By Alexandra Obradovich
Over the past four years of college I have read plenty of assigned books. Yet, with graduation right around the corner, I can only recall one text that I expect to have a constant impact on my future career. The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier was initially written to help businesses bridge the distance between strategy and design, although the disciplines outlined in this book directly relate to personal branding and my immediate job search.
“A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is,” is one of the first concepts introduced in the book. A brand is defined as a gut feeling about a product, service, person, or company and although people have power over their messaging they do not have control over how others will perceive their brand.
The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier can help recent graduates determine how to leverage their skills and education by exercising five key disciplines required to form an influential brand.
Discipline 1: Differentiate
Before a recent graduate can build a successful brand he or she needs to be able to answer three questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Why does it matter?
Professionals with established brands already have (hopefully) compelling answers for all three questions. Answering these questions can help to uncover flaws in focus, self-image, and outsider perception. By effectively communicating strengths and skills, young professionals can develop a strong argument for why they should be hired. Important competitive advantages lie in understanding who you are, what you do, and why it matters.
Discipline 2: Collaborate
Brands don’t develop in isolation. Instead they are a direct result of interactions between people over a long period of time. Building a brand is a collaborative effort that requires contributions from an entire community. For recent graduates, that branding community is a direct result of their networking efforts, like utilizing university career services or reaching out to industry professionals. As Neumeier says: “It takes a village to build a brand.”
Discipline 3: Innovate
In The Brand Gap, Neumeier introduces an idea called the innovator’s mantra: When everyone zigs, zag. Young professionals need to “abandon the comforts of habit, reason, and the approval of peers, and strike out in new directions.” In order to stand out from a sea of applicants recent graduates must attract employers through innovative approaches. “And how do you know when an idea is innovative? When it scares the hell out of you.”
Discipline 4: Validate
Neumeier describes the old model of communication as a monologue. This model fails to recognize that real world communication is instead a dialogue. Neumeier stresses that to transform a brand, feedback is necessary. As a young professional it is important to request feedback about your performance from your boss at work, internship supervisor, or university professor. Feedback can be immediate and unambiguous, which lets your personal brands adapt and make necessary changes.
Discipline 5: Cultivate
Within this disciple, Neumeier introduces the concept of a living brand. He states that a living brand is a dynamic experience. The most successful professionals are the ones that are continually adapting to changes in their industry, economy, and culture. Same goes for brands.