I was having a chat with a young comedian after her show last week, and the topic veered onto--of all things--stage apparel.
"I wear this all the time," she said, pointing to her grey-tone solid shirt, covered by a grey-tone jacket.
"Uh, why?" I asked.
"It's my stage look," was the answer. "I want to establish a personal brand."
Well, three cheers for that.
But unless you're Steve Jobs, you're gonna have to do establish harder.
The color spectrum isn't monochrome. A nondescript pair of Levis and black mock turtleneck may work when you're lobbing jaw-dropping innovation bombs into your audience on a regular basis, but until you're changing the world with your words, you're gonna have to stand out if you wanna stand out.
In other words, this week's lesson (which is really more of a "teach" than a "learn"):
YOU CAN'T BRAND BLAND.
Unfortunately, inexplicably most comedians don't give a rat's ass what they look like on stage. My partner Gilbert Rozon and I often scratch our heads about how performers dress, even for our televised Gala shows--slouchy khakis, drab shirts, scuffed shoes. If that's your on stage "persona," so be it. But if it's indifference, you're wasting an important opportunity.
I remember the story of a young female performer who came to a Gala rehearsal in a vintage David Bowie t-shirt and skin-tight red jeans tucked into patent leather Converse high-tops. The girl screamed attitude before she even opened her mouth, and once she did, her tough, razor-edged comedy was the ideal complement to her look. The usually unaffected crew was in awe. We couldn't wait for her to rip apart the room that evening.
So what happened? For some reason, she shows up for the performance in a boxy, pea-green dress and beige flats; something that Reitman's would sell to 50-somethings back in the '70s. Thud. Total mis-match and a tepid response from the audience.
Now I know it's comedy, not a fashion show, But if you've taken the step to visually identify yourself, give people something to remember you by--a hat, a pin, a colour that is actually found on a rainbow, a something!
So my advice to my young comedian friend is advice that works anywhere--show business or big business:
Establish who "you" are, and build a unique look around that "you."
If you're indeed savvy enough to want to establish a "look," give people something to see, to remember you by, to differentiate you from the dozens of others.
This isn't about "clothes" per se; it's about a visual identity, one that will separate you from the pack. It's about the art in your office, the briefcase you carry, the glasses you wear, the displays in your storefront window, the business card you hand out. It may be trite, but sometimes, it's the only advantage you've got.
And in a competitive landscape, believe me, any advantage is a good one.
(P.S. This post wasn't an easy one to illustrate. My assistant discovered the incredibly appropos image above at nataliedee.com, an incredible find and a great talent. I hope I ain't pissing too many people off by using it.)