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Superhero Branding

How to Find Your Personal Brand Style in Just 3 Words

Research shows that people are hard-wired to judge you within 3-7 seconds of meeting you, coming to your website, or watching those first few frames of video. In just 3 seconds they decide whether they’re going to stick around and engage with you OR take off and never come back.

If you don’t capture someone’s attention in that tiny window of time, you’ve lost a critical opportunity. That person could have become your most lucrative customer, your best success story, a high-profile media appearance, a joint venture partnership that gives you exposure to 20,000 new prospects, or -– you name it. You never know who is going to find you and where they’ll first encounter you, so it’s mission critical to present a conscious and consistent face to the world, enabling you to transform first impressions into lasting relationships and that all starts with looking the part.

Ignore this or get it wrong and whatever credibility you might have had in the eyes of your audience will be instantly gone. Poof! Just like that. Before you’ve even had a chance to open your mouth!

This is actually a mistake that I made for the first 22 years of my life. One of my first jobs out of college was as a photographer’s assistant. I’d been hired by a portrait photographer who made over $1M/year. You heard me right: over $1 M/year. Most photographers are struggling to make ends meet and this man was making millions.

I had always been a bit of a shutterbug so I was stoked to get the job, until he handed me my contract and on the first page was a clause that kind of floored me. It said that I had to wear make-up to work each day.

I had never worn makeup before in my life and the thought of being forced to wear makeup kind of disgusted me.

I wanted to be recognized for my ideas, for my smarts, for what made me who I was, and not just be another pretty face in lipstick and heels.

I started to object: Isn’t this discrimination? What is this? Hooters? Why should I have to wear make-up?

Jeff looked at me calmly and said, “Marisa, we’re in the business of creating people’s images. If you don’t look like someone they want to be, they’re not going to trust us with their image.”

Wow… That hit me hard.

I had spent my entire life trying to prove myself, my worth and my value by working hard, but I was turning people off before I could turn them on by having this childish, knee jerk reaction against make-up and being seen at face value, as if looking good objectified who I was and discredited my ideas.

I thought physical appearance was for movie stars and athletes, people who made a living with their looks and their bodies. Not for people like me. But I was wrong. Seriously wrong.

So many of us kind of put on clothes without a thought and shlump around town or throw up any old ugly website and think it doesn’t matter because people are just going to recognize our brilliance through it all. They’re going to see them as that diamond in the rough.

But the tragedy is that people make snap judgments within seconds of meeting you. And you make snap judgments about them. They’re oftentimes wrong, but quick decisions based on limited information is the only way we have time to get anything done in this world.

The reality is — if you don’t look the part — if how you present yourself to the world doesn’t support your message and lend credibility to what you do, you’re dead in the water. No one’s going to trust you with their hard-earned money if you’re not sending signals that model your work and the transformation you promise.

So why do we all go around expecting other people will treat us differently, expecting other people will automatically get how important our message is and just see us for who we are, regardless of whether we’ve taken the time to really put ourselves out there in a way that commands their attention.

Jeff Lubin the portrait photographer, was making millions of dollars for a reason. And I was a broke college grad — for a reason.

Right then and there, I realized it was time to step up and put on my “big girl pants.”

So Jeff took me to the mall and sat me down at the Clarins counter. And this woman with bright red hair and purple eye shadow proceeded to slather me with make-up. At first it was horribly uncomfortable. I felt like a fraud, a fake, a phony. Completely inauthentic and not me at all. But once I got over that, I noticed that people started looking at me differently, treating me differently. I started getting opportunities that I never had before.

So the lesson here isn’t about makeup. The lesson is this: When you fail to model the theme and caliber of your work in the way you show up in the world — whether that’s in person, on your website or on social media — then no one believes the transformation or outcome that you promise.

So now I’m going to tackle one piece of how you present yourself — which is how you dress. It may sound like a simple thing, but a lot of people struggle with this, get it wrong or just don’t even try to figure it out.

Everyone, even those diamond-in-the-rough types, have their own personal style — even if they don’t know it. And what I’m going to do now is show you how to define your personal style in a way that makes you instantly recognizable, memorable and seen as a leader, someone to listen to, someone with natural authority.

And by doing this, you’re going to know exactly what to wear and what not to wear regardless of the occasion…

This one’s courtesy of my friend Mary Kincaid, a thought leader on style and image and founder of the lifestyle blog Zuburbia.

Mary recommends developing a 3-word personal style statement to guide you in selecting clothes and accessories and making choices about your appearance. You’re going to want to choose 3 words that support your brand and feel like you.

Her words are classic, polished, edge, which means her hairstyle and everything she wears has to have all 3 qualities.

