Marketer, Sell Thyself

    I’m heavenly blessed
    And worldly wise
    I’m a peeping tom techie
    With X-ray eyes
    Things are goin’ great
    And they’re only gettin’ better
    I’m doin’ alright
    Gettin’ good grades
    The future’s so bright
    I gotta wear shades
    I gotta wear shades…
    — Timbuk3

As more and more friends and acquaintances change jobs or join the pink-slip ranks, I realize that one of the most important tasks for marketers may be to market themselves.

Some folks have it easy. If you’re a computer programmer, it’s easy to determine and demonstrate your skills. You have hard criteria, such as what school you attended, what languages you know, and what projects you’ve completed.

It’s the same story if you’re a management consultant (“I worked at McKinsey for two years”), investment banker (“Goldman Sachs”), or even a salesperson (“I was a member of the President’s Club at IBM”).

What these professions have in common are clear qualifications and clear achievement levels. In contrast, the life of a marketer — especially an online marketer — is much fuzzier.

Way back in the 20th century, the marketing career path was just as rigorous and regimented as those of other professions. You graduated from a top school, worked for a major consumer packaged goods (CPG) company such as Procter & Gamble, possibly went to business school, and rose through the ranks from assistant brand manager to brand manager into the executive ranks.

The advent of the Internet, however, blew things wide open. Suddenly, old school mingled with new school, and it was hard to tell the difference. Take Seth Godin, who became one of the poster children of the Internet era when he sold permission-marketing company Yoyodyne to Yahoo Although Seth earned an MBA at Stanford and worked as a brand manager in the 1980s, he is far better known for his gleaming cranium, which he has turned into a new-economy icon.

In the topsy-turvy world of online marketing, a shaved head trumps a Stanford MBA and traditional brand management experience.

As a result, online marketers have to apply as much discipline to marketing themselves as they do to pushing their company’s products. Here are The Disciplined Marketer’s Top 7 Tips for Self-Marketing:

7. Be Proactive

You don’t wait around for customers to come to you, so why wait around for employers to do the same? Sure, you could just post your resume on and wait for future employers to contact you, but this “Field of Dreams” attitude is just that: dreaming. Besides, do you really want to get into bed with the first person who asks? Instead, identify your perfect job and go after it!

6. Focus on Customer Benefits

When you market a product, you don’t focus on your company’s objectives, you focus on your customer’s benefits. The same principle applies to marketing yourself to potential employers. Ask not what your employer can do for you; ask what you can do for your employer.

5. Allocate a Budget

I’m a big fan of low-budget marketing, but there are times when you have to spend money. If you’re going to market yourself, do it right. Allocate a budget. Here are just a few things that are worth the money: your own domain name (now just $8.95 per year), your own cell phone, and lunches and dinners with important people.

4. Plan Carefully

Before you begin your employment campaign, draw up a written plan. Would you launch a product without a launch plan? If that seems rash, why would you fool around with your career, which is much more important than any single product launch? Produce a comprehensive plan, complete with check boxes and to-do lists.

3. Target Your Campaign

Don’t take a scattershot approach; targeting your efforts will deliver maximum results for your precious time. Focus on a specific industry, identify the top firms within that industry, identify the senior managers who could possibly hire you, and contact those people directly. You’ve got a better chance of winning the lottery than you have of getting a great job by submitting your resume to HR departments.

2. Build a Consistent Brand

Your human capital isn’t totally interchangeable between industries. If you’re a whiz at marketing networking equipment to Baby Bells, that doesn’t make you a genius at marketing pet food to dog owners. The contexts are completely different. Build a consistent brand by focusing your career within a specific context of people, capital sources, and customers. This will give you a consistent brand within your chosen industry.

1. Build to Last

I owe a debt of gratitude to Jim Collins, who, with Jerry Porras, wrote the seminal business book “Built to Last.” I was just an undergrad at Stanford when I heard Collins speak to one of my classes; that speech was so electrifying that it convinced me to go into business. Collins and Porras wrote that developing a core ideology and identity helped companies survive and thrive for decades and, in some cases, centuries. You can apply the same lesson to your career. Decide what you believe in and stick to it. Understand that jobs will come and go over the course of a 40-year career and that who you are and what you do will always be inextricably intertwined.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.