Branding: The Cornerstone of Your Career

Photo Source: Photo by Sydney Jackson on Unsplash

“Brand” is a buzzword that’s been floating around for years. And while it’s far simpler than everyone makes it out to be, it’s also one of the most important aspects an actor must identify in order to not only book jobs, but also to create a career.

Your brand is what separates you from every other actor in your type and category. Every actor has a brand, regardless of whether they’re starting out, established working actors, or major stars. It’s the reason everyone says, “He/she is always playing the same thing in every movie or TV show.” Exactly; that’s what they’re being paid to do. They’re being paid to be their brand. The moment they step outside of that which makes them special and/or unique is when the movie tanks or the TV show flops.

Think of your favorite actor. The roles they play may be different, the context different, the story is totally different, the costuming takes you to a different world, and yet that same essence or air you find so intriguing about your favorite star is always the same. Even Meryl Streep, who brilliantly plays a wide variety of roles, has a quality identifiable as pure Meryl.

An easily identifiable example of an actor who truly knows his brand is Benedict Cumberbatch, who embraces his “brooding, intense, cerebral” brand. Whether he’s doing a drama or comedy, he will always be brooding, intense, and cerebral. Of course, he has many other positive attributes and is a well-rounded, talented actor, but when you boil it down, those three things are the brand we expect and want from him.

Just as Benedict has become known for his specific and unique brand, so too should every actor. Think about it. Let’s say you are a brunette 26-year-old female. Would you rather a casting director say, “We need a mid-20’s actress, maybe with brown hair. Call in a couple thousand and let’s try to find one,” or, “You know who would be perfect for this? Get me Amy Actress, because she does that thing that no one else does…she’s bold and smart and has that snarky edge. Perfect for this part.”

No one is looking for generic...they are searching for unique and special, but it’s up to you to show them what that means for you.

So how do you discover your brand? It’s a lot easier than everyone makes it out to be. Think about going to an audition. You walk into a room and there are 25 other actors who look like you and are dressed the same. What are you bringing to the party that they aren’t? Why should you get the part? All those actors are talented. They've all been studying and doing the right things that led them to the same audition as you.

So why should they hire you? Because you have that thing, that aspect of your personality that makes you uniquely you, that special something only you can bring to a role—your brand. It’s easy to see in others, yet so difficult to see in ourselves. This is why I strongly suggest actors seek help…and not from your mother, girlfriend, or roommate, they tend to tell us everything we want to hear. Casting directors, acting teachers, or consultants, like myself, are good sources for honest and realistic feedback. Just get out there and ask people.

It’s easy to see a clear brand in others, yet so difficult to see in ourselves. This is why I strongly suggest actors seek help...and not from your mother, girlfriend, or roommate. Casting directors, acting teachers, or consultants are good sources for honest and realistic feedback. Just get out there and ask people. Ask your friends or co-workers to describe you in a few words. Ask your siblings, they’ll tell you the truth! In fact, when I work with actors developing their particular brands, I always ask what their sibling would say about them. (And not the favorite sibling! The one who’s going to say something negative.)

Believe it or not, the strength of your brand usually sits in the aspects you feel aren’t your best.

Once you figure it out, once you have developed, honed, and truly “own” it, it is your job to translate your brand into every aspect of your acting life: headshots, slate shots, postcards, and most importantly, your scene work and audition skills. Stop trying to be what you think they want and instead show that which is unique and special about you. Show them your brand and begin to build your career.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Tom Burke
Tom Burke is an image consultant, headshot coach, and acting teacher. After transitioning from a successful print model to an accomplished on-camera actor to a proficient on-set acting coach, Burke focused his wealth of knowledge and keen eye to become one of L.A.’s premier image consultants and headshot coaches, and creator of the Castable Actor, a series of workshops, seminars, and advice designed to help actors open doors to a successful career.