My style is modern, creative and natural. Which means that everything I wear has all 3 of these qualities. And you’ll notice that my website has these qualities too.

So whenever I buy something that ends up sitting in the closet, it invariably doesn’t fit my 3-word style statement. A lot of time it captures two of the words — such as natural and creative — but it’s hippie instead of modern. Or it’s modern and creative, but feels a little too shiny or blingy for me. Something’s off. But when I find something that fits all 3 words — that’s modern, creative and natural, it feels just right. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

I feel congruent. I feel like my brand. I feel like me. And this gives me confidence.

One other ninja trick that I’ve realized is that I actually have two variations on my 3-word style statement. A shlump version for when I want to be causal and a stage version for when I want to really do it up.

Modern, creative and natural is my shlump style… and when I step on stage, “natural” turns into “bold.” So my 3-word style statement for stage is modern, creative and bold.

Now, guys, don’t think this exercise is just for women.

I’ve run my friend Ryan Geist through the style statement exercise and he came up with preppy, dandy and extravagant. Yes, he’s quite a character! 🙂

It sounds simple, but dialing into these words has really given him a way to become much more aware of his style so he filters all his choices through “is this preppy, dandy and extravagant”?

It really does make shopping and dressing a whole lot easier, guiding your everyday choices so you can show up in a way that supports your message and reaffirms your status as a leader, a messenger, and perhaps even an icon.

Ideally you want at least one word that creates distinction. You don’t want all 3 words to have the same tone and texture or it doesn’t make for a distinct style.

Once you get the hang of your 3-word style statement, you’ll know what to wear for your photo shoot or on your next video.

One caveat here, make sure your style statement complements your business and your core personal attributes.

For example, if you’re a financial consultant for Fortune 100 companies, a style statement that’s outrageous, flirty, grunge may undermine your credibility or at least raise a few eyebrows. And if you’re a spiritual leader you probably wouldn’t want a style statement that’s corporate, sexy and luxurious, suggesting you’re more about image than depth. But, then again, anything goes when you wear it with confidence and I know plenty of corporate speakers or consultants that are fully expressed.

So now let’s talk about you. Here’s a list of fashion and style words. Choose 3 that really express you!


How did you go? If you think you’ve hit on your 3 words, paste them in the comments below so we can imagine you!

If you’re anything like me, at this point, you may want to throw out half your wardrobe and go shopping! It’s amazing how long I hung onto clothing from college or even high school that no longer supported the image I wanted to send into the world. And how confident I began to feel when I put on quality clothes that really matched the person I had evolved into.

Now, for those of you who hate shopping, don’t worry. Let me tell you a secret that not a lot of people know about. Most mid-tier department stores such as Nordstrom’s and Bloomingdale’s offer free shopping services where you can call one of their in-house stylists, tell them your 3-word style statement and what you’re looking for, then show up and have a rack full of clothes ready for you to try on. No more wandering the aisles aimlessly… this makes it super easy!

Now, before we go, there’s one last point I want to make.

Remember, it’s not just about having the right clothes and the right appearance, it’s about projecting your energy into the world with confidence.

My friend Natalie Ledwell, the face and voice of multi-million dollar personal development company Mind Movies, hires a personal stylist to do all her shopping. She always looks good but she also knows how to carry herself and “strut her stuff” as they say…. The other day she posted on Facebook: “I just had a guy on the street thank me for brightening his day because he loves the way I walk. I’m not sure what to do about that!” This one post got 48 comments and 146 likes because Natalie’s the kind of woman who models her work and can brighten anyone’s day with her presence, her style, and her walk.

You too have the power to light up any room and turn heads the moment you walk in. It’s not about being beautiful, it’s about being confident. And confidence comes from clarity. When you find your authentic personal style and dial into the top 3-5 elements of your personal brand, it’s a lot easier to find your inner confidence.

This post is excerpted from my Personal Brand Power training program.

Love it? Hate it? Let me know...

  1. Bernadette

    Thanks for providing such a list. It is an interesting exercise, although i found that my way of clothing my body change somewhat with my mood of the day. Nevertheless I could qualify me as a Modern (with flair) creative (at time daring) and unique (while keeping a natural flair)

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      I love the words (and variations) you chose here Bernadette! And your style can totally change based on your mood and it will evolve over time. Great insights, thank you for sharing!

