected him with CEOs and decision makers in companies that he’d potentially collaborate with.

He concluded with a Seth Godin adage: “The key to success is to find a way to stand out, to be the purple cow in a field of monochrome Holsteins.”

Jana Seijts then took the stage. As a communications expert and a lecturer at the Richard Ivey School of Business, she knows a thing or two about personal branding and the power of the elevator pitch (a short summary of something—in this case, you).

“Tell me about yourself,” she asked individuals in the audience. (Stop. Think. How would you respond?)

She recalled a story about a student who missed an opportunity to make an impression on his interviewer to-be when they chatted briefly on the elevator because the student didn’t realize he needed to pitch. “What a missed opportunity,” she sighed.

“These things can happen in elevators. They can also happen at dinner parties, at cocktail parties, or at the bar—for those of you who are into that,” she explained, laughing. “We’re really looking at how you can stand out from the get-go.”

Seijts explained some potential questions to address as you build your pitch: Who are you? What do you do? What are the benefits you offer to an employer? What problem can you solve? What is your unique selling proposition? What is your call-to-action?

More importantly, a trait that all good pitches share is their customizability: you must be able to tailor your pitch to who is listening, and make it appealing to different markets. It must also be conversational, not canned.

As some students performed some practice pitches, Seijts made one point that really hit home: you should never explicitly talk about what you’re good at. Instead, think about how your story makes that come across naturally.

Amidst the encouragement he shared, Shah also hinted at another flaw in pitches: you don’t want the other party to know everything about you. Instead, leave some of your accomplishments out of the pitch; that way, the other party’s curiosity is preserved, and you’ve left them some gems to discover.

The Build Your Own Brand seminar was a great kickstart to Nspire’s Discovery Series. Their next event happens on Tuesday, October 2nd at the University of Toronto, and the theme is Start with Why.