Many years ago, when I was very early in my career, I was asked to work on a pitch presentation for a new start up airline. It was for one of our most experienced sales men. It all came together nicely and he left with bound copies of his presentation under his arm.
A few hours later our man, was sat in a meeting with the young dynamic airline owner of the airline, who had a very different view on business attire from The City of London. As a result, he took great pleasure in cutting off the ties from visiting businessmen and displaying them around the wall of the meeting room.
After cutting off our representatives obligatory tie, he then turned his attention to the pile of presentations on the table. Picking them up, walking to the bin and dropping them in, while stating “we are a paperless airline, now what do you have to tell me?”
At a similar time on the opposite side of the world another sales team walked into one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world. Our man was similarly attired with a crisp shirt, tightly knotted tie and gleaming cufflinks. The prospective client however operated in a business casual environment. Our representative this time was met with “I hope that you don’t think that makes you look professional, because that could mean that you think I am not?!”
In both cases the personal and or business brand of the individual was misjudged, long before they entered either room. They needed to understand their audience so they could prepare, present and dress appropriately. It would still be them, just the most appropriate version of them where what they were saying was going to make them stand out, not what they were wearing being the focus.
Now both of these people could have tried to “style it out” with something along the lines of ‘this is my work attire and is how I am comfortable at work, representing you’. It would have been a valiant try, yet only works if you expect Tiger Woods to attend an awards dinner dressed head to toe in Nike, with Nadal and Federer in shorts and a headband while Lewis Hamilton sports his fire proof suit!
Personal branding is not about being someone or something you are not, just being the most appropriate version of you. Understanding and targeting your audience is not cheating, it is respectful.