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59 Comments // Filed in Branding / Featured / Business / Design

The Art of Self-Branding: Part One

Pretend You're an Amnesiac


Update: Read Part Two | Part Three | Resources

A Brief Primer

Branding. Most people think that “brand” begins and ends with the logo, when the truth is much more than that. Essentially, a brand is an idea and perceived value formed by its intended audience based on a company’s culture, product, and service. An identity system that includes the logo and colour scheme is typically the starting point of a brand, but it can branch out to exactly how you word things to customers, to what type of people you hire, to what furniture you even want to use. Tyler Durden says, You’re not your khahkis. With branding, you’re not your frigging logo. Not quite.

So how do you get your brand to dance and sing? Branding for another company is already quite a venture, but branding yourself is almost a completely different animal altogether. The main difference with branding your company versus a client, is that there are restrictions with your client. With you, there’s typically none. And worst of all, you may even have to get philosophical about it!

The best way to go about tackling this project, in my opinion, is to pretend you’re an amnesiac. A new company without a brand is just like an amnesiac — there’s a general feeling over how things should be, but you are completely lost. An amnesiac has a previously established personality perceived by those around him, but has no idea how to define it.

Who am I? What am I?

When you are trying to define a brand, it’s best to get back to basics. Who are you? What do you like to eat? What movies do you enjoy? What music do you listen to? What do you absolutely hate? Define who you think you are… and then, without revealing that, ask others to reveal who they think you are. Back in September, I asked some friends and strangers to play a game — in three adjectives, describe “Lea Alcantara.” The important part is making sure you get a varied number of people with different levels of relation to you to answer this honestly. The results can be very enlightening, as it reveals the depth of this person’s relationship with you as well as how you are perceived. It would be best to ask these people individually so they’re not influenced by what others have already said.

Here are the responses I received:

Name Relationship Time Known Extra Adjectives
Via Sister Forever n/a Creative, Funny, Intelligent
Ana Sister Forever n/a Funky, Aggressive, Sweet
Brett Ex-Boyfriend 3 years n/a Passionate, Impatient, Loving
Jason Best Guy Friend 8 years n/a Compelling, Poised, Controversial
Elina Great College Friend 5 years n/a Enthusiastic, Independent, Meticulous
Anika Girlfriend of Friend Few months n/a Smart, Assertive, Sassy
Dora Good Friend from High School 8 years, off and on n/a Vivacious, Larger-than-life, Exuberant
James Online Friend + Client 2 years Never Met Quirky, Sharp, Stubborn
Nathan Online Friend Few months Never Met Independent, Sassy, Bright
AJ Online Acquiantance Few weeks Never Met Diminutive, Girly, Frivolous
Abadi Stranger n/a n/a Funky, Sophisticated, Happening

What was interesting was people, no matter their relationship with me or length of time, already had a few distinct impressions of me: namely, intelligence and some sort of sassy attitude attached. Naturally, that pleased me, as that was how I would have liked to be portrayed. This is the time you compare the notes you wrote about yourself to what others mentioned.

Now, most of the adjectives are going to be positive because of the nature of my relationship to these people, but it’s interesting to note less uplifting adjectives: diminutive, girly, frivolous. Harsh as they sounded, it actually proved to be a very valuable critique. I fired off an e-mail to AJ and asked him to explain what he meant, and he proceeded to give me a detailed critique that mentioned that pitfalls in choosing a name like “lealea” — that I had to be aware that some will think of it too childish or girly. He mentioned I could get over that by extending my personality as part of my brand and it would justify the name. And I went about and did just that. Now the fact that my website has a feminine slant along with a quirky name and identity has made it unique and memorable.

Use your perceived disadvantages to your advantage!

Where am I? Who are you?

Be aware of your surroundings and who you’re speaking or pitching to. Will you do a lot of local business? International business? What’s your target market? Define these, and then do your research!

Some people have mentioned they found the “tone” of my website refreshing because it wasn’t drowning in fancy business lingo. I made a conscious effort while creating the copy for this website to remain friendly and open, but professional at the same time. This would make sense, because of the types of clients I would like to have — would the arts community welcome a more conservative tone? Not at all. But here’s the thing: I have had a couple of conservative-type clients anyway, despite all this colourful funkiness. How did that happen? Well, because they still liked my work and despite the fact they had more subdued leanings, they appreciated my attitude and are hopeful that whatever “edge” I have in creating this site would be reflected on their work, too. It’s very important to be yourself and brand yourself accordingly — like people will be drawn to you, and those that aren’t similar to you that are still drawn respect where you come from.

How'd I get here?

Remember, remember your roots. When researching and thinking about your brand, ask yourself what brought you to this point in your life to launch a new company, website, identity, what-have-you. Where do you come from and how did you get where you’re at? Remember — your brand must tell some type of story. If you have no roots, you have no history, so why would someone care about your brand or identity if you don’t have anything to back it up?

