Way leads to way, and life is the navigation of choices; a career in branding is no different. Paths in life are long and windy, thick with undergrowth blocking visibility at every turn; some narrow and treacherous; others wide and groomed for ease of travel; but all are riddled with diverging paths. That means we must strategically map these unknown futures, to ensure a successful journey. To catch a glimpse through the trees, the thing we can do is seek guidance from those with expertise in similarly wooded terrain. This is what I have done to map a path in strategic brand consulting. Manny Rivera, a highly respected and successful branding consultant was gracious enough to grant me an interview and provided me with some of this information. I aim to get others to do the same, and I will share what I learn through this blog.
Manny taught me a successful career as a branding consultant requires a great deal of strategic mapping and navigation. In the following, I will veer away from the flowery language, and instead explain with concrete examples three concepts in a successful branding career. (1) Personal branding does not mean littering key words and phrases on a resume, but strategically building a body of experience at noteworthy companies. (2) Strategy and decisions must be data driven. (3) Branding professionals must be dynamic to stay on top of ever changing trends.
(1) Be a Brand Not a Commodity
Big names mean big credibility. Manny is living proof of this strategy. A cursory glance of his Linkedin profile tells the story of a brand (person) who has worked with Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kodak, AstraZeneca, Abbott Laboratories, and currently is a Managing Partner of a major brand consulting firm, The Chicago Branding Group. These companies are all incredibly well known, and their brand credibility bolsters his brand credibility. Before I even spoke with Manny I learned my first lesson, make it easy for your audience to see value. He later explained it to me another way, “We are either commodities or brands.” For employers, it is the difference in ease between finding a needle in a haystack, and finding a needle on two feet of thread ten stitches deep in a pair of ripped trousers. Humans are inherently bad at making choices when posed with too many seemingly similar selections, so make it easy on everyone by differentiating yourself. Manny suggests selling yourself as a solution to an employers problems by using a mission statement and displaying credible examples.
The same principals go for product branding. Water, a commodity, can sells for $40 dollars a bottle when branded as the product “Bling H2O.” In the end, it rehydrates the same as any public drinking fountain, but it also offers prestige (at $40 a bottle it better), extravagance, and a shiny label. Aristotle would call this example of added value “Pathos” (emotional value), where Manny offers “Ethos” (personal character value), but both add the appropriate value for their target audiences.
(2) Insights are Everything
The examples above feature two very different brand strategies that are based off audience needs. The need of Nuevo-rich club goers is to show off, and the need of a company looking to hire Manny as a consultant is to be guaranteed a return on their investment. In hindsight it easy to draw these connections, but what if the target audience is not defined, or the “extra value” the audience desires is not even known by the audience members themselves? Data is needed. Even if audience connections seem obvious, strategies and campaigns must be justified with data driven correlations and insights. How could we constitute a consumer into a brand evangelist without knowing some basic information about them first? Concerning personal branding, find out what skills are valued in the industry and add them to your wheel of skills. Research to find out what key words are important to your resume and work to embody them. Also, know how to do a bit of data mining and work on excel spread sheets.
(3) Be Trendy
No not fashionable, trendy. As in knowing what “channel” or “medium” is trending among different audiences. For brands targeted at card carrying members of the AARP, campaigns focused in printed newspapers is probably a safe bet, but not really for a younger audience like me. Sure, I read the news everyday but I have it delivered to my computer screen in real time via Twitter and The Daily Beast; not delivered to my front doorstep. Keeping on top of trends is especially important going forward as audience groups grow increasingly narrow. “The buckets are getting more narrow, and each generational demographic is shrinking,” says Manny. This is a challenge and an opportunity, it is harder to put out a unified messages to the entire pubic, but it is easier to target niche audiences.
At the end of the day, business is about products, and selling the product is the objective. This is true whether the product is a rocket-ship, a soda-pop, or a professional-service. That is why brands are so important. They are the thesis of a product, saying, “This is what I am,” “This is what I offer,” “These are the benefits of buying me,” and products with good theses (brands) get bought. The same is true for people; Enhance your brand by strategically adding skill sets, acting as an agent instead of an employee, and being realistic with expectations. Always be guided by insights derived from data. If you take the time to do your homework, you will rarely be lead astray. Stay on top of trends to get your message to the right audience. It would be a shame to do the research, craft a message, but have your brand fall flat because you used the wrong media to get it out.