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Your Personal Marketing Campaign: Part One

One fascinating component of corporate marketing is the behavioral science of how and why we buy what we do. To me, there are few things more interesting than how corporations influence our habits and thus shape their destinies by applying the classic skills of positioning and strategy. Recently, while reviewing "Selling the Invisible"--a small text by Harry Beckworth that is often described as the "bible" of the professional marketer--I realized that these fundamental marketing devices are closely aligned with the basic tools of the job search. After all, in a job search you are really marketing yourself. In fact, I found so many shared areas that I'm creating a special two-part column in the Tooling Up series to highlight them.

Beckworth describes a series of commandments for the marketer, a number of which should form the pillars of your personal marketing campaign. Whether you are positioning a product for sale or interviewing for a job, the following "rules of promotion and influence" will have a great deal to do with your failure or success. We'll look at half of them this month, and return next month to explore the remainder.

The Twelve Immutable Laws of a Job-Search Marketing Campaign

1) Marketing Planning Should Begin at Zero.

In the corporate world, new products are often funneled to the marketing department at the last minute, after they are already developed. Marketing professionals are then stuck asking questions such as, "OK, so how do we entice people to buy this?" That's a big mistake. ...What if the marketing department finds that consumers want something a little different? It would have been far more preferable to consider a marketing plan for the product in the first place.

Similarly, when a biologist coming out of, say, a plant molecular biology department draws up a CV without any prior consideration as to the marketing of his or her pedigree, that individual will be forced into the same box. The emphasis is then on making the existing CV as attractive as possible. If this happens to you, there is only one way to proceed when the focus turns to marketing. You must put yourself into the kind of creative thinking mode that you'll need to "start from zero."

Don't think about how you must try to sell your skills and a list of publications. Instead, start asking tough questions of yourself, such as: "Does my background provide me with a viable approach in the current job market?" or "Should I develop some related skills and techniques in order to refocus the direction of my search?" One important question, whether you are strategizing to sell a widget or to market yourself into a new job, is to ask, "Is this what the world really wants?" You have to be able to review your options as if you had an entirely clean slate.

Start at zero. Do the research. Begin your personal marketing plan without assumptions--then you'll have the best prospects for creative thinking and strategy development.

2) Remember the Lake Wobegon Effect: Don't Overestimate Yourself.

Did you know that when researchers asked students to rate their ability to get along with others, 60% percent rated themselves in the top 10%? Another study found that 99% of university professors believe that they are doing a better job than their colleagues are. What's going on here?

These illusions of superiority are just that--illusions. Professional marketers actually have a name for this phenomenon. They call it the Lake Wobegon Effect, named for Garrison Keelor's fictional hometown from the National Public Radio show, "where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all of the children are above average."

Assume that you are average. It will force you to find ways to improve. When considering yourself "one of the pack," you will strive to find ways to differentiate yourself. Differentiation is a critical aspect of marketing strategy.

3) If Something Is Wrong, Even Your Best Friends Won't Tell You.

Some companies will go for years wondering what went wrong with Product A or Product B, trying different strategies to reach success but never finding it. Thousands of good products have been scrapped because the marketing strategy failed and because the people behind the product never did the single most obvious thing: Ask why.

Have you ever wondered what might be going wrong with your job-search progress? I've seen some scientists go through interview after interview without job offers. Eight out of 10 of them will never ask the company's hiring managers how they are being perceived and what the issues are. Why is this? If you don't get a job offer after an interview, what possible harm could there be in asking for advice from the people who interviewed you as to how you might improve your interviewing skills the next time around?

Companies that ask their customers for help always improve product sales. Similarly, applicants who seek advice from their prospects learn much faster what it takes to land a job.

4) Sure, You've Prepared, But What Do You Really Know About the People Involved?

It's common knowledge that you shouldn't go to an interview unprepared. Similarly, a service company must know the needs of those to whom it is marketing the "product." However, both job seeker and service company will do a lot better if they know more than their competitors do about the people they are pursuing.

Did you know, for example, that your interviewer, Dr. Janice Smith, has two daughters, both of whom are studying microbiology at Rutgers? Did you know that John Ryan, the director of human resources, has had more than 40 publications in the field of human development and training? Do you think it could help you on interviewing day if you knew that Dr. Fleming, vice president of research, did her postdoc at your alma mater?

Successful job seekers are absolutely maniacal when it comes to doing their preinterview research. Although in some cases a Web search can do the trick, in other instances the correct approach requires an open eye on interview day. (Look at those photos behind the interviewer's desk and the plaques on the wall, both of which can tell you a great deal.) Regardless of whether you are selling a service or marketing yourself as a candidate for a job, you'll succeed far more often if you market to the person and not just the company.

5) Marketing Is a Lot Like Winning a Popularity Contest.

In college, you believe that sheer technical excellence is what ensures success. It isn't until after you get out of school and enter the job market that you realize real life is a lot more like high school. Although technical excellence may keep you going up the ladder at work, you need to get in the front door first. This may require that you leave a lot of good first impressions--which is unlikely to be something you considered during your grad-school days.

Corporate marketing managers find over and over again that their products can't be just "good" and meet their claims ... they must be liked as well. If consumers don't feel a strong connection to a product, they won't buy it. Similarly, job seekers find that there is an element of "likeability" in the hiring process. Yes, it is a popularity contest, one that you can't win by simply adding another publication to your CV.

Never underestimate the value of a genuine smile, a firm handshake, and good eye contact on interviewing day.

6) Do Anything--Activity Wins Out.

Some job seekers make the strategy and preparation stage the major piece of their job search. They worry about each and every piece of the puzzle. A networking call could never be made before the CV is completed, for example. Fussing and worrying about the placement of each resume item, these tacticians find that the job of finding a job goes on forever.

In reality, there is nothing better than forward momentum to get the process on track. Guy Kawasaki, marketing consultant and a former key executive at Apple Computer, describes the process that Apple used in its growth years as "Ready, Fire, Aim." In other words, the company was too busy moving forward to worry about whether it was the right thing at any one point in time. The focus was on action and on taking a key position in the technology industry. Whether it was the right move would be shown in time, and the company didn't believe that it could linger to find out. Action was what mattered most, and this can be true as well in the job-search process.

If you want to make your job search productive, get some kind of forward momentum going right now. Attend a job fair. Get on the phone with some former labmates. Call a headhunter. The important thing is not to get caught in the planning-process quicksand.

Next month in Tooling Up: Stay tuned for the six final "Immutable Laws of the Personal Marketing Campaign."