The magical margarita and signature drink. (Erin O’Mara photo)

I’ve been thinking about my personal brand and the signals I put out, some intentional and some not, that tell people who I am.

I love Chips Ahoy because they’re chock-full of chocolate chips, they taste great, and every cookie delivers every time. I’m confident when I plunk down my hard-earned cash for a package. But people are more complicated than snack food. Our bosses, co-workers, close and distant friends and family, each have different ideas of who we are, and sometimes the signals they pick up aren’t the most important to us. People are complicated, multifaceted and multi-branded.

When I was a tween, we had a beloved family cat, Tigger, and I took horse-riding lessons. My brand was automatically “little girl, cat/horse lover.” The flow of themed gifts was overwhelming.

For a while it was OK. Kitten calendars are adorable, and I loved “Black Stallion” books. But some themes shouldn’t be maintained and, had anyone recognized the tipping point, I wouldn’t have been given a plush cat doorstop. Yes, a velvet cat with a bell around its neck and a brick for a body.

And there was the stuffed cat, made with yellow, red and green patchwork, that still makes me shudder. The fabric was scratchy and the two emaciated handmade kittens, limbs splayed, faces covered in Velcro so they could stick to the bigger cat’s stomach, looked like de-shelled, dead turtles.

My dad loved the cat, maybe even more than I did, and he was never given stuffed animals or even more adult gifts like cat coffee table books.

It seems our signals run through a zillion cultural filters and it’s nearly impossible to know which messages are received.

I wonder what people thought when I declared margaritas my “signature drink.”

If you’ve never considered the need for a signature drink, you’re probably wondering how you get one and why you should bother.

The “how” is simple: I called up my brother one day and said, “Margaritas are my signature drink.” He didn’t ask questions; he spread the word and something of a brand was born.

Do people think having a signature drink means I’m a bit tipsy? Maybe it makes people think I’m breezy and fun like a summer day or maybe they assume I’m sweet and sour.

Margaritas are a social driver. Friends invite me to dinner at places known for being able to mix a great drink. When they visit, they show up with celebrity-made, fancy-packaged tequila. I have a cupboard full of margarita glassware and my brother and sister-in-law gave me a Margaritaville margarita maker. It slushes the ice.

It was Christmas and after all the gifts were open, wrapping paper was strewn over the floor, and my niece was laughing and playing with the $3 “Grinch in the box” ornament rather than the piles of other toys, my brother plucked an envelope off the tree and handed it to me. I eased out a card picturing my dream margarita maker. 

And I cried.

Since declaring my signature drink, gifts have been on point and amazing. And this rolls me right into the “why.” Why declare a signature drink?

You know your neighbor is crunchy and au courant when you see their lavender, patent leather Birkenstocks. The pile of Harpswell Anchors on someone’s coffee table says they’re an interested and loyal reader and solid citizen. These signals are obvious, but messages get diverted in those filters and people miss them. Why not help and say who we are when we know?

I once asked an employee to write me a brand statement; one paragraph explaining how he saw his personal brand. 

He was just out of college and his job required intense computer time to master enormous spreadsheets full of tiny details. The work was a test of endurance and he, on his best day, was a sprinter. He was always on the move, visiting desks, chatting about weekends and building social connections. He didn’t see the gulf between his skills and job requirements until he wrote his brand statement. When he handed it to me, he thanked me for assigning the exercise and resigned so he could find a fitting career path.

I think the key to a signature anything is to pick carefully. I could have declared water my signature drink, but there’s nothing remarkable about being well hydrated. And if your signature anything changes or people aren’t picking up the signals you think you’re putting out, declare your brand with pride! Saying who you are, even if it changes, can help you define your best path and help the people in your life know you better. And, unless you want them, save you from opening bricks on your birthday.

Erin O’Mara lives in Harpswell and serves on the Harpswell News Board of Directors.