How to Stand Out With Unique Expertise – Go Narrow and Broad

branding intellectual property May 19, 2021

Often the way to stand out and develop unique expertise involves stepping outside a discipline. I’ll use myself as an example. By combining intellectual property law, with branding and marketing, I’ve set myself apart from other IP lawyers, and have a unique perspective that I bring to branding and marketing which is very rare.

To solidify my understanding of branding and marketing, I recently wrote a book, and have just embarked on a training course in brand management. The course comes a few weeks after submitting the manuscript for Brand Tuned to the publisher. It would have been much easier to write the book had I attended this course first. However,  it was only because I was writing the book that I became aware of who the key players were in the branding space. Thanks to Mark Ritson’s articles in Marketing Week I got some answers to questions I was researching and he has a real knack for making the complex easy to understand. So when I noticed his mini MBA courses I decided to sign up to learn from him.

Although I already know a lot about marketing and branding given my focus on brands as an intellectual property lawyer running my own business for more than 15 years, and having written a book on branding, I still wanted a training course to deepen my knowledge of brands.

IP law is a big topic, which people assume is all about patents and copyright. However, trade marks are my specialist area. The subject is huge and is particularly relevant to all things brand-related. People perceive IP lawyers as being the same but there is a world of difference between them. So, it began to bother me that people didn’t understand that there is a world of difference between IP lawyers because IP law is a huge discipline. You may find a similar issue in your discipline – that although you are different to someone else who broadly covers a similar discipline, the public perceives you as no different.

Well, when it comes to IP lawyers they have different backgrounds, experience, and focus. I stand apart from other IP lawyers in lots of ways. For one thing, I’m not interested in running litigation cases. My interest in the law has always been as part of other issues, such as running a business or creating brands. Ultimately, it’s entrepreneurship and business, marketing and branding that I’m interested in. Law in that context is relevant and interests me, but the law on its own doesn’t fascinate me. Yet I know many IP lawyers who are more interested in the minutiae of the law than in business issues. That’s why I’ve increasingly gravitated towards branding and marketing.

Having a multi-disciplinary set of skills is what I think is missing and needed in the small business world as far as branding and the law related to it goes. So, by narrowing my focus to the law that’s relevant to brands, and extending my knowledge in disciplines that are related to brands, I can offer a much more effective type of support – and as it happens completely set myself apart from others in my industry. If you’re looking to develop a unique set of skills, I’d suggest copying this approach to extend your knowledge in related fields of expertise.

Why Do I Think Experience is Worth Supplementing With Formal Training?

The reason I think experience is worth supplementing with formal training is due to how much I learnt from doing a Master’s degree in IP law after working as an in house lawyer at Reuters for 5 years.

The very nature of the Reuters business, involving as it did software, data, brands, licensing etc, meant that virtually all my work revolved around intellectual property issues, copyright in particular. But the Masters’ degree really gave me a much broader perspective on IP law.  I got clarity after studying for the LLM that made it easier to see the whole picture. The studies gave coherence to the knowledge I’d acquired through experience so that I became a far better IP lawyer as a result of being exposed to the new thinking that the academic environment offered. There is a huge value academic disciplines add to ones’ body of knowledge. As it happens there were gaps in my experience that I wasn’t even aware of, so I emerged from the LLM transformed in my effectiveness as an IP lawyer.

Debating this question of experience versus qualifications with someone recently, they said they would much prefer to spend money learning from the best marketers in the world, many of whom have no qualifications in marketing than to undertake a course such as the one I’m doing.

I think this assumes that marketing is all about tactics. Certainly, if I wanted to do a particular type of marketing, I'd go learn from whoever is getting the best results in that area. However, there is a lot to be said for understanding the fundamentals of a discipline first.  Learning from someone who has studied AND practised a discipline is the ideal because you know they’re working from sound principles, you can trust that they won’t lack certain key skills, that they’re not just parroting a few recent trends.

Still, I guess it depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Whether you believe in learning through private study or by attending a formal training program there is a lot we can glean about how to pick up the knowledge we need from Elon Musk.

How Did Elon Musk Learn About Engineering and Rocket Science?

Many people assume that Elon Musk has a background in engineering and rocket science, but he didn’t know much about either subject when he started his ventures. Someone asked him how he had downloaded whole complex new disciplines into his brain so quickly. He certainly reads a lot of books, hires many smart people and soaks up what they know, but he seems to have found a way to pack knowledge into his head. How does he do it? 

Elon Musk views knowledge as a semantic tree. He advocates first understanding the fundamental principles, that is the trunk and big branches before you get into the leaves, that is the details, (which in marketing would be the tactics) because otherwise there is nothing for them to hang onto.

I’ve seen successful entrepreneurs selling courses that people buy into, and in fact, I’ve bought into them myself sometimes, to learn something that that entrepreneur managed to achieve.