Distilled Information

Never stop asking questions — but also know which answers are most relevant to you. When I was creating my logo and colour scheme, there was a little bit of hesitation regarding the pink. Some absolutely hated it, others loved it. What was I supposed to do? Who should I have listened to? The answer is, of course, yourself. In the end, you have to decide what information given to you is relevant, and don’t be afraid to negate what some have said because sometimes it could be down to personal preferences at this point. Everyone has an opinion. People already have a perceived notion of what they think you should be like, and that could colour their thinking. That’s not to say you should dismiss what others say, but remember to file the bits of info where they belong.

Put it all together

Branding can get as extreme or as subtle as you want. There are many important aspects to branding yourself, but here’s the main thing that you should etch in your brain: be consistent. It’s a simple enough idea, but it’s often bungled up.

A small anecdote that I heard at a business seminar: A company decides to launch a brand new website that caters to youth. The website is fun, interactive, has exactly the right pitch and body copy, and it drew a lot of visitors. Unfortunately, the company didn’t make much money. Why was that? After some investigation, we find out that the company’s physical office was completely wrong: the interior of the place was cold and dark, reminded teens of the principal’s office, and the ancient secretary they had at the front also didn’t help matters. While their website was jumping with youthful vitality, their office was not. The branding was inconsistent, added confusion, and made their potential customers wary.

Again, your brand is more than just your logo or even your website: it is everything that involves your company! You shouldn’t show up to a client’s meeting wearing a grey suit and tie if they run a motorcycle store, the same way you wouldn’t show up in t-shirts and jeans to a financial institution. Be consistent. And most of all, be honest.

Short and Sweet

Who am I? What am I? Where am I? Who are you? How’d I get here? You don’t need to be a rogue secret-agent to ask these questions. With a little bit of work, you’ll be on your way to defining your own brand!

Read Part Two

59 blabs to The Art of Self-Branding: Part One

Add something to the conversation!

I told you those adjectives fit! Anyone who quits her job to freelance has to be both independent, and a slight bit sassy, but possibly not so bright. Though, it has proven to be a wise decision!

Picture of Zach

Name Zach

Date Oct 20
09:02 PM

Woah! When you were saying how big it was I had no clue it was that big.

Very good article.

Very informative article.

Great article… This is the way to go about it – Start off with great reads about relevant issues… And superbly done design…

Your print-CSS could’ve been better – use visibility:none on design elements, for instance… But hey, that’s just minor issues, coming from one who hasn’t even bothered making one for himself yet…

Picture of Trenton

Name Trenton

Date Oct 21
01:00 PM

This is great. I’m about to do some self-branding of my own, so this definitely gave me some ideas. At least now I know what general direction to go in. :P

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Oct 21
03:08 PM

J?rgen, I don’t currently have a print.css created yet, but that’s on my list of to-dos, especially now I’m going to have some articles written. Once all three parts are done, I think I may have it available as a downloadable PDF. I will have to think about it. :-)

Picture of Ana

Name Ana

Date Oct 21
04:34 PM

I’m just happy to be number #2 on your graph! Wee. I love your work Lea.

Picture of Mary

Name Mary

Date Oct 21
05:00 PM

I’m the one who hates pink, but does she listen to me? noooo :P

Picture of Yannick

Name Yannick

Date Oct 25
03:58 AM

Nice Article. Really helpful for someone like myself who is just starting out. I especially liked the bit about “Who am I? What am I?”.

Keep up the good work Lea.

Peace and God Bless!

Hi Lea,

New to the site, I’m one of the people that came in on your rush of traffic from incoming links. I subscribed to your blog because of “The Art of Self-Branding”. I’m going through the motions also and appreciate what you have to say.

Really nice design.

Picture of Alex Andrei

Name Alex Andrei

Date Oct 25
09:41 AM

Oh my! :)
I actually was/am in the process of .. getting ideas and advice to get started my own business.. and to build the site that would be the first “impression” to my future clients..
Argh! I was searching for a brand idea, and I found this article !!!

Thanks for the help!!!
(PS: this pink looks great!)

@Lea: I couldn’t find a way to post regarding your Reboot. So pardon this comment on this entry. But I just want to commend you on a great, clean and pink design!


PS. Great article.

I wanted to get something started especially in design, I have being working as Java Developer for 6 years and ran a company called 6box solutions for 3 years. Now I work as a contractor and have being looking at getting into design. You article caught my eye and I think its great….

I wanted to improve my skills in design please feel free to give feedback its just the starting point …

Picture of Greg-J

Name Greg-J

Date Feb 02
07:34 AM

I would have loved to finish this article, but my eyes began to bleed from their sockets by the third paragraph. Great color scheme, but terrible for focus.

