I’ve been paying a lot of attention lately to license plates. And thinking about personal branding. Stay with me for a minute and I’ll explain.
What got me started was all the chatter in the blogosphere and Twittersphere about the possibilities and limitations of 140 characters. Add in the debate over whether your Twitter profile name should be branded or creatively eccentric. Mix in whacky Myspace profile display names which can look like someone fell asleep on a keyboard. I ended up back at license plates.
Specifically, personalized license plates. For many years we’ve had seven characters to use to semi-permanently tattoo our cars (and by being in the left-front seats…ourselves). By my recent observation, many owner-operators have been pretty creative. In most states, you also have to pay extra for the privilege.
So personal branding is on four wheels all around us. I decided to do a little data-gathering as I drove around town for a couple of weeks, pad and pen at the ready. I live in the southern end of the Las Vegas metro area and my sample set was unscientifically small, but it didn’t take long for a pattern to develop.
Most plates fall into one of five buckets: Attitude, Profession, Affinity, Affirmation…and Dogs. Yea, I know, people just love their dogs. And they love New York, or at least having once lived there.
Here are the actual personalized license plates I observed. Remember, in Nevada you have seven characters available:
Attitude: RISS K, NSTG8TR, UNLMTD, BRAVERY, JUICY, BALLHOG, EVIL QN, AGRV8D, CRE8TV, ARTSI, PHREEK
Profession: CAPT747, PHPGUY, MYTMIXR, VMAIL, AFTAHRS, SCADSGN, KNJRLTY, HYGIENE, HAIRS2U
Affinity: 1NY2LV, NY 2 LV, FLAG8TR, IAMQBAN, SRFNSND
Affirmation: LIV2ROK, LVE2LIV
Dogs: K9DROOL, MYAKITA
Makes 140 characters seem almost novel-length by comparison. No follow-up message or further explanation. Sometimes the vehicle the plate is attached to says a bit more about the occupant, but my observation suggests this is relatively infrequent.
So the challenge for the professional struggling to articulate his or her personal brand is this: What single statement can you make about yourself in seven letters? Or in a 30-second elevator encounter? Or in a cover letter? Can you reduce yourself to a soundbite and still make an impact true enough to last?
The example I love to cite for people is this: John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
If the essence of Christianity can be summed up in just 25 words, anyone should be able to tell their story in 140 characters. Or seven.