Whether you’re just stepping into the job market or have 15 years under your belt, you’ve probably noticed the stifling environment of competition.

It starts with our college applications and follows us to the boardroom. There are jobs we get, jobs we want, and promotions we’re ready to tackle.

How do you avoid getting lost in a sea of competitors?

According to BrandTwist CEO Julie Cottineau, former vice president of brand at the Virgin Group and creator of Brand School Online, it’s all about finding your “twist” — the special sauce that allows you find your personal story and unlock new perspectives and ideas that will move you forward in the marketplace.

There’s been a lot of talk about brand over the years. Cottineau was one of those voices.

But one afternoon, while walking through the Newark airport, she saw the McDonald’s golden arches reflected on the wings of an aircraft and she realized something — for too long, companies have observed their competitors to find out how to tweak their marketing and branding, which has only resulted in a group of brands that all look alike. “Me-too marketing” at its best.

If you want to truly embrace your personal story — the one that will get you ahead — you have to step outside of the obvious and learn to open the door to new perspectives.

Cottineau, author of Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands, tells us how.

1. Examine the gaps

Before she founded her company, Cottineau first examined the gaps in the branding marketplace to ensure that she could offer something new and different. If you want to get ahead — either at your current job, in a bigger company, or for your own start-up — you need to find the gaps.

Where are they? Why do they exist? And how can you help fill them? Don’t just think about how you can do something better. Think about how you do something that isn’t being done now.

2. Get comfortable

Get comfortable with the idea that you need a brand, whether you’re a company or an individual. What is your personal story? What are your beliefs and ideals? How do they make you different— and how can you use them to get ahead?

Your brand doesn’t encapsulate you as a whole. It encapsulates the best of you — the highlights that set you apart from the pack.

3. Write your story

Write down your personal brand story. Think of it as a memoir, not an autobiography. Focus on what makes you different.

You might have 20 years of experience in software development — but so does someone else. What sets you apart? Step away from the obvious. Think bigger.

Cottineau once worked with a graphic designer who was also an amateur trapeze artist. On the surface, they don’t seem related. But by delving into her personal brand, the trapeze artist realized these two sides of herself were equally fundamental. She rebranded her graphic design services using her love of trapeze, including changing her logo and offering Big Top Services.

She also incorporated the traits necessary for trapeze — fearlessness, creativity, and adventure— to sell herself as a talented artist.

4. Find your twist

Sometimes your “twist” is something that is so fundamental to your personality you actually overlook it. This is why it’s a good idea to write your brand story and then have someone else review it. Often other people have the required distance to see important elements that you overlook.

5. Own your brand

Don’t be shy or feel like you’re bragging — there’s a difference between being proud of who you are and being a braggart. You need to be passionate about your brand twist — if not, how do you expect others to get excited about it?

Personal branding is the process by which individuals and entrepreneurs stand out from the crowd. It’s your personal twist that adds credibility to yourself and your business.

But it doesn’t just develop organically as part of your personality. You need to pay attention to your personal brand. It requires time, attention, and often adjustments and updating. When nurtured properly, it can be a key element in telling an engaging brand story, and a powerful personal driver.

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