Published in Sep-Oct 2015
Having a distinctive name or even a unique offering doesn’t mean a brand is established. Time, consistent and concerted efforts are the key ingredients in building brands. Careful and focused positioning and a strong application of the brand to certain areas and product categories are time-tested brand building strategies. Local or foreign branding success stories, from Intel to Qarshi and the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital to Kit Kat, have become textbook material for brand management.
You will not see these brands making any move that threatens their established brand positioning. From ad campaigns to office interiors, they communicate a sense of purpose and sophistication in sync with their larger positioning vision.
Successful branding strategies provide a strong analogy and lesson in terms of personal branding, the first and foremost being that any professional in any field cannot achieve the status of a ‘brand’ without consistent and concerted endeavour. Having top notch qualifications and a profile without commensurate communication strategies to showcase them is like having a great product without a communication or market placement strategy in place. Unfortunately, many professionals have fallen into this vicious trap of not positioning and branding themselves adequately.
So how can a professional achieve best in class in terms of his or her personal branding? We will try to answer this within the framework of two major factors in marketing communications which any brand in the world manages judiciously – message and media.
1) The message and the media challenge
For a professional, like for a well known brand, the branding and communication strategy needs to be grounded in a well thought out and fairly long term positioning strategy.
Answering the question, “where do you see yourself in five or 10 years?” in terms of the near and distant future is an excellent way to plan a positioning that leads to an effective branding strategy.
Let’s take a look at Kit Kat, arguably one of the most successful global confectionary brands. Kit Kat has consistently ensured that this otherwise simple product continues to be associated with the ‘take a break’ concept. From creatively designed packaging to guerrilla marketing tactics, the brand has remained focused on achieving category leadership and has gone beyond promotion with ads alone. Recently, Kit Kat was used as a branding component for Google’s Android 4.4 version (Android Kit Kat) and in doing so gained a lot of positioning edge by joining the league of generic desserts such as jellybean and ice-cream sandwiches, which were also used as branding components for different Android versions. These powerful combinations of message and media have made Kit Kat a global success.
However, on the flipside of the original Kit Kat experience, there is a horror story in terms of branding and marketing communication, and here we are referring to the Kit Kat Telcam Powder ad that has been pilloried all over social media, with phrases like ‘Ax-cuse me, aap bhi’ becoming the focus of so many memes. This was an example of marketing communication going horribly wrong on so many levels. From possible brand name infringement to ill-planned messages, this was a terrible campaign. Even the simple task of writing the product name came with a huge spelling mistake – Telcam Powder (yes it was spelled like this in the ad!). The sad part of the story is that products like these are not bad; they are just generic commodity items. Technically speaking, talcum powders, soaps or shampoos are not very sophisticated products. It is their advertising, media and market placement that takes them to the pinnacles or the lowest ebbs of consumer perception.
2) Content – The message strategy
When it comes to the ‘message’ strategy for personal branding, the content of a résumé, a personal or professional profile and their visibility settings for the target audience are very important. For instance, in the professional experience section of your résumé simply copying the job description for the position without addressing your own distinctive contributions will appear as bizarre as Lux simply listing its ingredients on the packaging.
If you don’t highlight your distinctive attributes in well organised sections, how can you expect to stand out as a distinctive brand?
Drawing up a professionally developed résumé is no longer a challenge given the plethora of options available online. However, the point is that when preparing the content (i.e. the ‘message’) of your own brand, you must be careful at every step. Here, it is worthwhile to talk about the ‘sales’ part (applying for a job) and you should consider supplementing your application by adding a covering letter, but be sure to customise it to the particular job you are applying for, thereby demonstrating your unique suitability for the job.
Using a standard letter for all jobs is as ineffective as if a brand were to run the same ad for Ramazan, Eid, Independence Day and a seasonal promotion. In the job application process, follow-up and thank you letters are powerful add-ons, but again if they are customised. If your thank you letter communicates your excitement and leads to a favourable recall of the impression you made at the interview, it will create a positive impact. The same goes for the follow-up letter, which typically is sent as a reminder if you have not been called for an interview. Such augmentations can make your application stand out from the hundreds of other applications.
Your LinkedIn profile too should follow best practices in terms of what constitutes a photograph, professional summary and skills. Having a complete profile, at least by LinkedIn’s own standards, is a must and this includes the groups you join, the posts you comment on, like and share.
3) Getting the social media right
For professionals, social media is a crucial arena. Brands might have mainstream media at their disposal but social media is sufficient for professionals. Among the myriad options social media offers, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are the most used. Have you ever Googled your own name, because what you see there constitutes a first impression. If you see someone who has the same name as you do but you are not featured, you need to work on getting a slot on that page. Having an active presence on different social media platforms is important to gain visibility on Google – unarguably the most used search platform. Use LinkedIn as a professional network, Facebook as a personal network and Twitter as a microbloging platform.
It is important to pay attention to the privacy settings on these platforms. You may want to support or argue against a controversial topic – religious, social or political; however, not being careful about privacy settings can lead to your posts and shares being viewed by other people, who may include those trying to know you better when shortlisting for a position.
To avoid being unfairly judged, be careful about your privacy settings. Although background checks using social media are not common in the Pakistani job market, they are elsewhere.
In fact, a 2014 survey by CareerBuilder.com found that 51% of recruiters were influenced by the social media presence of prospective candidates – both positively and negatively (bit.ly/cb-svy-2014). There has been debate on such checks being ethical or not (see article in HR Zone – bit.ly/soc-screen-article). For professional networks like LinkedIn, there are sufficient best practices guidelines which should be carefully reviewed and implemented.
Muhammad Talha Salam is a faculty member at FAST School of Management, Lahore.