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Promote Your Brand

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Pursuing a job should be like seeking out a love relationship. You have to know what your goal is, have a strategy to reach that goal, and then execute your plan. It’s great to be wonderful, but if no one else knows your greatness, how will you ever get a design job? Find out in this chapter from Stand Out: Design a personal brand. Build a killer portfolio. Find a great design job.
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Creating an integrated brand campaign.

  • Everyone’s comfort level for putting themselves out in the world to get noticed is different (although I tend to think that younger people, raised in the age of selfies and social media, are less self-conscious about self-promotion than other generations). Personally, I’ve never liked vying for attention, and to this day, I find the tasks related to self-promotion—cold calling, meet-and-greeting, and sharing my work and myself with strangers and people I’ve only just met—downright frightening. When I had my design business, I paid a full-time salesperson to initiate contact with potential clients. It’s not that I lack self-confidence, but quite frankly, the idea of being rejected hurts my feelings.

When I was single and looking for someone to share my life with, my good friend Janice told me, “Love will not walk up and knock on your door.” Conceding she might have a point, I started networking. I asked my friends and colleagues to set me up with people they knew, and after some awkward phone calls, bad dinners, and one minor stalking incident, a close friend introduced me to my soon-to-be spouse. Janice was right. I never would have found who I was looking for if I hadn’t taken control of my search.

Pursuing a job should be like seeking out a love relationship. You have to know what your goal is, have a strategy to reach that goal, and then execute your plan. It’s great to be wonderful, but if no one else knows your greatness, how will you ever get a design job?

My former student, Connor Paglia (who you met in Chapter 3) grew up playing baseball. He played all through college, until his senior year when he left the team to concentrate on finishing his degree in graphic design. As a student, Conner was disciplined, hardworking, and a team player (skills he learned, or at least refined, playing baseball). He was also generous, frequently sharing his design and production skills with anyone in class who needed help. His dream job was to work for Major League Baseball.

Just before he graduated, Connor read that the MLB was building a product team to work on third-party clients (consumer brands, not just baseball projects). Connor was well qualified for the position, but his goal was just to get an interview, to get in front of someone so he could demonstrate his devotion for the game and commitment to doing the work. He was confident that he would be a good fit because of the skills he had learned on the field, his branding and mobile design knowledge, and the professional experience he had earned through freelancing and design internships. Connor hadn’t even graduated yet, but he knew he had to take the chance and apply, because if he didn’t, his odds of landing the interview (and the job) were zero.

It’s not uncommon to want to shy away from exposing your creative efforts and yourself to potential criticism, especially from employers as huge as the MLB. But I can assure you that when you call upon the kind of courage that has brought you this far (getting through design school is no easy feat) and push past your fear of rejection (to reach your true love or job of your dreams), you will put yourself in a position to speak with confidence about your work and its value.

Connor got his interview, and as you know, he got the job with Major League Baseball. He did it by communicating his ideas, experience, and skills, as well as work ethic and dedication. His website and his other touchpoints communicated the type of thinking, aesthetics, and skills that he could offer. He had a brand strategy, and he promoted himself.

Remember: you only need to connect with one nice person (and there are plenty in our industry) who can give you a break in the form of a job, advice, or your next lead. This is no time to hold back or succumb to feeling intimidated. Devise a plan, develop your message, design the touchpoints, identify the audience you want to reach, and then promote yourself through the channels they use for communication. Reach, don’t wait, for your opportunity, whether it’s a great design job, networking with other professionals, or making a name for yourself in the public eye.

Just as you wouldn’t search for true love without a plan (going to a bar to meet someone is basic, but it’s still a plan), you have to think through and commit to a search process that you can execute. This effort has two objectives: to gain attention for your capabilities and to create an emotional connection to your target audience. You do this by showing up where your audience is most likely to hang out, with a consistent message about yourself and your brand. The more they see your brand, the more they will grow to trust you and buy into your brand story, and the less likely they are to be dismissive when you approach them for a job interview.

