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Marketing I, Marketing Yourself: Part VII of "Learnin's From My MBA" Series


This series takes concepts learned in an MBA program and adapts them for easy comprehension by scientists without a management background. This is currently the 16th part of the series and the ninth in an introduction to marketing.

In the last eight sections of this series, we've taken a look at marketing, and how to market a product. We've taken a close look at the "four P's" of marketing: promotion, price, product, and placement (or distribution) and discovered the different strategies and directions one can take for each. We then discussed the concept of brand equity--the overall "feel" or "location" of a brand in the eyes of the consumer and how consistent strategies of promotion, price, product, and placement build, or destroy, the brand equity of your product. We looked at many examples, ranging from pharmaceutical sales to instruments to software, in order to better understand these concepts.

Today, we're going to do something a little different. We're going to review all of the concepts we've learned to date, by building a complete marketing package for a specific product. That product is you.

After all, whether you are selling your research in front of a Ph.D. committee or interviewing for a job in management consulting, you are a product. Your consumer is your audience--the person doing the hiring, deciding on granting you a degree, or, for that matter, the person at Wal-Mart deciding whether or not to take back a product you're trying to return. The product is you. Your consumer is anyone you have to deal with in the regular course of a day, or, in the case of a job search, the consumer is the person or company you are trying to work for.

The first part of marketing yourself, like marketing any other product, consists of understanding your client. The more you know about the person or company you are trying to sell yourself to, the more effective your marketing strategy will be. Knowing your customer will help you tailor your four P's to that particular person or company. So, when marketing yourself, for whatever reason, find out what's in it for the person you're presenting yourself to. Figure out what that person hopes to gain out of it. Even if you're just preparing for your Ph.D. oral defense, you can prepare a lot better if you do a little research on your audience first, understand everyone's motivations and interests, and cater to those motivations when presenting or answering questions.

Once you've understood your audience (whether that audience is a client, a person interviewing you for a job, or otherwise), you can cater your four P's to them.

First, let's look at your product. What is it that you are trying to sell? If you're applying for a postdoc, you are selling a publication history (thus a "guarantee" of future publications), and a very specific skill set that you can bring to that lab. If you're applying for a job in management consulting, it's the "Dr." designation (it's really impressive to clients) and the ability to parse any problem using the scientific method. Remember from the automatic sequencer example that we used when we first discussed "product" that the same gray box can be presented as a whole bunch of different products. The same goes for you--at its most basic, the product you have is a human being with a Ph.D. or master degree; but packaging that product to meet your customer's needs is the key to success.

So you've figured out the parts of "you" that are most marketable to your specific customer. There's more to it than that--think of your product as the curriculum vitae that gets you the job interview. Once you've passed the minimum threshold of being the product they want, you've still got to address the other three P's. So lets take a look at the second P we explored: promotion strategy.

When we looked at promotion strategy, the first issue was whether to pursue a mass-market strategy or a personal selling strategy. Although this really only applied when you had more than one product to sell (because a mass-market strategy's success is based on selling a whole bunch of your product), there is a corollary here, depending on the situation you are in. If, for example, you are selling yourself in a job search scenario, you could choose to either focus your search to just a few firms, or do a mass-market mailing of resumes to hundreds of companies. However, if you remember the theory behind choosing which is best, you will probably agree that the targeted approach is best: We used a personal selling strategy when each sale was very important, customized, and to a very small, easily targeted audience. A good job search, for a specialized individual, is all of these things. So pick your customers with care, and pursue them aggressively, and personally.

As when marketing any other product, the third P, price, is often overlooked when marketing ones self. But price is just as important here as it is for any other product. Most people when looking for a new job will expect a modest increase in salary over their previous job, figuring they're probably worth a little more than they were before. But here, like with any other product, the cost and the previous price make little difference to your new client. Instead, you should look at what you are worth to them now. What is your market value in that industry? What do you contribute to the bottom line? And what is your replacement cost? These are the questions you should be asking, especially when changing from one industry to another--remember that pay scales vary widely when changing fields. And remember that price influences perception of value in the customer's mind: If they pay you $20 an hour, they'll treat you like they're paying $20 an hour. If they're paying you $100 an hour, they'll often value your work, and your time, that much more.

The last P in your own personal marketing mix is placement, or distribution. Because when marketing yourself you only have one, unique product, you can't distribute the same way you would distribute a bottle of Coca-Cola--to every retailer, every sporting event, and every location where someone would want a Coke. But again the principle is the same. Once you've figured out your target market, you want to be in their face. If you're applying for postdocs in a specific field of science, be at the conferences covering that field. If you're interested in business, attend a venture capitalist conference. If you're trying to be a consultant, join a consulting professional organization. Or if you're trying to be a science writer, pitch some stories to editors at magazines. The distribution in marketing yourself is often called networking. It is an important part of your marketing mix, because if you're not in front of your customer when they need you, they'll go somewhere else.

This completes our segment on marketing. Next month, we start a whole new chapter, where we take a lot of the concepts from our marketing segment, as well as the finance segments that started this series, and apply them to the concept of writing a business plan.

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