Sean Johnson

Build an Intentional Life.

Chapter Three Personal Positioning Building Blocks

The critical pieces to becoming a Bright Red Package.

The word branding has become something of a buzzword in the world of business. Companies have come to realize that the world has changed. The factories that build products are no longer the primary storehouses of value. The main source of value in a firm, if it is successful, lies in its brand.

A brand has become something that is coveted by companies that have it, and relentlessly searched for by those that don’t. Business magazines have touted it as the key to long-term, successful business growth.

The pursuit of a strong brand has become big business. Nearly every ad agency in the country claims to be branding experts. Authors have written volumes about the keys to developing an ironclad brand in the mind of consumers. Companies regularly commit millions of dollars to national advertising campaigns, going so far as to shell out $2 million for one Super Bowl ad that they feel is going to launch their business to success.

Does all of this work? Of course it does, for companies that can do it right. For any industry segment, consumers have a “decision set,” two or three companies that can provide what they need. Think of shoes, and most people say Nike, Reebok and Adidas. Think of soft drinks, most people say Coke, Pepsi and Sprite. The companies that are successful adhere to the rules of branding: be distinctive, memorable, and credible.

Getting Personal

The strategies that have worked for companies are starting to be recognized as opportunities for individuals as well. The phrase “Personal Branding” became a buzzword when Tom Peters penned the article “The Brand Called You” in Fast Company magazine. In it, he explained that the way work is done is rapidly changing, and most employees are not prepared. He suggests branding yourself, being known for something, as the way to avoid being left behind. Either make yourself distinctive, or get lost in the pack.

The article struck a chord with people. Peters expanded on his original musing with The Brand You 50, which offered a number of suggestions for developing a personal brand. Peter Montoya followed with The Personal Branding Phenomenon, which described the essential rules for a powerful personal brand, as well as the first known agency dedicated to personal branding.

Despite the efforts of these individuals to spread the word about personal branding, it remains a largely unknown concept. The majority of individuals still carry out their job search and their careers the same way they always have. This presents a tremendous opportunity for people willing to work a little bit.

What exactly is personal branding? It is largely based on the same principles as branding in a corporate setting. A brand is nothing more than a bundle of perceptions, the sum of messages sent to consumers and the resulting impact those messages have on those consumers. Put simply, a personal brand is the image people have in their minds of a particular person.

What does it take to build a great personal brand? No one has really provided a concrete answer, which perhaps explains why the idea hasn’t caught on the way it should. Even in the business world, a brand isn’t something you just decide to build. There isn’t a road map a company can follow that guarantees success. That’s why so few companies are successful.

Personal Positioning, and the Bright Red Package

Creating a Bright Red Package is similar to the concept of Personal Branding. It understands that crafting an image for yourself is key to personal and professional success. But it also understands that the image, by itself, isn’t going to be enough. A brand really isn’t really worth much unless you can back it up, and unless the right people know about it.

Part of the problem with relying on brand-building relates to what marketers call “clutter.” They’ve seen so many marketing messages over time that they all begin to blur together. One ad looks startlingly like the last one.
This doesn’t mean that branding doesn’t work. It just means that it’s working less than it used to. Banking all your hopes on fancy marketing messages (i.e. a resume pumped up with “action words”) isn’t going to lead to the success it used to.

The philosophy behind Personal Positioning and the Bright Red Package understands that. While it does employ strategies for building a memorable image, it is cognizant of the fact that more is necessary. If you were to employ a classic brand-building strategy in your job hunt, you’d craft a winning resume and mail it to as many companies as possible, hoping that the message would resonate with your target market, the employers. Does this strategy sound familiar? It’s the shopping mall approach, by the book.

Walking the Walk

A Bright Red Package takes more work. Sure, the image is important. But once you’ve discovered what it is you’d like to be known for, you must back it up. If you want people to believe that you are distinctive, you must actually do something distinctive. The greatest marketing campaign in the world will only work for so long. Once people realize that the product behind the fancy wrapping isn’t up to par, they’ll respond negatively.

What’s necessary, before you head out to buy the fancy suit, is to find a passion. Discover something that you’ll truly be excited talking about and working on. When you’re lukewarm about something, people can tell. Passion sells much more effectively than fancy words.

Seth Godin recently wrote a book (read anything he writes) called Purple Cow. He suggests that, rather than taking a mediocre product and marketing it well, companies should make their product remarkable in the first place. When your product is truly distinctive, truly worth talking about, people will begin talking about it.

The same logic needs to be applied to your job hunt. Employers will appreciate your willingness to work hard if you take on an internship and get good grades. But it’s not distinctive. It’s not going to make them salivate over the prospect of meeting you. It won’t compel them to make you a part of their company by itself.

What excites people is someone who can demonstrate a passion for what they do. The most effective way to do that is to create a body of work that truly shows dedication, creativity and passion. It’s not enough to tell someone you worked as an intern at XYZ Company. So what! What did you do there? What did you do that stands out? In short, once you’ve determined your image you need to back it up with a compelling portfolio of work.

Getting The Word Out

Creating an image, and then backing it up, still isn’t enough. A Bright Red Package that sits in a dark room doesn’t do anyone any good. People need to learn about your package. But, like everything else you do, it needs to be done in a distinctive manner.

We’ve already learned that the mass-marketing approach, or the “Shopping Mall” approach, doesn’t work the way people hope. It doesn’t work because it’s what everyone else does. It doesn’t work because it’s not relevant to everyone. For every person who reads your resume and is interested, there are 99 others that couldn’t care less.
A Bright Red Package is powerful because it’s personal. It doesn’t involve sending the same resume out to everybody. It involves respect for other’s time and attention.

People who create a Bright Red Package realize that there is nothing more powerful, in a professional sense, than a network. Having a group of group of people who possess influence, and who are believers in what you have to offer, is the fastest, easiest and most effective way to get into a door. They get your message out in a way that no resume can.

There are times, however, when your network can’t get you into a door. Even where there’s no one-to-one connection, effectively targeting an audience can give you a leg up on the competition. Rather than sending your resume to everyone, you only go after companies who have a culture conducive to your passion and skill set. Rather than sending out impersonal cold messages, you utilize research to make a connection that’s personalized and relevant.

With a powerful image, a body of work to back it up, and the right people spreading the word, I can guarantee you’ll have a successful job hunt.

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