So, for example, you want to create a successful online membership site, and someone who is an expert in that area sells you their course so you can learn how to successfully replicate their success. But the problem when you do that is that often you don’t already have the solid fundamentals of knowledge you need. You don’t have somewhere to hang the additional information you learn onto, so you can’t anchor it in the mental models you already understand.

Much better to undertake formal training in disciplines like marketing and branding so you understand things at their most fundamental level first. Then by applying your learnings in practice you can improve your skills.

By all means, if there is a particular tactic that you want to apply in your business, go and learn from others who have already figured out how to do it. But anyone who believes that learning a set of tactics is a good substitute for learning marketing is misguided in my view.

I put a high value on formal learning, and I hope to support businesses to be more effective with their brand building by ensuring I get formal training in brand management as well as relying on my experience.

Why it’s a Problem That There Are So Many Unqualified People in Marketing

The reason it’s a problem that there are so many unqualified people in marketing is that it increases the danger of bad advice being given to businesses. I believe the single biggest reason SMEs fail is due to receiving bad advice. The danger is that they use someone who doesn’t know core stuff, who is unqualified and unproven. That can do a lot of harm.

Finding trusted suppliers in any field is difficult. Qualifications in themselves are not enough, but they do provide some objective criteria by which to assess potential suppliers. You can look at their experience too and decide if they have the skills you need.

Training isn't just about qualifications though. It's about life-long investment in learning and improving, in other words, having a commitment to continuous learning.  

In terms of the course, I’m doing as it’s focused on big brands with millions to spend on their brands I’m wondering how to apply what I learn to the small business end of the market where budgets are much smaller and the need for results and immediate sales is greater.  Nevertheless, if you are a small business looking to grow into a bigger business and brand, then you need to make sure you are doing the right things to manage your brand so it grows and becomes associated in consumers’ minds in the ways you would like to be perceived.

So What Does Brand Management Actually Mean And Why Does it Matter in Practice?

Mark Ritson suggests thinking of the brand as 'the clay', and brand management as 'the sculptor'. On this basis, brand management is about taking active steps to shape the brand to acquire the desired associations and brand image. This needs to be done on an ongoing and regular basis if you want to build brand equity. Brand equity means awareness that you exist as a brand, plus all the mental associations that consumers hold in their heads about your brand.

Managing a brand involves diagnosing your brand’s issues annually, setting a strategy and then implement that strategy using appropriate tactics. This is how you build a brand in line with your desired attributes while being very customer focused.

Every business needs to actively manage its brand by, among other things, planning for the year ahead before the next financial year. They should measure their brand’s awareness and decide how effective their strategy over the previous year has been. Learn from any mistakes or failures, and after diagnosing the scenario your brand faces set your strategy for the following financial year, and so on.

It is only by actively managing the brand and putting appropriate budgets into building brand awareness that the brand becomes known and strengthens over time.

This strategic approach to building the brand is largely missing in the small business market where any thinking that goes into brand strategy tends to be limited to brand design creation. The work of building the brand in desired ways is invariably missing so that businesses are more likely to rebrand down the line. For many such businesses, branding is a surface visual exercise. The amount of rebranding that goes on is beyond belief and is so damaging to businesses if they only realised it. I now know how undesirable it is to make changes to your branding just because you’re bored with how your brand looks. 

I’m hoping that the many lessons I’ve learnt through writing my book, and that I’ll learn from this brand management course, will equip me to provide effective support to SMEs so they can develop and grow their brands using best practice.

Does Formal Training Help Fast Track Learning?

I believe that formal training such as the one I’m going through does fast track one’s learning because otherwise, it might take too much time to learn what you don’t know through experience.

I want to offer a quality brand management service to clients. Knowing how much bad advice there is out there, makes me determined to support businesses who have ambitions to grow into enduring brands, so they don’t get derailed through bad advice. Knowing what to focus on when building their brand will better support them to succeed.

My background puts me in a unique position to support small businesses with the ambition to become the big businesses of tomorrow. Larger corporate clients of mine tend to need support where there is a naming element involved.

There are many different issues around brand names that people are unaware of. It’s not just whether a particular name is or is not available. There are many other considerations to know about. So, I can support companies so their naming projects are a success.

In conclusion, the problem as I see it is that for small businesses branding tends to begin and end with brand designs. Even if people say that a brand is about much more than a logo, they don’t act as if that were the case. They may engage in exercises around what their brand represents, what their values are, how they want to be known, what they stand for etc, but this brand thinking largely ends there. Therefore, brand creation invariably amounts to nothing more than a design exercise. With the best will in the world, people can’t develop their brands because they don’t know how to actively manage their brand after the designs are done so that they build their brand in line with whatever thinking they came up with during the design stage.

This vacuum that exists when it comes to brand management for SMEs, is something I hope to say more about once I’ve decided how to adapt the knowledge I’m gleaning about what big businesses do to build their brands, to the SME market. Watch this space.

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