      Reply ·
  2. Mary-Ellen

    Glad I came back to this exercise. It’s a different way of looking at oneself. For me, the first word was easy for some reason. The second was harder and the third finally popped out. Elegant, Professional, Quality. And, as others are noting, we have on and off personas. My off persona changes Professional to Comfortable, so Elegant, Comfortable, Quality. I don’t think this is just about clothing, either. It includes accessories hair, makeup and aura. You definitely have a bright aura, Marisa. Thank you for the fun.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      So glad you enjoyed this exercise Mary-Ellen! 🙂

      Reply ·
  3. Carin

    Thought I knew myself pretty well, but had a harder time to decide than I thought. It was difficult to decide because of the fact that some words describe my personality but that is not always the way I dress. I can be bold and adventurous in feminine clothing. Decided on one-of-a-kind, feminine, flair
    Nice exercise!

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      It’s harder than it seems to pick only 3 words… right? So glad you got that clarity Carin!

      Reply ·
  4. Deb

    Stylish, glamorous and timeless. I want/have stuff that I can pull out of my wardrobe in 2o years and still look great.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      That’s awesome Deb! Thanks for sharing 🙂

      Reply ·
  5. Oshan Majik Dharma

    Expensive, Original, Professional. (casual: Expensive, Original, Adventure) *_*

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Love it Oshan! 🙂

      Reply ·
  6. Missi

    Interesting article with lots of food for thought. I can up with 6 possibilities that I narrowed down to the three that I think would represent my branding style……”Creative, Original and Natural-” my every day me and “Innovative, Bold and Unique” my professional performance me.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Love it Missi. I’m just wondering what’s the difference between creative and original?

      Also, how would you differentiate innovative and unique?

      I recommend making sure each word clearly conveys a different characteristic.

      Reply ·
      1. Missi

        When I think of creative it means adding some flare to the original which is one of a kind. For innovative it is about presenting something new and different with a complimentary style that reflects its unique.

        Reply ·
  7. Nadine

    I came up with Classic, elegant and fitted. Are those too much the same?

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Classic and elegant may be a bit too close. It depends on whether you want to have a really distinct style. If so, you may want a word that adds more differentiation.

      Reply ·
  8. Andrea


    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Fabulous! 🙂

      Reply ·
  9. Christine Materita Moewai Moana

    Hi Marisa, I dont like shopping for clothes much due to the fact that alot of things look awesome in the shop and the temptation to buy just about everything you see doesn’t do me any favours. I actually enjoyed this exercise my three words i chose creative practical and naturàl

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      I hear you Christine. One thing I’ve found with this style statement is it prevents you from buying stuff that looks good in the store that isn’t really a fit for you. So this helps solve that issue.

      Reply ·
  10. Ryan T.

    This was really interesting. I couldn’t settle on just 3 words. I suppose I really have some thinking to do!

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      I hear you Ryan! It is challenging… you’ll get there. Try something out for a bit. If it doesn’t feel right, try something else.

      Reply ·
  11. Joanna Campbell Slan

    Polished, Classy, and Unexpected. Thanks for a thoughtful exercise that I can apply to clothes and life.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      I like adding “unexpected” to polished and classy. One really different word always works beautifully in this exercise.

      Reply ·
  12. Big D

    I thought this was a joke or something to redirect people to some other idea… You were serious. You had a valuable experience at the right time in your life. How we affect others may change the direction of their lives. I am not looking to have three words define me, but for those who may want to get more in this post modern impression driven world, you hit a home run for at least most of them! Good article. Thank you.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      You’re welcome Big D. I don’t think these words necessarily have to define you — that’s a different exercise — it’s more about being intentional about how you want to dress, since that’s often how people meet (and judge) you for the first time.

      Reply ·
  13. Hannah Romanowsky

    That was a helpful article! Mine were: alluring, artistic, and elegant.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Oo la la Hannah! 😉

      Reply ·
  14. Deborah

    Elegant, Professional, Sexy. I’m with you on the challenges of dressing a petite and curvy physique, Marisa, and I strive to choose outfits that I can really “walk” into any room with confidence, gravitas and a wicked smile!

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Totes Deborah – it’s also about dressing for your body type for sure! And feeling great about yourself exactly as you are.

      Reply ·
  15. Natasha Lockey

    Hmmm comfortable, original and practical I think are my words:)

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      I like it Natasha! Only question is how is comfortable different from practical? Are those 2 words that are saying something similar?

      Reply ·
  16. Sue

    Thanks, Marisa. My three words would be Professional, Classic and Comfortable

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Great choices Sue. I can picture you!

      Reply ·
  17. David J Folley

    One-of-a-kind, Bohemian, Understated

    I pay special attention to my appearance like most men. As a painter and vision philosopher I’m very conscious of first impressions. I like to dress in a style ‘for the occasion’; a style which enables me to blend in with whoever I’m going to meet. I have an extensive wardrobe, it consists of one pair of wellington boots, one bright pink shirt with nice frills, two pairs of maroon cord trousers and a purple trilby hat.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Love this David! I can really picture you… 🙂

      Reply ·
  18. Michelle

    Natural, designer, flair. Thank you! Just what I needed to figure out to pare down my closet!

