November 27, 2017 • 5 minute read • by Saeed
“We would rather die as individuals than live without an identity.” ~ Ladan and Laleh Bijani
Marketers like to talk about brand identity – generally defined as all the brand elements (logo, messaging, colors, etc.) that a company creates to portray a specific image of itself to their customers.
How does this idea translate to personal brands? What is a personal brand? How is it defined? And what impact does it have on your career and on the world?
Let’s unpack these questions with a story about individual identity.
Each of us is separate but connected…
It’s the story of Ladan and Laleh Bijani, the Iranian conjoined twin sisters born in 1974 and joined at the head. Their inseparability presented unique challenges of identity and choice.
Ladan wanted to be a lawyer. Laleh wanted to be a journalist.
Ladan was into computer programming. Laleh was into computer games.
Ladan liked to read. Laleh was into Internet chat.
Ladan was extroverted. Laleh was more quiet and demure.
For years, the sisters were trying to convince doctors to perform the risky surgery that would separate them but most refused citing a 50 percent chance that one or both would die or suffer severe brain damage in the process. But the sisters were determined to pursue separate lives.
They eventually found a medical center in Singapore and with no less than 28 surgeons and 100 medical professionals in attendance, the risky surgery was performed. But the twins’ brains shared a major vein and had fused together making the surgery very difficult. Due to the large amount of blood loss and other complications, the twins died on the operating table on July 8, 2003.
Medical ethics aside, the Bijani sisters’ plight evokes many other issues including that of individual identity. Their determination to live autonomously speaks to the strong desire in each of us for autonomy and individual identity. It is the physical boundary of the human body that serves as a means to distinguish one person from another. It is our inherent drive to express our interests, needs, and desires – distinct and separate from those of others – that defines our individual identity.
Yet, because humans are social animals, it is also true that our identity only has meaning in relation to others. Who you are, in other words, is defined through your interactions with others.
So, “identity” in its present incarnation has a double sense. It refers at the same time to the expression of an individual’s self and to that individual’s persona in a social context.
It starts with you…
Like everything else in life, developing a strong brand identity starts with knowing who you are.
Each one of us is a designer product. Indeed, if you consider that the chances of you being born exactly as who you are in this world is 1 in 400 quadrillion (1:400,000,000,000,000,000), your uniqueness begins to take on special meaning. In a world where everything is an equalizer, the one and only differentiator is you.
What are your values?
What are your beliefs?
What are your passions?
What do you do better than anyone else?
What makes you special?
What differentiates you from everyone else?
What is your voice?
What is your worldview?
What is your ‘why’?
What is your mission?
What is your story?
How do others describe you when you are not in the room?
These are just a few of the fundamental questions that if answered, begin to create the narrative of your personal brand. Before you start building your brand identity, it’s important to have a clear understanding of each.
As is the case with a company, your brand has to do with your persona, with how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you. Your brand is your reputation and your story, told in a consistent and compelling manner. Your brand is not your business card, it is your calling card. It’s what you are known for and how people experience you. Your brand goes with you everywhere you go. It changes jobs with you. Your brand can open doors to new opportunities or shut them down. Your brand is the culmination of your strengths. Identify them and then triple down on them. Simultaneously, weaken your weaknesses. Identify the Kryptonite around your neck and toss it into the ocean once and for all.
To define your brand, tap into your values, passions and purpose. These areas form the foundation of your personal brand and can help you chart a course for your career goals and position you to make a social impact.
A Final Word…
I believe all of us have a purpose in life. Your brand is how you make impact in the world. Your personal philanthropic mission is the outward expression of your values, passions and purpose channeled through your strengths and through who you are at your core. Clarifying your uniqueness gives you greater purpose and direction. It provides the criteria for what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to when faced with the many opportunities and requests you will encounter over a lifetime.
If you are still unsure about who you are, ask others for feedback because your brand is held in the minds of those around you.
For the Bijani sisters, one desire remained foremost: “We want to see each other — face to face,” Laleh said at a news conference prior to their surgery. “We want to see each other,” Ladan added, “without a mirror.”
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