Staking Your Claim: Convergence, Working the "Long Tail" and Defining Your Personal Brand


In any job search, and indeed, any business, an understanding of convergence will help you to contrast yourself from the “competition.” Potential employers or potential clients need to understand how you are different, but they will make decisions based on perceptions that you are a better fit for their needs, or a better value for their budget. To stand out, you need to explain your Unique Value Proposition, and start building your personal brand in alignment with it. This makes it clear where their needs converge with your own. This point of convergence is your potential point of agreement. I’d like to share the approaches I have taken, and open up a conversation about how to differentiate yourself from competitors.

When it came time to put some names to things, I began researching potential site names, to make sure that I could contrast myself against others trying to reach the same market. I followed the advice of several well-known bloggers and began by searching for preferred names and seeing which ones were already taken. Then I searched on terms that might mean something similar, but were not taken.

Then I combined related terms to come up with a new semantic term that did not have any results or competition. This is called working from the “long tail.” The idea is that by creating a convergent idea and a new term to go with it, you can stake out some digital claim to use of the new terms, and work to connect deeply with a smaller market.  This was the case for “higher ed life coach” and “higher ed career coach” in July 2009, so I moved ahead on registration.

I had already eliminated many options because they were already taken, or seemed similar to names that already existed. I would have loved to use the words “college” or “student affairs” in my site names, but most of the good names were taken. I thought about other terms that might be appealing and settled on “higher ed.” This made sense because it was not well-worn digital ground, and because few people outside of the career field referred to the field as “higher ed,” instead using the terms “university administration” and “faculty” to describe working in the field. For all the great terms related to “college life,” they seemed to be locked up by admissions advisors, and people trying to sell lifestyle merchandise to college students. So, while it may have seemed boring to many, I chose titles that described my target audience and what I hoped to do.

I won’t claim to be the only person working in higher education that can provide solid career advice. I read other blogs, including Mama PhD, Eric Stoller’s Blog, Insider Higher Ed, Higher Ed Jobs, BreakDrink, On the Go with Ed Cabellon, and many others. I won’t claim to be the only life coach or career coach working with college students and higher ed professionals. There are many others out there doing the same things, and who have been doing so for many years.

I will say that I believe myself to be the first person with a national brand premise based on providing these types of services primarily for higher education audiences. I say this because I did the research for quite a while before betting my career on it. My brand premise and the promise that comes with it is unique, and in describing it in the way I did, publicly and as early as July 2009, I opened up a new niche in both the coaching industry and in higher education, by creating a new sector called higher ed coaching. I’ve been providing advice and coaching services under these brand names since 2009, and gaining ground. I won’t claim to have universal appeal, but readership has been climbing steadily, and my network has been growing. It’s clear that I am on to something.

So clear in fact, that I’ve been identified by some as a promising player in the coaching industry and in higher education, and by others in both fields as a threat to the status quo. I’ll explain more about that as it becomes necessary and appropriate, but for now I want to concentrate on the Unique Value Proposition of this site, its brand promise, and the services and programs that go with it. I’m not really concerned with what others are doing. There’s room on this stage for many players and I believe in improvisation and cooperation. I also believe in the unique nature of what it is I am trying to do, and in my motivations for doing them.

My name is Sean Cook and I am the original and only genuine Higher Ed Career Coach™. It is my personal coaching brand, and is supported by web properties and coaching programs and services that support my personal brand. I am solely responsible for the content of these sites, and not affiliated with any other corporation or individual coach or consultant, unless you read a specific disclosure indicating otherwise. Higher Ed Career Coach™ is my personal brand.

The Higher Ed Career Coach™ brand is…

  • An Outsider brand, based in part on the idea that the higher education system and industry is broken and unable to adapt to the realities of the modern economy, political landscape, and the changing nature of learning and communication.
  • A Convergent brand, based on the idea that fixing the problems of higher education will require adaptation, and that adaptation will only happen when those inside the broken ecosystem of education look outside their ivory towers and embrace open-system thinking, as well as new ways to construct and support learning and communication.
  • An Intelligent brand, based on the belief that creating opportunities for understanding, reflection, research and debate are key to solving the problems of higher education.
  • A Social brand, committed to the belief that intelligent networking and awareness of network resources will create opportunities for new knowledge and practice.
  • Good-humored, Good-Natured and Personal, based on the value of relationships, and not measured by the value of business transactions conducted.

How would you describe the different core aspects of your personal brand? And what do you think about mine? Did I forget anything? What do you think I can do to reinforce the ideals above? Do you find them appealing?

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