Intermission: reflections of a job seeker

In the last couple of weeks since I started my job search, I’ve realized that finding a new role is a lot like one of the first games I ever played—the one where you have to fit the square peg in the square hole, and the octagon peg in the octagon hole.

But life isn’t geometric.

Square Peg in a Round Hole_0565

I suspect others can relate to my story. My professional career has been all over the map. As a musician I released two albums and gained national recognition. As a writer, I’ve contributed to one of the most influential research institutes in Washington DC, helping to transform the discussion around a values-based understanding of business, markets, and policy. I’ve designed websites and painted murals, developed marketing plans and branding strategies, led worship teams and creative professionals, and—to shore up my bona fides as an artsy intellectual type—paid my dues as a Starbucks barista.

I worked as a graphic designer to pay my way through college, but before I could finish my PhD in political science, I realized that I had become more valuable as a creative and strategic thinker in the marketing and branding space than I could ever be in academia alone. And ultimately, the prospects in that profession seemed too limiting. I finished up my MA and decided to focus more on what I could do to make businesses, non-profits, and other projects more successful.

The greatest challenge so far has been identifying where exactly I fit in a typical corporate structure. My previous role lacked that clarity of function, which did allow flexibility and a broader set of experiences, but had its drawbacks. I’ll let you in on my “dream job.” It would involve sitting down with CEOs to evaluate the challenges and the opportunities to position their companies for growth. That means (1) great products that people love, (2) a sound business model that actually makes money, (3) a healthy company structure and culture that is conducive to growth, (4) a brand that establishes a sense of purpose and value that people can get behind, (5) a marketing plan that reaches and engages audiences, and (6) creative material that manages to communicate all of these pieces effectively.

That would probably put me in the management consulting category, but with an emphasis on comprehensive brand and marketing strategy. The problem today is that while my experience is broad enough to give me the necessary macro-level view, it is perhaps too shallow in several areas. In other words, I may need a few more years—and few more successful clients—to be competitive for that kind of role.

I need an interim step. On which piece of the puzzle should I focus? Marketing? Brand strategy? Advertising? Content management? Creative direction? I could do any of them very well, but some will put me on a better track than others. Further research, hard thinking, and some prayer is in order—and the wisdom of friends is always welcome.

This is the stage where I have to refine my short-term goals, and somehow make the peg fit, regardless of what shape it takes in the future.

Intermission: reflections of a job seeker

Valspar is on point with #ColorForAll campaign

Check out this short video featuring colorblind individuals who are able to see colors for the first time. It’s a feel-good piece, but more than that, it’s a great example of effective content marketing by Valspar paints.

Content marketing has become a buzzword that brands have latched onto as the age of Google and social media have flipped the traditional advertising model. Where brand communication was once a one-way megaphone through which they could reach customers, they must now also position themselves to be found by them.

The two-pronged strategic response to this change is:

1) Strengthen your SEO (search engine optimization)practices that help consumers literally find you

2) Create content that will be be liked and shared by your target audience.

Some brands have checked their content marketing box by hosting a blog and keeping their Facebook and Twitter feeds active. But the days of easy gains from social media are over. If you want to stand out from the cacophony of brands vying for attention, you have to raise the bar on creativity and quality. Brands have to think about what really makes people care.

Valspar nailed it with this project. Instead of telling you all about their paint products, they’ve partnered with EnChroma, a company that creates lenses to correct colorblindness. They’ve told a story about people who have been given a new way to see the world because of color. This demonstrates a company that understands its brand and its relevance in the lives of people.

The video is extremely sharable, regardless of whether I have any vested interest in paint. They’ve created what feels like a non-profit advocacy campaign within a for-profit business. It even has its own website.

The goal here isn’t necessarily to drive visitors to the Valspar site—though it surely will. The real goal is to increase the brand’s name awareness and engage audiences in a story brought to you by Valspar. Next time you are preparing to lay a new coat on your bedroom wall, you’ll already have a distant emotional connection with the brand.

This project took time. They had a strategy, planned it out, and executed excellently. It’s impact will be worth a thousand blog posts. Bravo, Valspar!

Valspar is on point with #ColorForAll campaign

Why your marketing efforts are backward

If you own a company, there is a temptation to treat marketing the same way you buy office supplies. You find someone who has design software or you buy one yourself, and dial up a quick advertisement to tell people all about your products and services. Done. Box checked.

Not so fast. If you’re that focused on efficiency, you could have wasted money much easier by lighting it on fire. It’d be more entertaining anyway.

In fact, when it comes to marketing, there really must be a balance between “get it done” efficiency and “do it right” effectiveness. Most of the hard work happens before a designer ever touches a sketchbook or a mouse. Effectiveness thinking (versus efficiency thinking) requires a whole different set of questions:

– What defines us, and what are we trying to accomplish?
– What is our audience looking for?
– How many possible routes could we take to connect the dots?
– What unseen problems should we anticipate?
– Will our strategy still make sense a year or two down the road?

These questions and plenty more like them are the stuff of good business, which happens to be much of the same stuff that makes good marketing. They help you see your target, so when you’re ready to fire, you’re more likely to hit it.

The first step in a marketing strategy isn’t what your logo should look like, or how to start up a Facebook page. Set your social media strategy aside for the moment and focus on the message you need to convey, and why customers should care about you enough to stop what they are doing and give you their time, attention, and possibly their money.

Back in my art classes in high school, my sculpture teacher would always say “measure twice, cut once.” It’s a common saying, of course, but so easy to forget. If you take good measure of exactly what you are trying to accomplish, and what your real challenges are, you are much better positioned to get the results you are looking for. Maximum impact with minimal efforts. That, after all, is what being truly efficient is all about.

Why your marketing efforts are backward