Let’s face it, you’re branded the minute you walk through the door

I have a friend who is very smart, very charming, and very New York. At my suggestion, he interviewed for a sales position at Turner Networks in Atlanta. After the interview I asked the head of sales how the interview had gone. “He did two things wrong,” he said. “What was that?” I asked. “He wore cuff links. Too affected. And I never trust a man in pleated pants.”

Maybe appearances shouldn’t count, and maybe people shouldn’t be allowed to pass judgments based solely on how someone is dressed, but it happens everyday.

 In any business situation, appearances count big time.

Dressing for success today is about reflecting your authentic self in a way that attracts your target audience. In other words, your clothes should not disguise who you are inside, they should communicate the essential stuff that makes you you at a glance.

In branding terms, think about what’s on the shelves of your local supermarket. If a product is a trusted brand, a customer will toss it in the shopping cart without a thought. But if it’s brand new, if she notices it at all, she’s likely to look at the package and be positively – or negatively influenced by everything that went into designing it: the shape of its box, its graphics, colors, typeface, and so forth. The package is a powerful tool that if used correctly, can influence a customer to buy.

When packaging your own personal brand, the exact same rules apply. Your audience is going to be consciously and unconsciously influenced by your appearance. In addition to how you put yourself together, you’ll be evaluated on what your business card looks like, the paper stock of your resume, your portfolio, and your website. All of these parts comprise your package.

Your clothes and everything that speaks to your brand should express your creative energy, your talent, your warmth, your way of thinking, your expertise.

Here’s how to create a look that distinguishes you from the pack and makes a great impression:

Do Your Research: Be A Wardrobe Detective
In advance of any meeting, walk through the lobby of the building you’ll be visiting during lunch time and observe everyone’s style as they pass by. If that’s not possible, Google your prospect and find a profile picture or visit the company website or Facebook page for employee images.

Pizza or Tuna Tartar? Consider Your Audience’s Taste.
After you’ve done your research, think about what your target audience will respond to, feel safe with, understand, respect and admire. Then consider how you can fit in to their culture without blending in.

Make A “Style File” To Determine Your Look
Tear out pictures in fashion magazines that are expressive of the brand you’re trying to create. Build a file or hang the pictures on a bulletin board in your closet. Then work with a stylist to find clothes that speak volumes about who you are and where you want to go.

Establish A Signature Style That’s Memorable
If you are in a creative industry, look creative. I won my biggest account wearing a pair of jodhpurs, a riding jacket with a man’s tie boldly printed with a cowboy busting a bronco.

Look Current Even If Your Industry Is Conservative
What’s important is to feel confident, secure and savvy. You don’t want to copy anyone. Wear clothes that tell your target you are capable of just about anything, especially moving up.

Get Your Clothes Tailored, Your Shoes Re-heeled
Take a tip from the top CEOs, always tailor your clothes to fit beautifully and make sure to keep your shoes in shape. Uneven heels are a signs of disrepair. They communicate someone who’s going down, not up and coming.

Discover Your Signature Piece
The writer Tom Wolfe was known for his white suits, Diane Keaton lives in turtlenecks; Larry King tops his button down shirts with suspenders. Choose a distinctive accessory or “recognizer” and make it your own.

 Dare to be a professional with real style. Whether you’re powerful, glamorous, retro, super sleek or funky, you’ll signal to the world that you are a confident and creative leader.