It sucks when you ruin your brand, doesn’t it?

As with all branding, personal branding – formerly known as “your reputation” – relies on clarity and consistency across what you say, how you look and what you do. We all work very hard to build up and safeguard our personal brands. Often, as we go through life, we don’t even know what our personal brand should be until we really get clear on who we are and what we are all about. You then find that your natural actions – your attention to detail, your creativity, your positive energy – created that personal brand long before you even thought about it.

Yesterday, my personal brand took a hit. And it wasn’t even intentional.

I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say I did something – in all innocence, I swear – that I wasn’t supposed to do. I broke the rules without meaning to. Now a person who I truly admire but who I have never met thinks I’m horrible. Of course they would: they don’t know me personally and my brand has not had a chance to prove itself over and over again. They have not seen me stop for a stop sign when no one else is around, or inform the restaurant hostess that the ladies room is out of TP, or give back the extra change I received in error from a distracted barista or use a corporate credit card with full responsibility. Their interaction with my personal brand was limited and so I didn’t have that “cred” built up. Now this person either thinks I’m stupid or a scammer. And they told me blatantly that “I was smarter than that” so I can only assume they think the latter.

As someone who detests breaking the rules (and detests it even more when others do) this was a hard pill to swallow, needless to say. I realized all the explanations in the world won’t change this person’s mind. I was upset all day yesterday and into today, much like the horrible feeling I had as a child of doing something wrong and knowing mom and dad were disappointed in me.

That’s the thing with brand: You’ve got to be vigilant. You need to remember that every new customer does not have history or know the story of how special you or your business really is. You have to prove it every time. And when things go wrong…and they will (hello BP, Tiger Woods, and now Maria Ross) I guess the most important aspect of your brand is how fast you recover, how sorry you are, and how you try to make amends.

Have you or your business ever suffered a brand hit? Please share the story and the lessons you learned in the Comments.

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