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Feb 02
08:06 AM

Greg, I hope you went to the hospital for that eye problem of yours. :-) Now, if you really wanted to read the article, you could disable stylesheets for this page, or you can print out a copy (or even read the print-preview). Or, push comes to shove: Select All – Copy-Paste to notepad. :-D

I’ve had mixed responses regarding the readability of the dark maroon and the light pink/almost white text. Some have actually said it’s a welcome relief for their eyes, while others have had the bleeding effect. ;-)

In my screen, my colour scheme is a dark maroon, and rather readably pleasant, but I have seen it look a bit “harsher” in other monitors (brighter, more magenta) based on people’s personal settings. Can’t change that. It’s always a risk when you choose a different type of colour scheme especially across monitors.

Picture of Julieta

Name Julieta

Date Feb 05
10:46 PM

Very, very interesting and clear. I found it useful. Nice work! Love your site.

I’ve finished my website a few days ago, i’d like you to check it out, if you can, and tell me what you think. I’d like to hear your opinion. You seem to have things clear, and i’m just starting =)

Kisses and good job again!

Picture of g

Name g

Date Apr 01
01:31 PM

Hi Lea, liked the article. I made the decision to study design about two years ago, and I remember that in a book called “Los tres pasos” (the three steps) by Arnie Warren, comes this exact game, which I asked my lil’ brother and my mother :$. But they were very supportive and wrote a lot of good stuff about me :)

Picture of H

Name H

Date May 02
04:48 AM

In Fijian “lealea” means crazy. But you probably knew that…

- H

Picture of Gert Goossens

Name Gert Goossens

Date Sep 16
10:46 AM

Great article!
‘filling the bits of info where they belong’ Isn’t that easyer said than done (i’m a rookie)?

Picture of Mireru

Name Mireru

Date Sep 26
12:30 PM

This article really helped me to finish my project…I used the method, and it worked smoothly. Thanks for sharing… :-)

Picture of Jacob

Name Jacob

Date Oct 17
01:50 PM

Great article. Very informative and insightful.

I’m currently in the process of branding my own graphic/web design business and have been tying myself in knots regarding the “who/what/where?”. Thanks for the help!

I would have loved to finish this article, but my eyes began to bleed from their sockets by the third paragraph. Great color schseme, but terrible for focus.

Branding, in my own opinion, is an intentional act perpetrated at impressing a unique style of individual recognition on other people’s heart.

Hi Lea,
I will enjoy reading your branding articles. Thanks for the insights.

Lea- You are amazing! I am doing a Self-Branding movie for a Grad Class and your resources are the best I’ve found. I love your site and designs. Keep doing what you are doing- making everything more simple and having clean, fun, sassy style

Picture of Fubiz

Name Fubiz

Date Apr 22
09:00 AM

Lovely template.

Lea, Thank you for this. I’m going through a “self-branding” and am using your “game”. Your article was recommended to me by a friend and so far it is a great read.

BTW – I love pink :)

Picture of ian

Name ian

Date Dec 07
11:12 PM

Hey Lea,

Rowena passed me your site. Very cool stuff!

It’s tough to change course once you have so much invested in a particular brand or image, and I can understand why it’s so hard for companies to transform themselves, thanks for the great post — I stummbled it for you as well :)

Picture of rachel

Name rachel

Date Feb 14
02:51 AM

That’s the way to but it.
i think if you can brand your name on the net as an expert of your niche, people will start searching for your name not the niche keywords.

Very good advice and I love that you worked a Tyler Durden reference in there. Kudos!

Picture of Bryan Beaudreault

Name Bryan Beaudreault

Date Mar 31
12:01 AM

Hey Lea,

I know it has been years since you posted this, but I just wanted to let you know it is still making an impact!

I have recently begun trying to market myself better as a web developer, and have been stumbling over the branding situation. My name is rather long, hard to pronounce, and easy to misspell so I have been trying to think about ways to form an online presence that isn’t so handicapped by my name.

As I read, re-read, and practice the ideas laid out in this series of posts it is really helping to focus in on some of my own ideas for branding myself.

Thanks for such a great series!

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Mar 31
10:57 AM

Hi Bryan, Thanks so much for your kind words, I’m really glad my suggestions have helped you out. I know it’s been years, but that’s the power of the web: these articles live on and the discussion can continue as long as comments are open. :)

Picture of John

Name John

Date Jun 24
07:37 AM

Lea, I saw this presentation on slide share and it was wonderful. I especially liked the bit about “How’d I get here”. Thanks for the great article

Picture of fenell

Name fenell

Date Jun 25
06:46 AM

Yes, Self branding describes the process in which consumers match their own self-concept with the images of a certain brand. In fact, consumer buying habits are at a much deeper level.

