If you think about it, marketing is really nothing more than an attempt to make a brand memorable. We're constantly besieged by a world of choices, and which option we select often boils down to the brand we remember—the name we're familiar with. Some brands, like some people, are stickier than others—they persist in our consciousness. They're embedded in our brains. Ever wonder why?
Why are some people more memorable than others? What cements a person in our memory? What makes a person memorable and another completely forgettable? It turns out that memorable people share several qualities, which means it's possible for us to make ourselves more memorable.
And why should we care about whether people remember us? Because being memorable matters. Memorable people are held in higher esteem. They're the thought leaders and captains of industry we all aspire to become. Want to learn how to be memorable? Here's how they do it.
1. Be different, not better.
It is hard to be better. Even when you are, no one really cares. If you are a little faster (you deliver proposals 30 minutes earlier), a little more polished (you wear the modern skinny tie, when your competition still wears last year's wide tie), a little more professional (you send a thank you note after visiting a prospect’s office), you're clearly better, but it will likely go unnoticed.
It's the extremes that get noticed. If you are going to compete on being better, you need to be way better or way faster or way more professional. That's not hard, that is way hard. To be way better takes tremendous effort and expenditures that you may not be ready to take on.
But there is another way. Instead of being way better, try being different. It is usually significantly easier to do. If your industry is stuffy, be the casual guy. If your industry is casual, be the unwavering professional in a stylish suit. The goal is to stand out from the status quo. Look at what everyone else is doing, and don't do that! If you’re wondering how to be memorable, different beats better by a mile.
2. Be "the guy."
Most people say, “I do legal work," or “I help people with the accounting," or “I set up computer systems." Aspire to be "the guy" or “the gal" for a niche category in your industry. So instead of doing computers, be “the computer guy." Why does this matter? It's because language has great power. What we repeat, we believe. What you call yourself defines how people will remember you. Think about your areas of expertise and label yourself accordingly. Instead of handling deliveries, position yourself at “the logistics wizard." Rather than introducing yourself as working in marketing, tell people you're “the branding guru." See the difference? You don't want people to sort you into the same mental box as everyone else. Being memorable is defining yourself on your own terms, rather than letting other people define you according to theirs.
3. Listen intently.
People are intelligent. They can easily spot when you are pretending to be interested in them. Be genuine when you speak and be intent when you listen. Show that you are truly passionate about what you have to say and that you really are interested in what they are saying. People appreciate sincere conversation. When they know they are truly being listened to, they will be more inclined to listen to you in return. And we're all used to the lousy excuses people use for forgetting names and details. When you listen intently, you're setting yourself up to be the person who remembers everyone. Pay attention to names and repeat them. Focus on important details so you can use them later. We all crave attention, and we all love to feel like we matter. By demonstrating a real interest in other people, you make yourself stand out from the crowd.
4. Be an individual.
Often times, we try to turn off the traits that make us unique as people. Getting pushed around in grade school or picked on in high school convinced us that it is a mistake to stand out from the norm and we should strive to diminish our uniqueness. If you want to be memorable, re-discover and harness the traits that make you, well, you. If you are creative, find ways to use your creativity. If you are loud, get people pumped up! If you are funny, use your humor to break the ice in or out of the workplace.
Speaking of unique, my last name is a great example. You better believe I've spent a lifetime meeting people who don't even want to attempt to pronounce it. What do I do? I put it right out there. My last name and its phonetic pronunciation are part of my branding. It's on the end of every email I send, and the repetition of it helps make me memorable. Think about the things that make you different from everyone else in your industry and find a way to build those up—to make them part of your brand.
5. Be genuine.
No one likes fake people. No one enjoys the company of someone whose life is portrayed as perfect. While we may think we admire people who seem flawless, in truth, we're often waiting and watching for them to stumble, to fail. We like people we can relate to. We remember people we can identify with.
That means if you want to be memorable, you have to show who you really are. Let people see your flaws, as well as your triumphs. Be open about how much effort and hard work you put in to get you where you are today. Share stories of your failures and the mistakes you've made. Offer advice and be willing to take advice. Don't be a know-it-all.
When you let your genuine character show, warts and all, you're inviting people to really get to know you. Unless you want to be just as forgettable as the next guy, you've got to be willing to demonstrate a little authenticity. Real life isn't airbrushed, and we don't have to pretend it is. Be the person other people will feel comfortable around, and you're on your road to making a memorable first impression.
6. Tell stories.
We're visual creatures by nature, though much of our workdays don't engage our creative visual natures. Finding ways to connect with people in a way that appeals to their imagination creates bonds that are memorable. Particularly in industries that we don't think of as imaginative—like accounting or house cleaning—setting yourself apart can be as simple as telling great stories. And while some of us are born storytellers with a flair for the dramatic and a natural way with words, every single one of us can train ourselves to be better. If you're not confident in your ability to spin a compelling yarn, try preparing an anecdote before a key meeting or sales pitch. Sit down and brainstorm ways in which you can make your story more vivid. What details can you add that will help listeners create a mental picture? When you engage people creatively, you're earning a spot in their memories.
7. Do what you love.
It feels like everyone is increasingly busy, frazzled, stressed and worried. We rush around trying to do more with less, and in the process we can lose sight of some of life's simpler pleasures. One of those pleasures is meeting someone who genuinely loves what they do. Real, honest enthusiasm for our work has become so rare that it's remarkable and memorable. When you're networking or selling, remind yourself of why you love what you do, and that positivity and passion will shine through in a way people can't forget. In a world of people simply marking time at their dreary jobs, those of us who love what we do are delightful bright spots.
When it comes down to it, early impressions matter … a lot. We make decisions (consciously and unconsciously) about people we encounter pretty quickly. Some people we meet and forget. Others stick with us. They're the ones who spring to mind when we need something in their industry. They're the people we think to call when we have a question in their field of expertise.
We want to be remembered, and we want to be remembered positively. While being memorable may rely on a complex combination of factors, the fact is that a few simple strategies can actually change the way you're perceived. Some of us do these things naturally, but we can all improve on our ability to make a powerful impression.
So much of business relies on our attempts to distinguish ourselves from the crowd. We can refine our company's offerings. We can hire branding experts. There are lots of strategies that can be effective. But simply investing a little energy in making sure we present ourselves in a memorable way can have powerful effects as well. Try on some of these strategies and see what a difference they can make!
A version of this article was originally published on February 10, 2012.