You Are the Brand

Mark H. Kalan

As a long-term practitioner of marketing, now over 40 years in duration, I have often been challenged by the concept of “The Brand,” what it communicates, what it means, what it stands for and how it is integral to an organization’s position and ultimate success in the market. Bringing a background in consumer packaged goods (CPG) that incorporated executive-level marketing and sales stints on the client, vendor, and agency sides of the business, and now as a professor of same, I am often struck by our approach to positioning our brands, and wonder why we do not take a similar approach to ourselves. Are you not a “Brand” to those considering your value to the organization? A brand to be adopted (or hired) or rejected in favor of another whose potential is deemed superior. Isn’t that how we make purchase decisions? Isn’t that how hiring professionals approach the employee recruitment process? Is there really a difference?

With those I advise, students and professionals alike, I challenge them to think beyond the traditional definitions of a brand. To consider the value of “The Brand” beyond the trademark and other standardized and commonly considered elements such as packaging and logos. Yes, these are identifiable and commonly promoted and remembered. Are these what makes for the value of “The Brand”?

And is remembrance of these visual and physical elements what the receiver from “The Traditional Model of Communications” should take away?

Or is a branded product something more?

The Value We Bring

I’d strongly suggest that yes, it is something significantly more than just identifiable elements. Rather than being just a bunch of recognizable components, I propose brands are “Storehouses of Value” reflecting the perceptions of current and potential consumers. As a “Storehouse of Value” products take the concept of need fulfillment and add to that basic solution, thus increasing the customer’s perception that one product is superior to another.  As consumers use personal evaluative criteria to create individualized valuations while they consider branded purchases, so do professionals as they view and consider the merits of others.

Therefore, are we any different than a product? Or rather, do we have commonalities or common traits with those products that we profess to be so expert about? Are individual personas any different than branded product personas?

Recently a number of my students at the Rutgers Business School have faced the challenge of the marketplace, identifying appropriate professional opportunities for pursuit.  How does one do that? How does one match their expertise and value in today’s highly competitive professional job market in order to differentiate themselves from the competition? And it’s in this environment that I’ve suggested they take just the same approach they’d take if they were the brand manager and the product is actually themselves? It’s a challenge I’d throw down in front of all self-described “marketers”.

So, just as we might begin a strategic brand analysis with a traditional SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), I recommend that each individual do exactly that. But instead of our focus being a traditional product, make the target of that SWOT yourself. Have you ever thought of yourself as the brand? Would you agree that we all are our own brands these days? If yes than applying traditional tools of analysis and branding becomes a very interesting exercise and approach.

Exactly what strengths do you bring, what are your areas of expertise which might be of value to potential employing organizations? While this seems like a very logical step, I question how many of us actually consider ourselves as others might view us; as we view products that we are considering for our potential “consideration set” and ultimate adoption. As I remind these eager job seekers, it’s the value you bring, and value is a reflection of the perception of your strengths.

Knowing Your Weaknesses Is a Strength

But strengths are only part of this picture, and knowing your weaknesses is, in many ways, perhaps even more critical. Knowing those and admitting them to yourself is a big step towards maximizing your value proposition. And while as individuals the threats we see might be just secondary, understanding strengths and weaknesses are pretty key in uncovering and exploiting opportunities.

With a solid SWOT understanding, the individual can now undertake a positioning exercise via the creation of a personalized strategic plan. An individual perceptual map is another great exercise to identify how your skills fit in the marketplace in comparison to your peers and other competition. Perceptual maps identify dimensions of interest and how/where a brand, or in this case the individual, is positioned versus the market and therefore, where opportunities for potential exploitation might exist. Perhaps using the dimensions of skills vs. values, or maybe industry experience vs. new knowledge (or social media expertise), or whatever dimensions are most appropriate to separate you from the pack and highlight why you are the superior candidate in this industry in particular.

Now as The Brand itself, and we are talking about the individual viewing themselves as “The Brand” after all, the challenge up next is how to control the communications so that the Brand (you) are best presented to leverage those attributes that you feel are your “strengths”, while minimizing the “weakness” side of the equation. The successful individual controls the dialog, emphasizing strengths and values brought. After all, don’t we, as brand specific marketers, look to identify the “needs” of our target audience, and deliver the best, most comprehensive and well targeted solutions. No different here! Once again the challenge is to identify the “unmet needs” of potential employing institutions, and then craft/position/deliver that skill set which fulfills those needs and which our personal brand brings.

The steps seem quite similar to me. As we work to differentiate our brands from the competition, with an emphasis on delivering superior value, the individual also needs to differentiate themselves from the competition. Just as our brands need deliver a superior value proposition, so must we as potential employees deliver superior value vs. the competition.

Like for a brand manager and their brands, I urge each potential candidate to take the time to analyze themselves. To identify your own personal “core competency” so that you bring a “competitive advantage” that makes it hard not to be the ultimate choice. And as a brand need do, know the needs of your target and craft your own personal “solution”.

I feel it is important to always keep in mind the process we use to choose the brands that populate our lives, and to apply that to yourself. If you like the Brand you see so should your target, and creating that long term brand/consumer relationship is no different than considering the relationship desired when evaluating individuals. We adopt those we like, and reject those we don’t.

So I propose that in today’s highly competitive environment “You Are the Brand." Follow the rules and processes you’d use to market any brand and focus on solving the needs of your target. People choose (and buy) brands that deliver, people buy benefits (solutions to issues or problems) and employers do the same. They choose those whom they perceive will deliver for them. Like a well-managed consumer product, the projected return will be long term. And as a well-managed brand increases corporate equity, a well-managed individual persona results in increased personal equity, and that’s what virtually every brand and individual ultimately seeks.

In today’s highly competitive world, loaded with options, the individual is “The Brand,” so consider very carefully what you want your brand to represent. As a marketing or sales professional, you bring the skills and experience to separate yourself from the pack, and your building your own “brand equity” is a true career target.

Marc H. Kalan is an assistant professor of professional practice at Rutgers Business School, Department of Marketing.