Full disclosure: I’m a brand nerd. Before I became a voice actor, I worked for many years in marketing. As teenagers, my friends put up rock posters or boy band pics on their walls. I cut out cool ads in magazines. I studied, lived and breathed brands in school. After graduation, I started as a marketing and branding professional, including work for well-known brands you might have in your home. And I still do consulting work for businesses and entrepreneurs that are looking to cultivate and grow their brands.
It’s no wonder that I’m passionate about personal branding and making sure that my fellow actors understand and know how to market their brands.
Let’s first define what a “personal brand” is.
A personal brand is how people remember you. It’s your reputation as an individual in the world you choose to inhabit. I like to tell my clients and students that your personal brand is like a whiff of cologne or perfume; the scent you leave behind after you’ve walked away. This essence is uniquely yours. A professional brand is cultivated over time and built through repetition.
A personal brand is comprised of several elements:
– What you’re good at – your skills and competencies as a voice actor, plus any skills gained through past jobs and life experiences.
– Your work ethic – how you work when you work. Do you get the job done early or on deadline? Are you a master procrastinator?
– Your attitude towards work and learning – do you show up for work happy and grateful or surly and resentful? Somewhere in-between? Are you eager to learn? Directable?
A personal brand is something that is uniquely yours. No one else can be “Brand You.” No one else shows up in the booth the way you do, works the same way you do, or cultivates relationships the way you do. All these things contribute to your personal brand.
Here’s what a personal brand is not:
– What you think you “should” be to your agents, managers, and casting directors.
– Insincere or fake (because we can smell a fraud a mile away).
How do you cultivate a personal brand that is really, and truly your own?
1) Have a goal in mind. Know how you want to be known. Are you the go-to pro for sports promos? The romantic novel narrator? The Swiss army knife of animation characters? Use that as a compass for how you cultivate your brand and work experiences. If you were a product (which you are as a VO talent), what would be your tagline?
If you’re not sure what your goal is, look for inspiration from others. Are there other VO actors or acting professionals whose careers you admire? How can you learn from their example? If you could write a tagline for that actor or actress, what would it be? Think about how your voice and VO work add value to the clients who hire you.
This might take some time to figure out. It may take some deep personal introspection and some external research to better articulate what that goal is for your personal brand. When you hear a great tagline for a commercial (like Nike’s “Just do it”), know that there were tens of thousands of hours of research and brainstorming behind that seemingly simple phrase. Articulating your goal and tagline takes some time and iteration, and it requires you to edit ruthlessly. Every word matters.
2) Work in the direction of your goals. It sounds so simple, right? Often we get sidetracked by all the things we think we need to do, we need to remind ourselves to focus on our end goal and work in that direction. Make slow and steady progress. Run your own race. Even Oprah and her team put on project “blinders” so they work single-mindedly towards one goal.
3) Show up like a pro. That means working on your craft even after your “formal” training is done. (And a friendly hint: your training is never done! Even the superstar working pros still take classes). Attend workout groups, acting classes, and improv classes. Listen to commercials and audiobooks. Do a deep-dive study in the area of VO you’re most passionate about. This also means acting like a pro when you go to the booth: Show up early to gigs and callbacks, be prepared for the session, show gratitude for the gig and the team you’re working with in each session.
4) Connect like a pro. This means your marketing (social media, e-mails, website, demos, etc.) should align to the reputation you are cultivating and that personal brand you have created for yourself. Let us see who you are as a VO actor and understand your point of view.
5) Lather, rinse and repeat. Cultivating a personal brand is an iterative process and it takes time. Never stop working on your Personal Brand.
Now, a note on branding and authenticity. We’ve been bombarded by so many marketing messages that we’ve developed a “BS sensor” that can sniff out the fakers and phonies right away. A personal brand isn’t about self-promotion to the point of turning into a used-car salesman.
This should feel organic, true to who you are, and allow you to grow your reputation and VO business over time. This might also feel a bit uncomfortable (especially if you tend to be more introverted and private about your life) and that is okay! Cultivate your brand in a way that aligns with your integrity and your business goals, and still allows you to stretch and grow. Over time, as your skills and reputation grows, it will get easier to make choices for you and your business that align with your brand and goals. Remember, it’s not about being someone or something you’re not. To borrow a quote from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”
Break a lip out there!
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About the Author: As a voice actor, Ratana’s voice can be heard in numerous commercials (Vail Resorts, Fantastic Sam’s and others), video games (Skylanders: Giants), animation (Daddy, I’m a Zombie, Mummy, I’m a Zombie), as well as many industrial narration projects. A self professed “nerd,” she’s also a lifetime learner who constantly seeks new resources to keep her skills sharp. In addition to performing as a voice actor, Ratana coaches VO for Such A Voice. She can be found at ratana.net.
Listen to Ratana read off her article and showcase her voice.