Developing Our Personal Brands

by Anuli Akanegbu

You were born a brand. This may sound odd to read and admittedly it was odd to type, but it is true. You were born a brand.

You became a brand the moment you were born and your parents selected one name from countless others to call you. This was just the first of many decisions that has resulted in the evolution of Brand You.



If the panelists and audience members at our Jan. 21 “Personal Branding” event were to put it to a vote the results would likely reveal that a person’s name is integral to their ever-evolving personal brand.

Panelist Elisha-Rio Apilado is an entrepreneurial employee. In addition to being the Creative Owner of Appleavocado, her freelance brand consultation and design business, she is also a Digital Art Director at SOCIALDEVIANT, the Chicago-based social media agency that was kind enough to host the evening’s conversation.

During the panel, Elisha-Rio revealed that the name for her freelance business, Appleavocado, was born out of the mispronunciation of her last name. When she was a kid, a cousin’s teacher suggested they tell people to pronounce their last name by merging the words “apple” and “avocado” together. Appleavocado has since become a family battle cry and brand. So much so, several family members have the logo tattooed on their bodies.

Even her first name, Elisha-Rio (“don’t forget the hyphen”) was selected with a clear sense of meaning. It’s a combination of her parents’ name.

The popular quote by comedian W.C. Fields, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to,” rings especially true to audience member and graphic designer Monica Komperda. Although her given name is Monica, her personal brand was kick-started from a nickname that she was given years ago, “Monster.” Over time she began to answer to “Mo” as a “grown-up” alternative to “Monster.” Now her personal brand operates by the slogan, “Monica is long for Mo.”

Although Marc Landsberg, panelist and founder of SOCIALDEVIANT, has to frequently correct people on the spelling of his name (“Marc with a ‘c’, not a ‘k’”) his name did not play as big a role in the development of his personal brand.

As he recalled during the evening, it was a job interview that provided him with his personal branding “aha moment.” Marc, fresh out of college, where he was an all-star student athlete, applied for a job with a large consumer packaged goods company. Despite looking great on paper, his interviewer lamented that he was the worst interview she had ever participated in during her many years at the company. Even though she did not offer Marc the position the interviewer did leave Marc with a piece of life-changing commentary: he was born to lead.

She was right. Marc’s resume boasts an impressive 20+ years serving in leadership positions at digital marketing agencies and start-ups.



For those who have yet to experience their “aha moment,” Marc offered the following words of advice: “Think about what your superpower is. What are you better at than anyone else in the world? How do you want people to perceive you?”

If you’re unsure of how to discover your superpower Marc suggests asking friends, family members and colleagues for their honest opinions. “Ask them ‘what do you think I’m good at,” he adds.

Developing a personal brand took a lot of self-reflection for lifestyle writer and blogger Nikki Carpenter. Nikki shared that the saying, “If you look at your history, you’ll see pieces of your destiny” motivates her.

She knew at a young age that she wanted to produce content that would allow her to share her voice with the world. After graduating from North Park University with a degree Communications Arts, Nikki went on to work in communications and programming for several non-profits.

After years of working to build brands for others she decided to take time to officially build her own. She launched her blog Nikki and The City in 2009.

“Traditional gatekeepers are gone,” Nikki said. “Build your brand and make yourself known.”

Though many audience members were still working on the “what” in relation to their personal brands, several others wanted advice from our panelists on the “how.”

The panelists made sure to caution that personal branding is not about posing or pretending to be someone you’re not. Personal branding is about consistently being your most authentic self.

Angela Vizthum, panelist and Assistant Vice President of staffing firm the Creative Group, advised audience members to, “Take elements of your personal brand and transfer the tenets to your career.”

Angela, who spends her days helping creative professionals find jobs, emphasized the importance of people skills when job-hunting.

“Soft skills make you a better hire. Companies can train you on technical skills,” she said.



The main takeaway from the evening was that personal branding is an on-going process. It is about continuing to find out what is true about you and expressing that truth. Thinking about your personal brand should not just happen when you’re planning for the New Year or looking for a new job.

“Assess your brand every six months,” offers Elisha-Rio.

Towards the end of the event an idea to start an unofficial “Accountability Club” blossomed. SheSays Chicago is happy to serve as a resource and sounding board as people grow motivated to develop their personal brands this year.

A huge thanks to our amazing panelists and welcoming host, Socialdeviant.

Please also take a few moments to read a few other recaps by Marc LandsbergNikki CarpenterAmanda Elliot and our Storify recap of top event tweets.

If you’re interested in tapping into the SheSays Chicago community for support as you build your personal brand feel free to email us at to become a member of our unofficial “Accountability Club” which will be hosted on our private Facebook group.

The Chicago chapter is led by Jen Lemerand (@UpsideDwnGlsses), along with team leads Anuli Akanegbu (@akaanuli_tweets), Ashley Charleson, Suzanne Cohen (@suzannecohen01), Julie Goldsberry (@julieofthewolfs) and Beckie O’Connor (@roc_onn). Tweet or follow us at @SheSaysChicago!

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