How to Build Your Personal Brand (Courtesy of a Dolly Parton T-Shirt)

I accidentally learned about personal brand when I was a bar-hopping single guy. You see, I've always littered my wardrobe with ironic t-shirts. And while every other guy at the bar wore pretty much the exact same button-up dress shirt, I wore goofy tees just to be a little different. One evening, I wore a Dolly Parton shirt (image above) to the bar, and this is where I learned the value of having a "brand."

I was talking to a young girl in a Burberry scarf and at the end of what I thought was a nice conversation, she left to hang out with her friends. I've struck out many times before, so I figured she was giving me the brush. The next morning, I received an email from a friend of mine with a link attached to Craigslist Missed Connections. If you're not familiar with Missed Connections, it's a website where strangers who may have passed each other at a coffee shop or another public place can post something, hoping that the other person will by chance be reading.

Of course, in 99 percent of the cases, the person isn't reading. And I wasn't reading, either. But in my case, my brand was so strong that even a friend who I hadn't seen in months knew that this post was about me. It read:

"Dear guy with the Dolly Parton shirt. It is me, the girl in the Burberry scarf. I didn't get your name or number and thought on the off chance you might be reading this, we could get together for a coffee sometime. Email me at this link."

We did end up connecting. One of the few Missed Connections that actually connects. And we had a lovely coffee but -- spoiler alert -- no magic happened. Still, the fact remains that my personal brand was accidentally so strong that a friend of mine who I hadn't seen for months knew that this particular Missed Connection was me. As she put it, "You're the only guy within five states who owns a Dolly Parton t-shirt. This has to be you!"

But strong branding doesn't have to be reserved for last call. Here are three-and-a-half ways we can strengthen our personal brand in the professional arena:

1. Have a signature. Okay, maybe you can't wear a Dolly Parton shirt to the office every day, but you could have a signature color that you always wear. I have a friend who always wears a little bit of red. Always. And people have come to know it so well that they might not remember his name, but they'll say, "Oh, is that the guy who always wears red?"

2. Dare to be (at least a little) different. I'm in the process of ditching my business cards and I'm printing on cocktail napkins instead. At the end of a speed networking event people will go home with 50 cards and a napkin. Which will they remember?

3. Be consistent. You don't want to have a brand that isn't "you." It might get your foot in the door initially, but you'll come off as disingenuous over time. Find a signature you like. Maybe you love baseball, so you decorate your cube with old baseball cards. Perhaps you always have the best candy jar in the office; not that Smarties crap, you stockpile the good stuff, like KitKats. The point is, your brand should launch off of something you love.

And three-and-a-half: Always put yourself out there. As a guy who wore crazy t-shirts, I ran into my fair share of naysayers who would pick on me. They were the guys wearing the button down shirts that looked like every other guy at the bar. Be ready for that feedback occasionally, but remember that the pros far outweigh the cons when it comes to having a strong and identifiable brand. Who knows? You just might read about yourself in Craigslist Missed Connections.

Need a speaker to come in to your company to talk about personal branding? Funny, I know just the guy. Book Jack.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Categories: Personal Brand Strategy