October 20, 2014
Too many brilliant Brand Leaders forget to apply the same fundamental principles of Branding to themselves. It seems that at the senior levels (Director, VP) while we are at the most vulnerable part of our career, we become a bit complacent. Having been in the job market, having seen many peers going through dramatic job and life changes, I continue to see great Brand Leaders do a bad job marketing themselves. Before you do anything, you should assess your situation by asking some of the toughest questions:
- Within your current company, how high up do you think you can realistically go? Be very honest. I’ve always believed that by your 40th birthday, you might have peaked or at best have one more level left to climb. Yes, there are exceptions, but you can’t plan to be one of the exceptions. The problem is that once you have peaked, how long do you realistically think you can remain successful within your current company, before you get squeezed out. And you might want to proactively take action at 45, rather than reactively be forced to take action at 55.
- Should you stay in the same industry or look at new verticals? If you’re in CPG, Brand Management still has the power to drive the brands you work on. But once you leave CPG, marketing’s role gets diminished, usually becoming a marketing communications function–either communicating the product innovation or service, which as a Marketer you might have little control over. With less control over the pure direction of the business or even brand, marketing becomes a bit more of a do-er support function who explains what has already been done by the brand, rather than a strategic marketer who leads the business. What you’ll also find is that as you move out of CPG, the talent levels that will fall under you goes down considerably. And then you have to jump in, going lower than you are used to in prior CPG roles.
- Should you stay in pure Brand Management or venture into a subject-matter expert type roles? This is one of the harder decisions you will make, because once you make it, you might not be able to turn back. It is human nature to want to label people–and this is one of the struggles you will face in managing your career, especially if you become a Subject Matter Expert. If you move out of Brand Management, and it doesn’t work out, it might be harder to convince future employers that you are still a generalist who can drive their brands.
- How long do you want to keep working? As you get older, you’ll have to start asking this. Part of this decision will depend on your own personal finances and your family situation. When I was 25, I would have hoped I’d retire at 55 on an island. But at 45, I found myself asking “so what do I want to do for the next 15 years?” I had no clue of the answer. And it was scary.
- Do you stay an employee or do you take this moment to leap out on your own? If most marketing careers peak in your 40s, still being an employee at 50 puts you at risk of being laid off by a 38-year-old one day. As we get older, you will find that it becomes harder to sit through a performance review. Being on your own gives you a certain power to be your own boss. I went out on my own a few years ago and love it. But when anyone asks me if they should, my immediate reaction is to say “that it’s not for everyone”. I want to make sure you are serious about it, and not getting me to try to talk you into it. It will be you who has to jump off the cliff. I still remember the phone call with my wife, where I told her about 10 times “I’m going to do it”. I was more preparing myself for it, than telling her. It can feel very risky but once you realize that you are betting on yourself you will know you can do it. The lifestyle is great, but you’re on the clock 24/7. And it can be a very lonely experience–which surprised an introvert like myself. It took me 18 months to get used to the being alone feeling.
You have to answer these questions honestly before going out into the market, looking for a job. These answers help frame the strategy for the roles you’d consider. Think of these questions as a starting point to your Personal Branding. To read more, including looking at a deep dive assessment of your personal situation and how to create your own Brand, follow this Powerpoint presentation:
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