The Power Of Personal Branding in Higher Ed - A Conversation with Mark Hodgson


I recently had the pleasure of chatting with author and executive coach Mark Hodgson. Mark helps entrepreneurs build their personal brand and influence and has inspired teams in both the commercial and not-for-profit world. In this episode we discussed the importance of brand building within Higher Education at all levels – including students, faculty, administration, degree programs, and institutions at large.


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Summary of the Conversation

Mark Hodgson believes that in the digital age, it is imperative for every professional to have a personal brand, which serves as their personal shop window to the world. Academia creates value when it affects the outside world, and personal branding is crucial in communicating that value. A personal brand needs to be distinct, portable, and belong to the individual, not an organization or institution. It should be flexible enough to travel with you as you move through your career. Every professional, including students and faculty members, needs a personal brand in the digital world that tells the world they're open for business.

Your personal brand needs to be flexible and moldable enough so that it can travel with the person and not lose their sense of identity. A personal brand is a combination of reputation, expertise, experience, and essence, which is the passions, characters, and traits that make a person unique. It shapes people's first impression of you and without an online presence that showcases your value, you risk being overlooked.

The college experience is transformational, as students find their essence and personal brand. Academic institutions can enhance this process by encouraging students and faculty to create content and engage in conversations on social media platforms like LinkedIn. By applying what they're learning to the external world, students can develop their thinking and show up in their brand.

Institutions should encourage undergraduates to start getting involved in their industry early on and understand what the industry is talking about online, so they can start commenting and creating engaging content to develop skills that will be useful in the future. Institutions should encourage interaction at the intersection where the institution meets the rest of the world to help students translate what they are learning and take it out into the world.

Creating a great brand involves effective communication that engages people in a busy world. it's important to write and post content that people will respond to, rather than lengthy academic pieces. Feedback and critique are important in shaping brand identity, and it's essential to be open to evolving and adjusting based on feedback.

Creating authentic and conversational content is about describing problems, projects, and insights in a conversational tone. This approach keeps your brand evolving and can make anyone a thought leader in their niche. It's not necessary to be Einstein or have revelatory content, but rather to have ongoing conversations with the right intent. Thought leadership involves ongoing conversations with the right intent, identifying problems and patterns, offering potential solutions, and being open to feedback. Putting in this work on your personal brand can be valuable for individuals as it can lead to job offers, funding, and other benefits.

Institutions themselves should focus on building an authentic brand by showcasing their culture, projects, and outreach efforts. Students do not necessarily have a responsibility to contribute to the institution's brand, but rather the institution should make it something that students want to do. By telling their story openly and often, institutions can easily build their brand.

Faculty members should invest in building their personal brand to showcase their expertise and thought leadership. While being associated with a prestigious university is impressive, it misses the opportunity for individuals to create their own brand that compliments the institution. Academics should create their brand and tell the world what they are doing. translating academic content into shorter, simpler language for social media platforms like LinkedIn can help faculty members gain more visibility.


Full Transcript

Ian Evenstar: As you know, branding is such a comprehensive effort in and of itself. And then we start to look at the institution of higher ed and we think, okay, branding at the institutional level, the degree level, the individual level, whether it's faculty or staff, it's a lot to cover. So why don't we just get started with maybe the, broadest question, can you share some insights or from your perspective, why is personal branding even important at all? Why are we talking about personal branding within the constraints or the constructs of higher education?

Mark Hodgson: A lot of this is, is how do we link higher education, the purpose of higher education, which is, which is to produce, you know, great citizens contributors, business people, entrepreneurs et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, which means professionals in the world.

And we now live in a digital age which is, you know, accelerating at a crazy pace. And I think it's just imperative that every single professional. Has a personal brand which fundamentally, I like to say it's our personal shop window to the world.
And it lets the world know that we're open for business. And it is interesting in preparing for today's podcast, you know, I think a lot of the maybe where the area of opportunity is, is to take academia's great, but it's also, as we know, it can be its own ivory tower, but academia of itself is great. But what, where academia really creates value is as academia affects the outside world, society, commerce, whatever. And so the personal brand piece is really important, that people are actually able to tell the world what they do, how they, how they create value.
And I think that is really important at an individual level, at a personal level, but also at an organizational or institutional level. And in terms of the personal brand, you know, we are in those days now where people go through their careers, and I see the academic piece is very much the foundation piece of many parts of our career.

I mean, I went to university many years ago in the UK and it's a foundation piece, but I've evolved and done many, many things since then. So the brand, we need to build a personal brand that belongs to us and is portable as we do these multiple careers. And, you know project pieces, whether you stay in academia go out into the marketplace, become an employee become an entrepreneur, you know, we need to, we need to take a brand with us in our backpack.