Write Your Brand Strategy

Per entrepreneur.com’s Small Business Encyclopedia on Branding, a brand strategy is “how, what, where, when, and to whom you plan on communicating and delivering on your brand messages.” Everything you show, say, or do (or don’t do) communicates something about your personal brand. For example, consider the Dos Equis man (born from a beer promotion of the same name). Many admire him for his air of mystery, women adore him, and he travels the world in style. His tagline (which would be his brand promise if he conducted his own personal assessment and analysis) says he is the “most interesting man in the world.” His brand message is broadcasted consistently and cohesively across multiple touchpoints in traditional advertising (TV, radio, and print), social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), and online (website and YouTube); I’ve included some of “his” links on my Pinterest page: pinterest.com/ProfessorDMA/personal-brand-promo/. Dos Equis leverages many of these brand channels by developing personalized content to communicate his story. Take some time to think about how you will promote yourself by developing, maintaining, and leveraging what you’ve already learned and expressed about your brand. Use the downloadable worksheet found at the link on the previous page, or write your answers on a piece of paper. You’re putting together a plan to communicate and deliver your brand message.

Who

Identify your target market.

You’ve already done some preliminary research, and your creative brief identifies where you want to be employed. Now you have to drill down into the details. If your brief shows that you want to work at a digital design agency of 150-plus people, then you’ll have to identify those companies that fit the criteria; and start thinking about where they’re most likely to be located. The more details you have about your target audience, the better you can customize your promotion. Remember: establishing connections that will lead to work is not about how many people you reach; it’s about the quality and appropriateness of the audience you engage. For example, Margaret Grzymkowski (the feisty henna artist from Chapter 3) made, decorated, and personally delivered donuts, her business card, and a handwritten note to the owner of a company where she wanted to work. He responded promptly with an email saying he’d be in touch when a position opens up.

What

Formulate your brand message.

Your creative brief contains the information that will inform and inspire your brand message. Just as skiing, fighting bears, cooking burgers, and attempting to run for the U.S. presidency makes Mr. Dos Equis the “most interesting man in the world,” a unified message will communicate your unique value proposition clearly and consistently throughout all of your promotions. What is the one thing you want your target market to think about when they hear your name or see your visual identity? Set the mood. Develop a point of view. Stay true to your brand promise. Own who you are, and don’t be afraid to put it out there.

Where

Select your promotional touchpoints.

You can choose to do very little or as much as possible to get yourself noticed, but at minimum you’re going to need a website and a social media campaign to communicate and deliver your brand story. (You’ll learn more about both later in the chapter.) The world uses these online touchpoints to do business, and you should be using them, too. Conceptualizing and integrating a memorable campaign with today’s print and social media channels will help you stake out your territory, differentiate yourself from the competition, and demonstrate an air of confidence.

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How

Promote your brand message.

There are many, many ways to communicate your brand message, but you have to use the applications, channels, and platforms that your target audience is most likely to use. For example, if you are a mobile app designer, use web and mobile prototyping software to create your app, and then insert a link into an email blast or post it on your social media channels. If you’re a pattern designer, let your audience experience your shapes, textures, and colors first-hand by printing designs on cards or fabric swatches and sending a packaged kit via direct mail. They are two very different approaches, but each is appropriate for reaching and resonating with its particular audience. Not every form of communication works for everyone, so choose wisely.

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When

Time your promotions.

Think back to my analogy of finding true love. Do you share everything about yourself in that initial phone call, or do you hold a few things back to reveal when you’re on the first date? Likewise, your promotional plan might start with a trickling of key messages—some teasers or pings to gauge whether and how your audience will respond. Identify the date when all of your promotional touchpoints will be ready or in the pipeline to be completed. No matter what your promotion, schedule, or vehicle for delivery is, time your strategy and move the viewer from one channel to the next so they’ll have a comprehensive idea of what you have to offer. If you misstep and don’t deliver when you said you would, you can lose any trust you’ve built with your audience, and it could damage your brand.

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