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Marketing yourself with personal branding

Photo Archiv Schweitzer: ernstes Gesicht und Maske mit lächelndem Gesicht

You will never get a second chance to make a first impression

According to platitudes, first impressions counts. Everyone knows that, but only a few take this fact to heart. Apart from situations “that really matter” (interviews, meeting customers, etc.) we don’t give a lot of thought to how we come across to others. Especially when we meet someone for the first time.

This becomes obvious when we look at how people present themselves online. Although people often place value on a groomed appearance in the real world, less value is usually placed on making an authentic impression in the online world.

Why are first impressions so important?

Many psychological studies have been done on this subject. If you just Google it, you will find a lot of reading material. I found an extensive article on the Karrierebibel career website – but there are so many more examples on other sites as well. These insights are valuable, but don’t really help much.

Perhaps the phenomenon of the first impression can be most easily explained by the intuitive archaic behaviour that each of us has saved in our internal operating systems. Because no matter what society we’re in, it is and has always been important to assess whether new people we meet are friends or foes. This happens in a fraction of a second.

In the past, we had to immediately take flight in the worst cases. Today, most of the time vigilance is enough. But it still works just as well.

What makes or breaks personal encounters?

The first impression a stranger makes on you happens very quickly but can be broken down – very roughly – into the following steps:

Open your eyes

When meeting someone new, their posture and clothing style is the first thing we notice. Then eye-contact, then the details.

Posture alone expresses a great deal. Is the person standing straight or hunched? Do they seem relaxed or nervous? Is their body language inviting or unfriendly? These are all things that happen automatically. Although it’s possible to change posture, hardly anyone is trained enough that they would be able to fool other people.


It is very important to smile at the soon-to-be acquaintance. Because when the brain sees a smile, it immediately knows that this person is not a threat. In general, smiling is a panacea when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Children laugh much more than adults do, which is one reason we are happy to pay attention to them. Every once in a while someone unexpectedly smiles at me on the train – those people immediately seem interesting and likeable. So here is an essential tip for the rest of your life – smile more.

Look me in the eye

Eye-contact is magical. Sometimes you can even feel someone looking at you from behind your back or very far away. Looking directly into someone’s eyes shows interest and signals to the other person that your intentions are directed towards them, that they are now the focus, and you are paying attention to them.

Do you smell something?

Whether someone passes the smell test or not is also programmed into the fine-tuning of human assessment systems. In modern society, the way a person smells only affects the way we think about them if we actually smell something. Body odour can hardly be perceived in most well-groomed people (which we can assume people in the business world are). But we notice when someone smells especially good or bad. Bad in the sense of sweat or unsuitable perfume that is too strong. Good when the scents are delicate, suit the person and are inconspicuous.

The voice

Have you ever tried to imagine a person based only on their voice? Were you ever right? I am almost always wrong. Because the voice is a very individual characteristic that seldom corresponds to a person’s appearance. Even short, slim men can have deep, powerful voices. But as soon as we experience the voice together with the physical body it is attached to, it tends to fit.

Even so, a person’s voice reveals a lot about them. Does it sound lively or tired? Is it loud or soft? Does it have a dialect or an accent? Is the person a skilled speaker? There are so many aspects.

And of course, what a person says is also important. How the person addresses you, whether the conversation is tedious or easy, friendly or languid, fervent or mellow...


The first handshake speaks volumes. It can’t be too long or too short, too strong or too weak. Cold or sweaty hands are unpleasant. If you don’t hold the hand of the person the right way and only manage to get a few fingers, that doesn’t feel good. But have no fear – you usually have the right feel for how to do it.

Other types of contact are also finely tuned instruments. They can be friendly and pleasant or disparaging and humiliating.

So it looks like the famed first impression is also a complex affair. It becomes even more difficult when “meeting” people through the Internet, for example through a corporate website or a blog.

Personal branding helps make a positive first impression

When we talk about the trademark of a personal brand, that is basically another way of talking about a condensed representation of an individual’s personality. The core brand values are the personality indicators. The positioning is what this person can do for others. The brand story is told when this person briefly introduces themselves and shows what makes them interesting.

People who know their brand can then navigate all their communications. For example, thoughtful, analytical and critically thinking people need to be presented online in ways that reflect these values. We use design (colour, imagery, fonts), topic selection, and tonality of the copy to do this.

The aim is to not only make a good impression, but to make the right impression with a personal brand. Ideally, a person’s online presentation should confirm the way they are viewed in the real world and vice versa. In other words, the communication should be consistent. It shouldn’t seem artificial or exaggerated.

Stephan Raif is a Personal Branding Specialist who helps define personalities. Using original branding methodology, he supports self-employed individuals, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs with value-orientated direct marketing. You can find more information at www.personal-brands.com.


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