So it needs to be distinct. It needs to tell the world what we do. How we add value, and also why we're different. But crucially, it needs to belong to us, not an organization or an institution. This is where many people's brands, most people either have no brand or their brand is, I work for Big Co. I'm the general manager at Big Co. Which is kind of, that's okay all the time. You work for Big K, but what happens when you don't? So I think every, every single professional. Needs to have a personal brand. Therefore, getting back to your question, every single student, professor, or faculty member needs to have a personal brand in the digital world.
That is, that tells the world they're open for business.

IE: And just to add on or underline one of the points you made there, that personal brand needs to be flexible and moldable enough so that if they were to leave the institution or upon graduation or upon taking a new post at a different university, that that can actually travel with them, right? That they don't lose their sense of identity in that process. That it actually becomes part of their identity as it evolves from one place to the next.

MH: I'm 58, so when I left university, it was probably assumed that you would take a role in a, you know, probably a multinational or something. I'm making it 2, 3, 4 different companies in your, in your 30-something-year career. Now, as we know, that's probably gonna be 20 or 30 different projects or employment pieces, et cetera, et cetera. So yeah, you, it doesn't make sense, does it? You, you need to have, you need and also you when you go to a new thing, you don't wanna start over. You wanna build, build, build. And your brand, if you think about it, is a combination of your reputation. It's a combination of your experience, but also might come on and talk about this a little bit more.

I think the third aspect of your brand is your essence, which is your passions, your characters, your traits, what you like what fires you up what ticks you off in capturing that in an authentic brand. So your expertise, your experience, but also your essence. Is it such a fantastic it's powerful personal and unique sort of package of who you are, if you think about it, that's who you really are.

That's who most of us are. If we can. If we can show up in our personal brand as who we really are, it's very, it's very attractive to the right people. And we're obviously, we're looking for the right people who wanna work with us, employ us work for us, whatever. So the brand, the brand is a is and to not have a personal brand in a digital age, where if you think about it, what's, what's the first thing that most of us do when, when a new person, we dunno, comes across our radar, we'd probably jump onto the web.

We might go, might Google them, or we might go onto a LinkedIn profile. And then we'll say, who's this? And we, we, we form an impression, don't we? And if there's not much going on in their personal brand, we'll probably immediately pigeonhole these people as I know they're the mid-level or they're low level, or they're, who are they?

They, then we'll get, well, they, instead we'll probably move on to someone else who, they look more energetic, they look, they look more credentialed whatever. So that, I think the whole idea, probably the first. You know, out of today's talk probably the first thing I'd encourage most people listening is, if you haven't got a personal brand, start building one.

We'll talk more about what that actually entails. And I know it can sound scary, but start building one because I think in a, you know, in a, in a digital age, and it clearly is a digital age for you not to have an online presence that tells the world what you do, who you are, how you add value and why you're different is, is a massive, massive impediment in any context.

IE: So you said something earlier that really caught my attention the first time I've actually heard someone articulate it in this way, which is that academia adds value because of the transformational impact it has on the outside world. The way it shapes the outside world, as I believe you put it, which we sometimes think of academia as this insulated free of any, you know, relationship or contextual connection to the outside world.

And yet you're saying that one of its most fundamental Ways it adds value is the way it shapes the outside world. I think that's very astute and extremely accurate. And then I think about the idea of transformation in the outside world. The experience as a student going through university, going through your college degree, that in itself is also very transformational.

It is a transformational experience. We go through as students in our 2, 4, 6, and 8-year programs of choice. So in that process of being transformed in that process of. Finding our essence. You said that a brand has an essence, right? Essence, yeah. So as students are doing essence finding as they're discovering themselves Yes.
How can faculty and administration help? What steps can they take in order to enhance that process of a student finding their personal brand? Well,

MH: Academia is in and of itself a fabulous thing, I suppose where the brand conversation really creates value at the interface between the academic institution and body and the outside world, the commercial world, for example. If the institutions can encourage students and faculty to really be present in their brand.
And when you know, when we, to be specific, one of the main, what people, people are gonna develop their brand and show up in their brand and, and develop their own thinking is through creating content. So it's content commentary. And there are multiple platforms, but probably the most obvious one is LinkedIn.

Because there wouldn't, there wouldn't be, there wouldn't be many people listening to this podcast who aren't on LinkedIn. And if you aren't, you really probably should be as a professional, academic, or a professor or whatever. I think there's a real opportunity for often inward-looking academic institutions to encourage the students the undergrads to actually think more broadly about how maybe how they apply what they're learning, post that on LinkedIn, get involved in conversations on social media, maybe about applying what they're learning or discussing or just really bringing to life what they're talking about.

In relation to the external world, not just the academic, you know, not just the academic world, not just the things I need to do to get the grades to pass my courses, but actually say, how do we apply this? So I think one of the major, you know, one of the main things that we, that we, that I would be encouraging undergraduates to do, for example, is to make sure, you know, start to.

