I love my job as a professor and teacher, and each time I teach my selling class, I rant and rave at students until they completely understand the importance of continuous professional development.  

Our name, our reputation, and our body of work are very transparent these days.  With social media in every aspect of our lives, with everyone having access to so much big data (which we all certainly are a part of), and the always-evolving digital footprints we leave behind, we need to remain vigilant to our persona.  

One job reference, one bullet point on a resume, and even a quick key stroke search on Facebook can both immediately and long term create perceptions of us by those those that are checking us out.

Let's face it-- we all have a personal brand. Our network of co-workers, associates, friends, and family all see us just like they see McDonald's or Hyatt hotels.

The PBJ of marketing to the rescue: product differentiation and product positioning

I like to call product differentiation and product positioning the PBJ of marketing. These marketing concepts are old-school, but they are still relevant, and as I say it bluntly to students, they are bad-ass and delicious.

Differentiation and positioning are a dynamic duo: a powerful combination that is real and impactful. Differentiation is an internal tactic, it's what an organization or brand does to make itself different, unique, or superior to competitors. Meantime, when you use your differentiation approach and promote it, it creates a position in the marketplace. Thus, product positioning is external, it's how the consumer sees your brand in comparison to others.

There are lots of examples, but lets use an example that goes over well with college students: beer.

Budweiser tries to be the great American beer; it's beech wood aged (whatever that means), and promoted a lot with Clydesdales.

Blue Moon is much more artsy, craft-like, best enjoyed with an orange.

Corona takes us to a chair on the beach, with total relaxation.

So these brands strategically differentiate themselves and when we as consumers look through the beer aisle, we see each brand differently-- each has a special position in our mind.

Let's play a game to further understand differentiation and positioning.  As you read the following sets of competitors, ask yourself what they do to be different and how do you see each in the marketplace of your mind?

  • Sprite versus Mountain Dew
  • Mercedes versus Honda
  • Count Chocula versus Grape Nuts
  • Apple versus Samsung

Now, ask yourself, what do you do to differentiate yourself professionally, and how do those in your network see you compared to other professionals?

Apply the PBJ of marketing to your personal brand

Since you are in essence a brand, you should focus on areas where you have special talents and levels of expertise, positioning yourself in your professional network. 

To illustrate, if you are bilingual, a spreadsheet guru, with a crackerjack knack for analytics, this can set you apart-- this can differentiate you from others in a pack. Focus, focus, focus on your strengths and talents, so everyone you professionally work with will know it. Make sure your differentiation talents are highlighted in all your work, your professional communications, and in the digital and social media footprint you leave behind.

Then almost like magic, marketing magic, the word spreads, just like it does with so many brands. You become the go-to person in your network when these talents are needed. Also, you are the one who gets recommended by those who know you. You have positioned yourself.

I often explain to students, and I would like to emphasize to you here in my Inc. classroom, these tactics, strategies, and theories we discuss and learn are not just to be able to pass a test or write a report. Apply them. Implement them.

Use the PBJ of marketing, differentiation and positioning, to your advantage. Like Nike, just do it.