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Excellent words!

      Reply ·
  19. Ashley Rose

    Love this, Thank you~
    Comfortable, Radiant, Spiritual

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Great words Ashley! 🙂

      Reply ·
  20. Juliane

    Comfortable, Bold, and Simple. Or Sporty. Or Smart. Or something softer, more feminin. Have a hard time making up my mind. I hate shopping, though, because it is so hard to find clothes that fit me … I am tall with long arms and legs and after four kids gained a little too much weight, so there simply is (almost) no standart that fits me … no such shopping services in Germany, either. Many times, I just have to take what fits me and be happy I found something at all. After a long search, that is.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      I hear you Juliane. I also have a non-standard body type — I’m extremely short and super curvy for my size — so a lot of clothes don’t fit me right. If you choose your 3 words it may help you… there are also some global internet-based shopping services. So you never know? 🙂

      Reply ·
  21. Rosiland Wells

    Bold, creative, stylish

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Nice Rosiland! I can see bold and creative. Stylish is more open to interpretation. What’s stylish to another person may not be stylish to another and could be hard for someone else to see what you see when you say that word. Try choosing a 3rd word that’s more objective. That could help!

      Reply ·
  22. Stacy

    Great article! I love that you include more than just your personal appearance. So many people don’t realize that they need to pay attention to their virtual presence even if they don’t have an online business. My three words are Earthy, Fun, Classic (I had a hard time narrowing it down to three, probably because I am in a process of creating a new version of me)

    Thanks for this Marisa!

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Love the range in your words Stacy. And yes to “showing up fully” wherever people check you out…

      Reply ·
  23. Cheryl

    Marisa, you have prompted an overhaul of the stuffed closet that no longer serves me. Clearing the clutter with a purpose…revealing the “now” me. I have learned so much from you, in such a short time and it just keeps getting better. You are the complete package and you go above and beyond to share it all with us…AMAZING!!!

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Aww, thank you Cheryl. I’m so glad that’s your experience of me and us. It’s fun to give when what I’m giving is so well-received. Thank you for taking action and doing the work. 🙂

      Reply ·
  24. Barbara

    Comfortable, casual and natural for me.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      I like it and I challenge you to do something that’s a bit different and provides a new dimension for the third word. Comfortable, causal and natural all have a similar tone to them… and together may not give you a truly distinctive look — if that’s what you’re looking for.

      Reply ·
  25. Tina Mcquaid

    Love this article – your 3 words sound just like me. If possible, can you post some of your wardrobe choices? Thanks

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      TIna – there are 2 photos of me in this blog post already. One on stage and one more causal. 🙂

      Reply ·
  26. Fiona

    Thanks. Succinctly put and easy to follow advice. I will have another look in my wardrobe and in the mirror. it is easier to follow this advise when we are “on” in meetings or on stage, and we forget to continue it in quieter moments around the office etc.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      I think having the 2 style statements helps with this… I also believe in investing as much in my causal clothes — so I feel good on a daily basis — as I do in my fancy clothes. Afterall, I wear my causal clothes 90% of the time, so it makes sense that that’s where I should spend the majority of my clothes budget, right? 🙂

      Reply ·
  27. Frank

    Thanks Marisa, this is a great post and just what I needed to get rid of some old stuff I collected over the years. My three words from must be “Sporty, Daring, and Natural”.

    Reply ·
    1. Marisa Murgatroyd

      Love this Frank! I can just imagine… 🙂

      Reply ·
    2. Mary-Ellen

      So nice to see a guy in on this exercise, Frank! And your descriptive words really show.

      Reply ·
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About the Author Marisa Murgatroyd

Marisa is the founder of Live Your Message, where she turns entrepreneurs into Online Superheroes, and the creator of Start With You where she helps people just like you to discover the business they're meant to build, not just the business they can build. At 4’11 and a quarter, she’s called the shortest woman in marketing — and that doesn’t stop her from having huge ideas. She’s the “go to” brand builder for industry luminaries and heavyweights such as Justin Livingston, Callan Rush, Danny Iny, Alexis Neely and Susan Peirce Thompson. Marisa helps entrepreneurs create a business that is authentic and aligned with who they are, to empower them to turn up the dial on their “inner superhero”, so they can be the superhero to their tribe, as well as in their own lives.

What's the Business You're Truly Meant to Build?

You have a purpose here on Earth that you’re supposed to fulfill. And certain people here to serve. Watch this Masterclass to discover the business you're meant to build & how to share it with the world.