You know, follow your industry. Where, where you're gonna go to start getting involved very early on in understanding what's the industry talking about? And, also hopefully you are gonna have new, new insights, learning new things, new information, new data. Actually start commenting early on in the piece to actually say, actually, well, that problem you've currently got in, in, in that area? Actually, what's interesting, we're currently studying some new theories at x, y, z Uni. And we think there are some opportunities to do this or in another country they're doing that. So that might be something to think about. And I know as probably young undergrads that might feel.

They might feel a little bit o o you know overwhelmed by that. But it's a real opportunity. And the reality is at some point you're gonna leave uni, you're gonna wanna get a job. So it's much better to have started that kind of discourse and interaction and learn the skills of creating commentary and creating content that's gonna be engaging, that people are gonna wanna you know, gonna wanna comment on and be attracted to.

So I think that's a really solid thing that I'd be encouraging undergraduates to develop. And so therefore, if the institution can maybe set projects or generally encourage people to, it's almost like, imagine imagining here a circle where the institution's a circle. We've gotta encourage people to interact at the intersection where the circle meets the rest of the world. 'cause that's the rest of the world where most of the people, not everyone, but most of the undergrads aren't gonna stay in academia all their life. Most are gonna leave. I think one of the best things we can do is help them through their brand and through their content, translate what they're learning, what they're thinking, as you said, how they're, how they're growing as adults and forming their own opinions. How can we actually take that out into the world rather than sort of existing in a bubble?

IE: Yeah, I think it's quite profound the idea of developing the brand but also sharpening the identity, sharpening the brand, and then encouraging faculty and staff and administration. To help the student really not only develop but sharp, sharpen their point of view, sharpen their point of view through the use of content and commentary. I'm thinking about early writing assignments even, you know, you're taking your, your writing credentials, your, your basic requirements. First, in the second year of college, when did a faculty member ever come to you and say, look, What you're writing is a reflection of your personal identity? This is a reflection of your point of view. This is a way for you to start developing your own brand identity. Yeah, so I think even just like kind of framing the assignments, even if they're not publishing to LinkedIn or otherwise, just even bringing some awareness to the fact that. What you're creating content-wise and commentary-wise within the class, within that Safe Haven is part of that development and sharpening process that you alluded to?

MH: I think there are a couple of ideas there the first one is that I always think that the best way to think is to write. It’s just a honing process. It's a great way to get, get your thinking sharper. And what we wanna do is obviously equip our students to be successful. We want, want them to have good levels of influence and, and, and build respect and trust and all of these. That's a great way to do it. Rather than just walk around with a resume going, Hey, I, I've got all these degrees and I'm very smart. And the world goes, okay, now what you can do? What are you gonna do for me? What are you, what, what else have you got? And the brands are, I think, brands like the personal brand piece in a digital world, you, you need as well as your resume and all your credentials and so forth. You also need a great brand.
We will come on to talk about this, which I'm sure is a big part of the brand, which is your ability to communicate in a way that other people will respond to and react to in the world. And in a world busy world where everyone's got too much going on, it's very important to write and post, and create videos.

And so in a way that people will engage with, which is not an academic, Hey, here's 5,000 words with a gazillion references. Most people are not gonna. Engage with that unless they're forced to. So that's an interesting issue as well.

IE: There's a handful of good follow-up questions within there. I think part of the conversation that you have online is when you start to test or express your brand. Is the feedback and the inputs and maybe some critique or criticism against the commentary? So how much flexibility do you allow for a student or, you know, maybe even think about the faculty member to adjust their identity? I mean, how important is it to sort of stand your ground and say, this is where I've planted my flag? This is who I am and what I believe, and how much of this is an evolution based on. The feedback that you receive from the brand identity that you're expressing?

MH: The answer to that is, I don't know, but isn't that a great place to be finding out? Maybe we've got a theory, a pet theory that we've got that kind of, you know, the undergraduate kind of certainty and competence in, and we go, no, this is the way to do this. I've read three books in it. And then someone from the real world goes, actually, nah, we should, that doesn't work, and here's why. It doesn't work. Now here's why. So what? So therefore what can we evolve? And you know, and, and that, and, and that's the process of learning, isn't it? It's, it's that iterative process of here's an idea, here's a hypothesis. Okay, let's test this. And, and, and, and I think it's, I mean, it's interesting I think in, in what, in, in that, in that in that context, this is a great way to test some things.

But also I think a real value for the student is to have their raw ideas or highly theoretical ideas. They haven't pressure tested with input from the marketplace if you like. That's great learning. Because that's gonna happen when they walk out the door with a degree, that's certainly gonna happen. So if you could, if they can, that can be part of the process. I think that's a real, that's a really positive thing. And, you know, and also build, it builds there. I mean, we talked about the, the idea of people's essence.

