02 Aug

Brand Essentials: Every Leader’s Image-Critical Messaging Tools

Whenever I’m working in a corporate environment and attending a networking event or meeting with my potential “leadership tribe,” it amazes me that the business tools of executive leaders look worn, outdated or overly casual. These are strategic business meetings where everyone present hopes to make vital connections, build rapport, and be perceived as a consummate professional. That means that the brand and image essentials need to communicate strong, silent, convincing messages.

But more often than not I see professionals whose accessories and other business tools are incongruent with the presence they are trying to project. A corporate leader will pull out a shabby business card case or a bulging and overstuffed wallet that looks like a leather-bound Big Mac. Over the shoulder will be a faded nylon laptop bag that shows miles of wear and tear and probably didn’t look that impressive even when it was new.

These “little essentials” are powerful and persuasive tools that constantly communicate your personal brand to everyone you meet – for better or for worse. So it’s critical that you keep them sharp-looking and innovative – yet still genuinely reflective of your authentic personal style. As they say “the devil is in the details,” so be sure your essentials don’t convey a devilish message but are instead polished and professional. They should reflect high quality craftsmanship that speaks loudly to others and announces that you are the expert and role model for your industry.
Here I reveal six brand essential tools that every leader needs to keep in their branding toolbox to give them that successful, executive presence:

  1. Tote Bags & Handbags: A luxurious tote bag or handbag is a great way to add a little intrigue and texture to your on-the-go look. Opt for a modern tote bag made from exotic skin, suede, small animal print, or buttery leather. A handbag takes a lot of wear and tear carrying around all our personal essentials. Many women tend to carry the same bag everyday but this will cause the handbag to wear out faster, so switch them around for variety and practical longevity. Be sure to change your handbags with the seasons, too, to look innovative. You can really never go wrong with a high-quality leather handbag that has fashion-forward details for a stylish, modern appearance.
  2. Gadget Accessories: If you are like me and have an iPad then you definitely want to protect it with a beautiful leather case. Now that this has become the new must-have gadget for taking notes, reading email while on the move, or enjoying a digitally downloaded novel on the plane it’s critical that you protect it. The Apple store has some great cases, but you will also see luxury vendors like Coach, Louis Vuitton, and others offering signature covers. One of those can be a classic, timeless piece to protect your new investment. Cell phone cases also come in a variety of leathers, prints, and in various designer logos. But be sure that the cover expresses your signature branded style and is more businesslike and less funky, casual, and quirky.
  3. Laptop Computer & Case: When you take your computer out to meet with a client or prospect, your technological wizardry sends messages. No one wants to hire someone who is working with outdated technology. Today it’s all about being on the cutting-edge. If your laptop is four years old, chances are it’s time to retire it for a faster, more updated version. If you travel a lot with your laptop in a case or messenger bag, be sure to replace that travel case as soon as it begins to appear tired and worn.
  4. Writing Instruments: Have you ever been in an attorney’s office where you are meeting to sign that important contract when they pulled out a cheap Bic pen they bought on sale in the 50-pack at Costco? When professionals are in an important meeting where they are signing contracts or taking notes it is important that their writing tools exude professionalism and polish. If you want to attract a higher clientele, look for writing instruments by Montblanc, Cross, Cartier, or Waterman that convey elegant, sophisticated style.

    My tip: I always carry a great signature pen in my handbag and in my leather portfolio to ensure that a beautiful pen is going to be close at hand.

  5. Business Cards & Case: Most people carry business cards that are too busy or contain outdated information. Your business card does tell others about your credentials, but until you can afford to have a graphic designer create the perfect business card for your brand and business, stick to the basics. You need your name, current contact information, and your title or other description of what you do on your card. Don’t clutter it up with photos, pictures, and clipart that can tarnish or pigeonhole your brand. As for the case, a small leather business card holder is perfect for every professional.
  6. Leather Portfolios: Today leather portfolios are great when you need to take a few notes while meeting with a prospect. They come in small, medium, and large so you can carry them inside your handbag, suit pocket, or briefcase. You want to be sure you have a top-grain leather style that is polished and elegant. It’s always better to have something to take a few notes with versus running the risk of forgetting a few details that the client mentioned. Look for great craftsmanship in vendors including Levenger, Coach, Brookstone, and others.

All of these tools can be in black or brown but if you want to have a little fashion, feel free to utilize colored leathers in tones that reflect your company website or resonate with your inner signature style. I always advise my clients to buy the best quality they can afford so the items will endure the wear and tear of everyday use. When you carry business tools that look cutting-edge, it gives ones the perception that you are the leading-edge authority in your industry. Select your tools in classic-modern styles than are timeless and adaptable to wear with any business look. They can definitely be expressive in communicating your strong brand to keep you looking contemporary, stylish, and memorably elegant.


As a pioneering and visionary innovator, Sarah is a certified professional image consultant and brand strategist, speaker, trainer and author. Her company, Illustra Consulting, provides leading-edge image and brand management strategies for top leaders and high achievers who wish to take their career to the next level. She also delivers innovative and inspiring corporate workshops to assist large organizations in strengthening their corporate brand.

Illustra Consulting
Copyright © 2010, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS

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Sarah Hathorn
Sarah Hathorn, CEO of Hathorn Consulting Group, is the go-to-expert in working with leaders and companies to create successful corporate DNA. As an executive coach, consultant and speaker she collaborates globally with clients and brands such as Kimberly-Clark, Sherwin-Williams, Home Depot and other leading organizations.
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