Picture of robert

Name robert

Date Jul 08
04:04 AM

It is ultimately one the best blog i had ever seen ….thanks for posting this blog with tons of information….thanks for sharing..Lea

Picture of Dhamphy

Name Dhamphy

Date Jul 14
04:53 PM

Thanks for this Lea, it really helps…

Thank you! Totally agree.
Regarding the color scheme, I found it amazing. It’ll be more nice just if you considered change the link colors, specifically when they are on the lighter part of the background.

Whoa! Your site design got me glued for here hours. Its great and quite relaxing.
I’ve been working of personal branding myself but had been slumpy about it, guess its time to go get some answers.
And, please do consider posting a pdf of the series.
Great article, great design – you just got a new fan.

Thanks Lea, this really help a lot.
From Monterrey, Mexico.

Picture of Tasha

Name Tasha

Date Aug 11
01:51 AM

I can I adopt you to be my new design mentor? :-)

But seriously, so far you have been the greatest catalyst for my wandering mind as far as getting my own freelance venture and branding in order!

Picture of Anna

Name Anna

Date Aug 16
03:14 AM

I just caught your article on A List Apart, and just had to read and comment here!

The paragraph about the perceived pitfalls of your branding really stood out to me, because I was so shocked when I followed the link on ALA, and this page showed up. I remembered this site from over a year ago when I was naively searching around CSS Heaven for answers to my own branding dilemmas without really giving any thought to the process— rather than just the results. You definitely created a memorable brand for yourself!

I’m so glad that I found this site again and read the articles. I’m about to rebrand my own website (again), since I rushed my first design and idea, and gave very little thought to who I actually am and what I want my website to say about me.

Picture of sohbet

Name sohbet

Date Aug 20
11:44 AM

nice post and i have bookmarked this page.

The main thing we all have to remember: you need to be yourself. It is the most comfortable position. It is the most natural and organic. In other words, we shouldn’t create new qualities of our personalities. But use those we have already.

Picture of Jessie

Name Jessie

Date Sep 08
02:43 AM

nicely put.

Picture of Cristina

Name Cristina

Date Sep 17
02:19 PM

I’ve used this information to begin the process of building my brand. Thank you for this! Very informative. :)

Hi Lea

Just stumbled across your blog when looking for self branding advice.

Self branding is always the hardest of all design projects in my opinion. Im constantly going through change after change to make things perfect! Its a pain!

Thanks for the great post! Will be adding your site to RSS

It is always nice to revisit your own brand after a few months/years to see if it really does portray you how you want to be seen.

I know I have a little note in my mission statement and business plan about how I see myself and want others to see me.

Picture of Boitumelo Maswabi

Name Boitumelo Maswabi

Date Nov 18
06:12 AM

wow! thank u very much for enlightening me on a few tips that we sumtyms overlook cos we think they too obvious

Picture of Keith P

Name Keith P

Date Nov 24
03:05 PM

Two things. Firstly, I love the funky design of this page. Secondly, I’ve read scores of books on marketing/branding and your input was really quite refreshing. I like the way you look at things. Thanks for your advice.

Good stuff here. I’m currently transitioning careers, launching my creative skills and developing my right brain. I found this information really helpful in regards to branding myself. Can’t to read part 2 and 3. Thank you!

Shoot, this was written back in 2005 and I’m just now reading this? I love your writing style matter-of-fact explanations. Look forward to reading the rest after I go inward and find out who I really am. :)


I’m a little bit late here to comment, but I must say , this a great post. (My eyes hurt too by the way)). I’m thinking of launching a good mexican craft site and I need fresh ideas fo the brand.


Too many people overlook branding, and even more people try to fit everything into a logo. Take your logo for instance, it’s easily recognisable, but not over elaborate. People need to be educated in this.

Branding is still as relevant today as it was when it was coined by Al Reis. Great blog. Still relevant and important.

Picture of danial

Name danial

Date Aug 23
09:00 AM

The Catholic Church doesn’t teach that any more since Vatican II” and may come off as religiously indifferent, not insistent enough that the Church is Christ’s Church and that outside of Her there is no salvation..nose smaller

Thank you! Totally agree.
Regarding the color scheme, I found it amazing. It’ll be more nice just if you considered change the link colors, specifically when they are on the lighter part of the background

Picture of Silvia

Name Silvia

Date Aug 31
03:17 PM

Your advice is great for helping us to gain clarity about what is important in our brands. Many people just don’t know where to start and become overwhelmed, but this article is a great jumping off point and simplifies the whole process. Feel free to visit my site as well!

Hi Lea,

I know it has been years since you posted this, but I just wanted to let you know it is still making an impact!

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