It's a great way to build that, to stress test and evolve and you know, and temper if you like. And temper there in one sense, just sort of a theory and actually blend, you know, expose that to practical. Application and realities and so forth early in the piece such that they, when they, when they get stronger through the process and learn more.

And when they finally enter the marketplace, whatever that looks like, they're probably better equipped. And if we've done this well, if the institution has engaged in this and encouraged this opening, I think it actually says a lot of it, it creates value for the brand of the institution as well. I know academia doesn't see itself just as a breeding place for people to go and get great jobs. I know it's not the only thing. It's one thing and there's lots of other research and other things that are important. Yeah, but for many people that's a big part of it.

IE: So you provided a few answers to this question already, but I'm gonna see if we can dig a little deeper. But in terms of, you know, why it's important to consider or help enable the development of a student's personal brand as part of their learning process and part of the outcomes that they receive from this effort, you mentioned, well, this is a, a great way to find out who you are. This is a great way to test your learning, your thinking really, you know, stress test what you believe in and what you stand for. And focusing on one's personal brand identity development is a way to accelerate that development, that personal development. Are there any other reasons why you would emphasize or make a case for why it's important to build a student's personal brand identity?

MH: I think if you can show up in your personal brand as who you really are. This means, you know, and all great ideas, you're authentic. You talk about what you're interested in, you talk about the problems you're working on, you talk about the solutions. You think that identify problems, identify solutions, and if you can do all that in your own personality, which is the essence piece. If you can do that and show us who you really are, then it's extraordinarily powerful and it almost feels like an online consistent commentary of kinda where you are in life. And so in work and life, and I always talk about this idea of what we wanna do to be successful in life is, is build our tribe.

And it's a track to us that it might only be a few hundred people. The group of people who value us might want, they might employ us, they might advise us. They might support us when things are, things are tough, but fundamentally, there's a group of people whom we grow and evolve with.

And it does change this group, this tribe. And we move through life with that tribe. And as we say, if we keep moving through multiple jobs, maybe we live in multiple different countries, with different roles. Life goes well, life goes badly. You know, there's a whole load of different things that can happen. But the brand, the brand sits right in the middle of that. And when we get to the point where we can show up as who we really are that is both extraordinarily attractive to the right people, the right tribe, and it's also actually becoming very enjoyable and very easy to actually write that content.

And I think when we talk a lot about the content, often with, you know, the, the con, the content that we need that bring out, that brings our brand to life. Is really, it's, it's about commentary and describing what you're seeing as the problems. You are working on projects, you are projects that you're currently attracting your attention, things that you, things that you're doing well, maybe things we're messing up and, you know, we've got this big challenge in our sector right now.

We've tried this and it didn't work. Okay. But here's, so this is what we did wrong, but here are three things. We think we, the things are gonna work and we'd love, love, love to get some insights from other people. What do you think that kind of conversational tone in our brand is? Lifelong? It's very authentic and actually becomes very easy, but it will keep that tribe piece moving for us. And it keeps us evolving as we go from students through to, you know what I call wise elders, and most people don't have a brand. Most people are put off by the idea of some version of putting themselves out there, many people have this mistaken belief, "I thought that to create content and to have a personal brand or to become a thought leader, you've gotta be Einstein and everything you say in your content has gotta be amazing or revelatory, and it really doesn’t. You can be a thought leader in your sector and in your marketplace. It can be very niche, really, just by having that ongoing conversation with the right intent. And the intent is here are some problems I'm seeing, here are some patterns we're thinking we're, we're kind of observing. I'm not quite sure.

We haven't got all the answers. Here are three things we think might be the way to go right now. That kind of tone. If that's what thought leadership looks like. And I mean, I know there are a thousand professors listening to this who probably could be doing this and aren't doing this. And it's so powerful when people can do that, it's very valuable for other people, but also for the individual, it's very valuable because you actually become attractive. You know, when you, you, you get invited to be on panels, you get job offers.

Maybe you attract funding or research funding. There's a whole lot of benefits to it. And I say when you can get to that point where you can show up in your personal brand as who you really are creating content, that's really just describing what you're observing and doing. It's really powerful. It's fun. And I think it has great commercial value. So I'm not sure I answered your question, but that's, that's kind of how I see it.

IE: I mean, the question was, why is it important to have students thinking in this direction? And I think you gave us quite a breadth of an answer there.
What if we were to flip the script? Now you mentioned the word tribe and Yeah, the alma mater. You know, one's university is their tribe, right? They have it down to the color, to the mascot, to the sports team. Yep. What role does the student now play? Or what responsibility, if any, does the student play in contributing to the thought leadership of their university, of their tribe at the institutional level?
Is there any kind of responsibility or thinking that you would advocate for in terms of how a student contributes to that? Yeah.

