Fifty years ago, it was only Hollywood stars and pop-star footballers that talked about personal branding. But new technologies and social media have changed all of that, and that in turn has given birth to new careers – outside of corporate structures and traditional media, driven by individuals with charisma and skills that clients want.
Kenyan Connie Aluoch is the epitome of that new career path, and her self-described job title makes that perfectly clear: “I am a fashion stylist, fashion editor, fashion and lifestyle influencer, image consultant, corporate trainer and fashion lecturer.”
Originally from Nairobi, she has worked at three of the ‘big four’ international fashion weeks, whilst her styling and editorial work has appeared in some of Africa’s biggest-selling fashion magazines. She is also committed to mentoring aspiring stylists and is a lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s School of the Arts and Design.
So what does a life like that entail – and how do you ensure your brand remains fresh?
A new career path
Connie is certainly busy. “One day I’m styling a shoot as a stylist, I have a fashion column in the Sunday Nation (a Kenyan newspaper), or I’ll be signing up personalities for an ad campaign, or I’ll be putting together an online lecture, or the next day I’ll be drawing up a curriculum for the United States International University,” she tells Esther Thorpe during one of the virtual FIPP World Media Congress sessions.
“Another day I’ll have a corporate lecture, and on other days I’ll just be hanging round as as an influencer.”
Managing time, then, is a key part of ensuring that she’s able to spread herself across so many roles. Having a great team helps.
“I have a really strong team,” she says. She remembers with a laugh some advice from business school, that you know you have a good business when you can go away for a few weeks and the systems all remain in place.
But with her firm, “you are the company.” Can you take a break? “I’ll just post pictures of me living my best life,” she says. In the world of influencers, even a holiday is an opportunity.
Marketing makes the difference
Connie’s Instagram account is as sharp as it gets – and with 24,000 followers, it needs to be. And despite her reliance on the team in many areas, on this vital outward-facing platform it’s all her, because she views authenticity as crucial.
“I handle my Instagram and my Twitter myself, because your audience can tell when it’s not your voice. You see these automated responses, but audiences like to interact,” she says.
In addition, in the new online currency of followers, it’s also important to get immediate feedback. “You can see when you’re gaining followers, losing followers, and you can see the flow.” It may seem odd for old-school media types to conceive of followers as vitally important – but in the online world, those eyes are just modern versions of readers.
For Connie, social media has given her the opportunity to skip some of the usual channels that have provided the traditional career path in the fashion industry for decades.
“When I started as a stylist, it was just traditional magazines. But now you can connect with people around the world,” she says. But seeing it as part of the business proposition means you have to be disciplined. Connie spends half an hour a day curating her social media presence.
“It’s made a difference in connecting, in marketing, especially in the creative industries. It’s paramount to me.”
Branding the right way
Connie has made a career from her personal brand, so it’s no surprise that she’s now passing on her experience to corporate clients as well as students via her personal branding programme.
“You need to know how to brand yourself and sell yourself. I tell them, everybody is a walking billboard,” and for Connie, it’s vital that individuals recognise the need for consistency.
“You can’t turn your brand off at 5pm and turn it back on at 7am. Your brand is on 24 hours and you are your own brand ambassador. You have to be careful about what you’re putting out there, because first impressions are lasting impressions,” she says.
It’s obvious that Connie takes social seriously – and there are clearly lessons for corporates. Anybody who spends a little time on Twitter or Instagram has a favourite story of a media firm getting something horribly wrong, either in tone or timing, and those incidents can hang over a brand for some time.
So has Connie ever been tempted to go ‘in house’ and work with just one corporate client? No, is the short answer. The diversity of activities is clearly something she enjoys – she even has a rate card listing all of her services, so clients can pick and choose what they want.
No panic pandemic
2020 has been a weird year, as everybody knows. But influencing didn’t stop, and indeed with Connie’s drive it’s no surprise she turned it into an opportunity. As brands realise that they can work remotely – and indeed, work with people around the world from the comfort of their front room – avenues are opening up for talented individuals in parts of the world that are geographically more distant from the ‘traditional’ fashion centres of New York, London, Paris and Milan.
Combine that with overdue moves to expand the diversity of the industry, and the pandemic could presage a permanent shift.
And Connie is doing her bit – her column in the Sunday Nation newspaper is about championing Kenyan designers and fashion stylists, and with the expanded reach of social media, Connie hopes those designers will soon be on the world stage.
Connie doesn’t rest. “I want to begin a fashion and accessories line,” she says, with a website that’ll allow fans to buy her own products. That will also involve revamping her website.
If there’s one thing that traditional media can learn from Connie it’s exactly that – being new, being fresh, and never looking back is surely the way forward for even the most established brands.