What’s Your Brand? | Learning to Self-Brand

When I think of branding, I think of a squealing pig; or would a cow be more fitting? If I don’t think of animals when I think of branding, then I think of a woman bent over a chair, getting her fella’s name tatted on her full moon. Otherwise, I think of the scarlet “A” adorned by Hester Prynne.

Branding is a term I associate with possession, which makes me uncomfortable. I’ve been hearing it a lot recently, specifically the importance of self-branding in self-entrepreneurial fields like writing.

The more the topic jumped out at me, the further I pushed it away. I didn’t want to jab my own ass with a hot iron stick. On my list of things I don’t want to do, that’s right behind “Bury myself in horse shit.”

I don’t like labels, even in fashion, where they’re most relevant. Don’t get me wrong, I love fashion. I, too, bow before the September Issue of Vogue, but I don’t purchase things solely for the name of their maker; names don’t woo me. It’s the personality that I purchase. It’s the voice that says, “This is who I am and this is what I stand for.”

Personality sells me on just about everything. It’s how I choose my favorite bands, songs, directors, films, writers, and books. I love personality. The problem is, I’ve always struggled with sharing my own personality. I’ve spent my life dodging labels and running from stereotypes I didn’t want to be associated with. Even worse, like many others, I constantly worry about how others perceive me. It’s this fear that turns my backbone into Jell-O and melts my voice to putty. How can I sell a product if I’m too fearful to give it my personality?

I decided to accept the self-branding articles and to start reading. I smelled the salty winds of self-exploration moving in. If I want to be a writer, I’ve got to be upfront about my personality. Otherwise, I’ll never write anything I respect. Writing careers lack certainty. They’re games of chance, luck, and hopefully talent. As I write, I never know how a piece is going to be received. An audience might be one person or one million. The point is, if you’re going to work under the cloud of uncertainty, you should write something you’re proud of.

As I read, I conducted an experiment. I asked myself, “What’s my brand? Who am I? What do I stand for?” It seemed like a challenge. I love a good challenge, even if I don’t win.

It wasn’t just a business experiment. It was a personal experiment, a challenge to be myself in the world: an obstacle course with self-improvement at the finish-line. It’s win-win.

Like a good millennial, I reached out to the internet. I read studies and explored self-branding workshops. I completed online worksheets. I asked questions. It’s still an on-going investigation, of course. I’m studying the art of self-branding, but it’s also my search for authenticity. It’s a lesson on how to make a footprint (a green one, hopefully) that says, “I was here.”

I want to feel confident with my personality (or brand) and to share it with others. I want to fix that possible regret before it later becomes a pot-hole. The road is long and hard enough already.

I decided to unload my baggage and de-junk useless worries that smother my personality. The way I see it, it’s time to shine.

According to my research, the thesis of self-branding seems to be perception. Many articles suggested you have a clear understanding of how others perceive you and how you perceive yourself. It was recommended that you ask others to define your personality in three words and then do the same for yourself.

I tried it. I reached out to some friends and challenged them to define my personality, then I challenged myself.

My friends labeled me as ambitious, intelligent, trail-blazing, passionate, witty, genuine, innovative, adventurous, compassionate, motivated, and optimistic.

I labeled me as shy, awkward, and determined.

We’re on the same page about my ambition. However, when it came to the other traits of my personality, my friends saw me much clearer than I see myself. That’s the thing about good friends . . .

I studied my friends’ words and read their actual definitions. In doing so, I realized their words were accurate descriptions of my personality. Of course, my words were also accurate, but I’m only shy and awkward when I’m trying to hide my personality.

I dug deeper into the shadowy corners of my psyche that can only be reached during a long meditative session. When I got there I asked: “Who am I? What makes me . . . me?”

Just to prove my millennial brain was working, I saw two images:

  1. I’m in the perfect, little black dress. My hair is set high on my head, round black glasses cover my eyes, and a long cigarette holder rests between my gloved fingers; a ring of smoke escapes my outlined lips.

  2. I’m wearing a tan fishing hat. My pig-tailed braids hang down from beneath it. My wide, wild eyes are covered by aviators and a half-smoked cigarette dangles from a much smaller holder. The wind carries back my flannel shirt and roaring chuckle.

These two images make perfect sense if you’ve really met me. It’s Holly and Hunter, the high-concept pitch of my personality.

“Imagine Holly Golightly meets Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. The fine line between them, that’s me.”

Why Holly and Hunter? They’re two idols that my soul adopted at a young age. Their personalities reached out for me. I understood them. I was drawn to them. They seemed like two halves of the whole that is me.

The Holly side is my attempt at class, my love of fashion, my naiveté, my optimism, the hopeless romantic in me, the side that wears dresses to stroll the grocery store, the side that shields me from others, and the side that holds the shames of my past.

The Hunter side is the wild child, the person driven by their Kentucky roots, the self-proclaimed rock ‘n’ roll rebel, the political junkie, the statement maker, the fanatic, the social misfit, the opinionated and outspoken voice, the side that spontaneously gets “Johnny” tattooed on their lower-hip just to be reminded of their personality (and never once regretting that decision), and the side that’d be fearless enough to live among the Hell’s Angels just to write a book.

You can tell if I’m having a Holly or Hunter day simply by how I dress. Some days, I’m Holly; some days, I’m Hunter. While fashion may seem arbitrary, according to the articles that I’ve read recently, appearances are part of your brand.

While this realization about my personality sort of feels liberating, it still doesn’t provide a solution for how to share my personality with others; or does it? Does knowing and understanding my personality free me from my self-restraints? In some ways, it feels freeing. I feel braver and more balanced, and balance is the key. I’m learning to intertwine my two personalities and unwrap the gift that is my authentic personality. I’m a work in progress.

As for my backbone, it feels a little straighter and stronger. It’s not that I care less. It’s that I care less about the petty things, like what others think of me.

Although my personality feels like a high-concept pitch on the surface, I feel the depth and rolling waters moving through my personality. The path seems open.

As for how to market my brand . . . well, I’m Googling it.

To be continued . . .

So, now let me ask you: what’s your brand?

Following a five-year stint in New York City, Ashley is now a Los Angeles transplant. Having grown up in rural Kentucky, Ashley is passionate to share self-care techniques used around the world and hopes to make them accessible to folks in rural communities. Ashley believes in gratitude, personal legends, and doing good. Aside from being a business leader in her professional life, Ashley is a novelist and freelance writer.


  • Kayla

    Ashley you write these articles just when I need to hear it most. Loved this piece on branding. I too am trying to discover, present, and market my brand while being true to myself. That was the biggest challenge of interviewing for residencies and now in the dreaded dating world!

  • Shaundi Sauser

    You as a writer and you as a person are two very different entities. But only because what you project to others is not nearly as deep and insightful as YOU really are. There is nothing wrong with being a woman and being intimidating (mentally). One of these days you will embrace it and unleash it on the world. Unfortunately, you will take a beating to your very soul, until you decide you’ve had enough. You are one of the most driven people I have ever met. So your struggle will leave you standing defiant, telling the whole world “Here I am, love me or hate me, it makes no difference to me. I am here for the long haul!”

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