MH: It's a great idea, but I wouldn't wanna say they'd have a responsibility.
I'd actually flip it back and say, what is the, you know, what is the institution doing to, you know, to really make that something that you want to do. It comes back to the 'cause. What is a university's brand? How do we make that stand out here? And I think with so much of this, the whole, it's an overused word, but at, at the heart of all of this conversation sits authenticity. 'cause I think when we talk about brand or personal brand, people kind of think it's like I had some kind of makeover. I gotta go and, you know, we've gotta put our best clothes on and we gotta look, put our Sunday best on and look like we're amazing all the time. Or you know we're just fantastic all the time. And it's kind of shined the shiniest version of ourselves.
And we want, we want, we want our brand to be the best version of ourselves, but we also want it to be honest and authentic. You really describe stuff that's going on. And so I think that that cuts both ways and I'm coming to answer the question. I think that means that you know, in terms of the brand of an institution, you know, the, it shouldn't be, oh, we've got a brand ourselves.

It should be, Hey, we've got such a great culture, we've got so many great things going on. All we need to do is tell the world what we're doing. Frequently, openly, honestly, here's a great project we got. Here are some great things our students do. Here's a, an industry where we got, 'cause we, we solved some real problem.
Here's some outreach stuff. Here's some stuff we're doing in the not-for-profit sector. If you just, if you're doing that stuff, then the brand thing becomes very easy. 'cause you just tell your story openly and often. Now, To answer your question, if, if an, if an institution's doing that, you know, openly, often and doing it well and with, and with the right heart and not with some kind of commercial, you know, angle, which is a probably a whole lot other conversation, you know, then I think the, the alma mater would be very happy to be involved and engaged and, you know, they're proud, proud to be back in and go back and help young students.
And, you know, I think that it becomes a lovely, virtuous cycle, doesn't it? But it really, it really, I think it actually. Starts with, it's again, it's gotta be something you want to do, not something. There's some kinda sense of responsibility. You know, after you leave for the first year, we expect you to, you know, show off on social media saying, we're an amazing institution. Hmm. No one's gonna do that.

IE: I'm immediately thinking about my role as a faculty member. Who helps designers and make that transition between senior year of design and then also my responsibility to help elevate the status or the reputation, the brand of the art department itself at the university. Yeah. And so the student senior exhibit is kind of a place you talk about these intersections. This is a place where both of those things happen. It's a place for the student, not only to showcase their voice, their point of view, you know, through the visual arts and media that they create, but it's also a way for the faculty and the university to kind of prop up themselves by showcasing the work of the students. And I think you see that also in papers and publishing. Definitely at the graduate level, right where people are, faculty are publishing white papers or maybe even appealing to Nobel Peace Prize recipients. So thinking about the faculty now, what other ways might the faculty make an investment or pursue this idea of brand building? How, how else might the faculty showcase their own expertise and thought leadership?

MH: I dunno the stats, and I wonder how many faculty actually have a brand, have actually invested in their personal brand other than saying, I'm professor such and such at, you know, big university. And as we know, the way academia ranks itself and on which university did you go to? And, you know, oh, and that one, all that my ones, my university is slightly better than yours. All that, all that sort of, that league table thing that goes on. Which is kind of, which is kind of funny. But you know, just saying, I'm a professor, something from such and such a university. The brand you're actually relying on is the brand of the university. It's Harvard or Stanford or, or Oxford or, or what, whatever. And the brand, you're, you're actually, you're actually saying, no, no, the brand is it, it's Oxford. That's very impressive. And therefore, because I'm a senior person at Oxford, therefore I'm impressed. That's kind of the linkage there. And that's true, but it's also. It misses the opportunity, I think for the individual to create their own, their own brand. Which compliments the institution.

And it should compliment and it must, must compliment to some extent. It can't be completely at odds with it. But it's a missed opportunity because, you know, the, you know, academics can and should be, you know, they, they, they, they should be, Creating that brand. Telling the world what they're doing.

I think, and I think one of the interesting things is that and it's that they prob where, where, where there's probably a need for a, a pivot or, or an adjustment or filtering. What I think probably is a good exercise is that the weight is to translate academic if you like, content with all the length and the breadth and the, and the, and the, and complexity and the references and so forth. You just put that on social media, on LinkedIn. No one's gonna read it. No one's gonna read it. 'cause it's, it's just too, it's too, it's too dense and probably too long. And just, sorry. Some people will read it, but that's not really the point of what you're gonna be doing. You want, you want to. You know, the, the, the opportunities to maybe take some things you're working on and say, how do we make this accessible?

The key ideas, the key principles in here, or the key the, the key recommendation. How do we make that accessible to more people and test them as well? Here are some ideas, but why don't we put puts out in the world, and see what the world thinks about them? And I think, so that, that actually there is a, then is a challenge for academics to.

Think about how they communicate and how they write. So how do we smarten it down? How do we say in 5,000, how do we say in, you know, a 400-word post, the three or four key elements of what might be a, you know, the 10,000-word white paper? That is really interesting, and there's quite a lot to that, but it is its own skill.
You know, it's the brevity. It's the conciseness, but also it's the, it's the changing in the palate. It's gotta be probably less formal. And I think there's really a strong opportunity for academics to kind of think, how do I write this in a different way?
How do I write this in May? And maybe Chuck, maybe I cut this up into 10 different pieces. Yeah. His 10 thought pieces are based on my dissertation or whatever, or some, some big thing we're doing that might be useful to, well, what do you think? And it's that linguistic palette switch maybe they little videos.

But fundamentally, how do you reinterpret your, and obviously they have deep subject matter expertise, but how do we reinterpret that and recut it from a communications perspective such that it works on, on, on platforms like LinkedIn and others. 'cause that's, I think if we can do that, that is super powerful.
And yeah, we, you would know, I mean there are some academics who've done that and gone on to be extraordinarily famous. Because we know they're smart, but then they're actually, you know, they, they've also created that layer where they're able to, or the, so the capability, was actually able to, to help people who aren't maybe university students to understand some of the concepts and it's super, very powerful.

So somewhere in that, I think there's a really good opportunity. To rethink what you're saying and how you're communicating it. And by doing that, again, I think it'll be good for their own thinking but also it will build their brand such that they're not just x, y, z from a professor, something from a big university. They're actually that as, but as well as that they've got their own reputation. And I've worked with a co, I've worked with a couple of university professors one, one particular Dr. Mark Williams. And we took him from a professor of neuroscience at Macquarie University. And now he's running his own sort of business. Just written several books. And, and a lot of the work we did was having to kind of say, well, no, he, he sent me some, he'd sent me some pieces, and no, we gotta take all the references and stuff because that's just, no one's gonna read that, and we've gotta really get to the essence of what you're thinking and it's been fantastic.

IE: So many good points in there. I am gonna highlight a few of them that I heard. What a great full answer. I will second this hypothesis that you made, which is not many faculty or academics take the time to curate and develop their personal brand because we serve a lot of universities and a lot of degree programs, and we find ourselves advocating for this type of brand building for the faculty. And we're, we'll get to why that is important here in a moment. But you're right, they don't spend the time, they're leaning on just their title I. And just the institution's name is the thing that matters most. But then of course we know that it's just the first touchpoint. There's so much more beyond that that a faculty or academic could be sharing with their audience, especially those prospective students. And this idea of parsing. Your long-form written content or video content, smartening it down. We need to smarten it down. I just wanna plug that, that is a great phrase. I think everyone should use that. Yeah. And, and, and the point of view as it changes form into this new palette. Right. And the process of changing the palette in itself, I think is that in itself is a necessary skill when it comes to the way that learners learn these days. In other words, you're gonna be in front of your student for maybe six to nine minutes at most. With the content that you have prepared for your lecture. And if it isn't smartened down and you don't know how to speak in this new digital language and currency, then you're gonna be an ineffective educator. Is that fair to say?

MH: That's exactly right. The reality is that in a busy, crazy digital world, we have to win the right to get someone's attention. Now, that might sound ridiculous, but I'm a professor and they're students. And they should give you their attention, but you can't assume it. And you, you certainly can't just say, look, you, you are gonna sit and I'm gonna, I'm gonna. Smash you for an hour with a really heavy, dense piece of thinking. As you say, we, we've got, we've got, we've gotta change the palette and it, and, and of, and often, you know, without going to massive, often it's a case of summarizing where you're trying to get to in the, in, you know, in, in the next, in the next hour, or you say the next. Well, here's where we're gonna go today. We, we, and we summarize that in the first minute. Create, create, create a sense of what the destination is, and then when, let's chunk that down. And then take and take people on a journey. And as you would know from the StoryBrand piece, it creates a narrative.

Tell a story. That's not to make it childlike, but you take people on a journey. And if we can do that with our content you know, it just says very smart people and professors are very smart people, faculty are smart people, you know, it's the skill to say, oh, I know you're smart, but you've gotta make it in a way that's accessible to me. If you can do that, that's a different form of, I mean, that's much more valuable really, other than me going, I get you're really smart, but I got no idea what you're talking about.

IE: And if they can't do that, how, how effective are they gonna be in the long term? From an education standpoint or an educator standpoint? Yeah.

MH: I don't wanna sound like, I'm not saying dilute everything. I'm, I'm saying yeah. The full-blown academic piece with all the references, of course, has its place and it's important, but it's about being able to shift gears, isn't it? It’s what's the communication that we need for the audience we're trying to reach, and the place we're trying to reach them, and what's the best way of, of what's the best way of doing that? And we've gotta think about that. And it's not just saying, I don't care. Here's the way I do it. You receive it. I don't care how you receive it. I'm transmitting it like this. You pull the bones out of that and some people will be able to do that. But if most people can't, then I'd say that that's, that's a failure of communication. And as I say, coming, paying back to the brand context, it's such a missed opportunity.

Because there are so many smart people with lots of resources who've got beautiful, wonderful ideas, and amazing minds. And if they can change those gears, you know, smart and stuff down, and, and put it out on social media. In their own brand. I think they're extraordinary opportunities for them.

IE: Absolutely. I think there are some great examples of that in today's age where like, you know, I'll follow someone based on the content on social, and then later I'll find out they're a Ph.D. in neuroscience or they've written, you know, long-form white papers, peer-reviewed white papers in astrophysicists. I'm thinking of Neil deGrasse Tyson, and, and how he's able to take these huge cosmological astrophysicist concepts and break them down into these reels. It's absolutely incredible and it adds more credibility to his brand, but it also allows him to maintain, I guess, the authenticity or the authority of his study and his research, but make it transmitted or deliver it in a way that is approachable and accessible.
MH: I think it's a great skill and if anyone's listening to this, it will feel a bit clunky and a bit weird at first, but I really encourage you to do it. I think it could be quite revelatory to people who've only academics have only ever done some sort of long-form academic format, if that's all you've ever done, you know, I would say there's an ability to change gears in a different way.

You know, reinterpreting your content, your thinking, your theories in a different way is, is, is a great way of learning. And, and, and, and as, as we've talked about, it's a massive brand, massive. Benefits for your brand and commercial opportunities and com and community opportunities and so forth.

IE: Let's talk now from the administration standpoint. They're launching new degree programs, or maybe they're running degree programs that are competitive with one another. I mean, how many online masters of business administration are out there now for a student to choose from? And if they're not choosing purely based on the name of the university or the institution, they have to pick or choose for other reasons. This is why having a. Identity or a brand for your degree program is important. But why else might it be important for an administrator to really figure out how to differentiate or build a brand identity for their degree program or program of interest?

MH: Well, I think, I think you've answered your own questions. 'cause they wanna get bums on seats. They wanna, they wanna, they wanna enroll, they wanna enroll, they wanna enroll students and they should do, and it, and this, yeah, I dunno if this sounds naive. Or idealistic. I'd start the other way. Is your MBA program awesome? And if it's not awesome, make it awesome. And once it's awesome, then go and tell the world about it and tell why it's awesome. You know, if you just, if you just come up with some cookie cutter here, and we've all seen the, we've seen those reels of multiple MBAs and, you know, some campus shot or whatever, some version.

But if they're all the same. Then as you say, where's the distinction? And why would someone choose you versus someone else? And then what do they choose? Do they choose on price? Yeah, there's all that sort of thing. But, and also, you know, if, and if also if you, if you are projecting something that isn't true, how many people are gonna come along and say, and they're gonna drop out, or they say, well, oh, you said it would be this and it's that. I mean, the, the brand ultimately the brand thing is actually quite easy. Because it's really, it's really it's about telling the story of what actually exists and is authentic. So if you haven't got, if you haven't got a good brand story to tell, you haven't got a good story to tell.

So, yeah, and if, and if that's, and if that's where you are and you're stuck at, then okay, we'll get some PR people and well, we'll put lipstick on a pig and say it's amazing. And if it's not, but I'd say, you know, again, maybe this sounds, make your course amazing. Yeah. And that doesn't, that and that and, and coming, if, if we take, pull on some of the things we've talked about today maybe making it amazing is not in terms of the curriculum, but it's in the, the way the curriculum's brought to life.
Maybe it has more social media elements, maybe there is more interaction with local businesses. Maybe you know, may maybe, maybe. It's done in a way that is more imaginative or contemporary or there's, there's, you know, I don't think it's necessarily the content needs to be any different, but it's, it's the or so the curriculum needs to be any different, but how do you bring it to life for students?
How, and, and the student experience, the customer experience. You can do that well. Which is, those things are not necessarily big money or investment things. They're mindset things, they're cultural things. If you can build a great culture around your degree or your program, then the brand story I think actually looks after itself.

So I hope that doesn't sound evasive, but I think that's the reality. 'cause you a brand first and foremost need to be authentic. It's not authentic, it's just false, isn't it? Then sooner or later someone's gonna call it out and say, well, that's, you said it was this, and then it was that. It's like we go on a holiday and this the, it looks amazing.

The hotel looks amazing. It's got the beautiful blue sea and an amazing facility. Then you get there and it's a bit run down and the sea's brown, not blue. You hold on to that. That’s not what you sold me and it's inauthentic. So I think, you know, I'm mixing a few things up there, but I think it starts, you create a great program first, and then selling it will be easy.

IE: I think we can scaffold what we've been talking about to this point in the sense that it is a group effort. This means if you focus on developing the advocate, the brand advocate at the student level, and helping them find their voice and share the content and have that perspective and that commentary. And then you're encouraging your faculty to do the same and empowering them. Then all of a sudden you have the students and faculty within your program making it awesome, and the story is unfolding itself. So in a way yes, absolutely. It's, it's a very holistic thing, and if everyone's playing their part, then it kind of, the problem answers itself.

MH: I ab agree absolutely. And, and interesting and, and you've summarized it really nicely there. But I think the point is, everything I heard there and I'm a commercial guy, so I look at things through a commercial lens. Everything you said there is achievable to probably anyone listening to this. Nothing you said is, oh, by the way, all you need to do is throw in a million dollars. There's, you know, there's no, you know, there's no, there's no when we, this is, this is a mindset and cultural activity and, and investment of our time and goodwill and energy. It's not oh, you need a gazillion dollars to do this thing. Yeah, that's, so that's which hopefully to people listening that both inspires them, but also challenges them. 'cause no one listening to this has got an excuse for why that can't be.

IE: Well, as you know, everyone needs a good guide and they may have signed off or bought into this idea of why it's important. But how might our audience, if they're struggling with this challenge, how might they find an answer or find a good guide? Is there any resource or way that you could help them?

MH: There are a couple of things that I'd love to make available to people listening to this. The first is I've devised a short diagnostic. It takes about 90 seconds. You answer nine questions about what you're currently up to in terms of your brand, and then you get a personal brand report which is about 20 pages. And it tells you where you are on what I call the influencer dial. And the influencer dial has five levels. It goes from asleep to agitated, to active, to amplified, to awesome. So we'll find out where you are from asleep, which means I have no brand, there's nothing going on. Please don't contact me. To awesome. Which is like, I'm all over this stuff and it's amazing.

So I'd really encourage you to do that. You'll get a report that tells you where you are, tell you what some things to get you going from where the level you are to the logical next things to do. There are also free resources for a workbook called Unlocking Your Value.

And it takes you through a process because I think a lot of people you know a lot of, a lot of us, we struggle to really articulate exactly, you know what it is we bring to the world. So there's a piece that we talk about unlocking your value, sort of enables you to pull out different things in different ways such you actually, I'm quite good at that and that's something I can talk about actually. Maybe that is quite a unique thing. I'm really good at that. So that's another thing that is helpful. I've written a book called Time to Shine which is, it's apart from being my mother's favorite book. The interesting thing about Time to Shine is it's actually a compilation. So I write content. What I've done is a credited compilation of around a hundred blogs that I've written over the last sort of six or seven years, and it's a good example. So, and the. The articles themselves are good examples of, you know, building thought leadership, building confidence, building influence, very much the things that we've been talking about today.

So they'll be relevant in that sense, but also it's a great way for you actually to see how content works. So I've published these things as LinkedIn articles individually, then I've co then I've compiled 'em into, into, into a, a book. And it's a great way you can build content and repurpose content. So that's great. But I'd love to give you all a free ebook version of that if you're interested. And lastly, if anyone's interested in getting specific guidance to be a guide, if you like, about helping you to build your personal brand or working with your institution to really understand the opportunities, and how personal brand.

And brand generally is a good thing both for the individual and the organization, for all the reasons we've spoken about. Then also very happy to have a discovery call with you. So there's a link in the, in the notes, how you can put a time or spend half an hour or so talking, working out where you are, where you're trying to get to, and potentially how we may be able to help you to do that and accelerate that.
So yeah, those, those are some, those are some great, all, all those are free resources. I'd love to make it available to anyone listening to this.

IE: That's excellent. That's very generous. Thank you for sharing that. We'll make sure to link to each of those items and yeah, I mean, your degree program, your faculty, your institution at large, they all will benefit. There are some significant long-term benefits to doing this hard work. I call it work on self, but going through this, this brand activation, this branding process. It's difficult. It takes time. But with these resources, I'm sure anyone can make progress and really reap the rewards of those long-term benefits that we've outlined today. So thank you for that. Mark. Thanks for your time today. It's been a real pleasure. We could talk brand all day, I know that, but we'll have to call it. We'll have to call it here.

MH: Awesome. Thank you. And I really, really enjoyed speaking and I hope that's been helpful to you guys. And yeah. And just a final thought. The hardest part is getting started. Once you get going, it is actually believing this becomes pleasurable. And you'll think, you'll learn, you'll evolve, you'll grow and learn to enjoy. And all the benefits that come outta this don't, don't be afraid. Don't be afraid. Have a crack. Go for it.


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