Vertical Horizons:
How Job-Hunters & Consultants can Succeed with Horizontal & Vertical Strategic Marketing      - Jake Aull 11/08

At some point in our lives, we’re all looking for work. In fact, smart independent consultants and corporate speakers are looking all the time. And job-searchers can learn a lot from their approaches - why not keep the promotional gears in motion to keep job or project offers arriving at your doorstep? Just as consultants may execute tactics to land new projects every month, employed but career-minded networkers can conduct industry-contact tactics every six months to a year, to keep the irons warm. And both parties can boost their networking and results by regularly applying higher-level marketing strategies to their business and career goals. How to get there? A great start would clarify that marketing does not mean only promotion…

To Know Thyself… is to Strategize
Most of us don’t like job-hunting. Or self-promotion. In fact, even marketers and creatives find it most difficult to promote themselves. Much of this is because they are too close to clearly and succinctly describe themselves. I have known of freelance graphic designers who exchanged projects to create their own brand identities, and architectural firms who have designed each others’ studios. All because the only thing harder than giving away their own brand, self-presentation and studio design, is having to create these themselves. But other key parts of this difficulty can certainly come from uncertainty of approach, lack of time, or even a pre-conceived need to just start driving down the road. True, you do have to start somewhere, sometime. But even if you’ve decided where you’re going, it could be a fruitless road for you ­ there are many factors beyond self-presentation that should help drive your self-marketing approach.

As a job-searcher or consultant, to think like a marketer means continually evaluating your “value” as a product to a customer. Specifically, how much demand is there for your “expertise?” How many competitors are offering the same? Perhaps you price yourself below the rest, like a Yugo, for best-value. Or perhaps more like the high-quality, high-priced Mercedes. Whichever it is, do customers want that, and can you consistently, convincingly project it? Smart counsel comes from so many job-search and consultant-approach books. They recommend to find your specific niche, and to exploit this in a targeted area for best success. Being the “best-value” (i.e., low-cost) provider to absolutely everyone will erode your ability to project “quality.” And people remember specialties, not broadness. But the ultimate trick lies in understanding and harnessing the important factors before such decisions.

The Metrics of Success
There is a huge trend now in marketing practice using metrics. Much of this is because the internet today allows so many measuring tactics. It is not so difficult for you to get average income, ratio of jobs-to-personnel, and future demand projections from the internet for specific industries. To remain competitive, you must continuously examine these. The world’s greatest typewriter designer achieves no income if no one wants her services. Yours has to be the right niche; it has to be in demand. Likewise, the competition should be low enough to keep you busy. How many people need an expert carpenter, when furniture can be bought in most shopping malls, strip plazas, and warehouse/club grocery stores? Luckily, most of this crucial information can be discovered by searching online. It may take a while, but eventually you’ll find the information you need. Great places to start are industry organizations and directories, stocks and financial pages, and government census or chamber-of-commerce-type sites.

Where Horizontal Meets Vertical
So, you want a “specialization” that is in demand, that is relatively low in competition, and that you are honestly capable of providing. What to do if the only expertise you claim for yourself is not in demand? Well, you must believe that some aspect of your personal knowledge or experience can provide beneficial (and differentiated) insight to a new, specific industry market. To discover this, consider a common concept in marketing strategy - horizontal and vertical market analysis. Horizontal markets typically identify a service specialty, such as personalized direct mailing, which serves a variety of industries. Vertical markets identify a narrow niche for subject matter experts, such as the beverage industry. It is easy to make a grid composed of both directional lines, plot your current knowledge or specialty upon it as origin point, and start writing surrounding, related functions for both axes (see figure 1, next page). Next, you can start brainstorming additional functions that may be indirectly related to your current chart points (see figure 2). Finally, you can create write up new horizontal and vertical market shifts from the new points (see figure 3). Determine what points from the chart you like and think you could do. Then, it’s back to the internet again to research demand and form competitive forecasts.

Another point to consider is volatility. This is your career you’re planning ­ you have to consider the future. The greater the risk, the greater the (eventual) reward, but you must be honest with yourself as to how much risk you want. Looking at the online financial and staffing histories of specific industries will allow you to compare risk. You could rank your risk interpretations and preferences, and plot them on a grid similar to those below. If you’re a numbers and economics fan, you could even compute risk metrics by doing microeconomics calculations on the historical data, and using that to compare industries in a spreadsheet. Regardless, you should at least consider your risk tolerance, or attitude towards recession-proof careers and security. Most consultants say their work procurement is a roller coaster ride - hence the need for more strategic marketing. The point here is, the more you know, the more you can plan for and control.

To take this even further, you could plan your entire career, through varying industries, with horizontal and vertical steps. For example, if you are fresh out of school, or have a career-change goal with no experience, you need a map to get there. By identifying your starting point and goal point on the grid (see figure 4), you could mark points between as the “steps” to where you want to go. This approach clarifies that you won’t be in your ideal career tomorrow, but gives reachable, career steps to get there. Solidify this with a timeline, and you’re ready to start.

To Market, To Market
Once you’ve identified your desired market(s), you’ll want to do some more research detailing employer types and direct competitors. Deeper web research can lead to both. Again, industry association pages and directories are a good start. You can also search for individual direct competitors’ social media pages, online resumes, and self-promotional websites for reference. You can go as deep as you have time for here - generally, the more information the better. Keep good, organized files and refer to them when creating your differentiated self-promotions.

Whether you’re a creative talent, a business person, or a corporate speaker, there is no doubt that you want a differentiated, personal brand to promote (for more on this, see figure 4). This is commonly advised in job-hunting, and consultant strategy books alike. Unique, self-identification is key, and there are many good guides to developing your own brand. Ultimately, your brand needs to clearly speak a message for everything discussed above. But don’t be misguided, this is a very important, comprehensive step, and likewise can be very difficult.

Back to the Plans
Once your brand and positioning are clear, you want to develop a marketing tactical calendar and determine a budget. Decide how many people to target based on your research, and when and what to communicate. Draw from sample self-promotional calendars online, or develop yours in software such as Microsoft Project or Outlook. If you truly don’t like self-promotion ­ or if you just lose time to do it ­ you want to set up a calendar that helps your marketing tactical plan run almost in auto-mode ­ as if operating in the background to your daily-bread work. Remember, if you want work, you have to promote yourself with a plan. Nobody loves doing dishes, but you need clean pots to cook your next meal ­ cleaning just becomes a background part of life. So can self-promotion. Luckily, once you’ve determined the important self-branding and messaging, the regular promotions are much easier. For example, you can use software calendars with flagged reminders, or web and email programs configured to automatically blast promotions on specific days. Regardless of how, you want your promotions to be consistently branded, messaged for the audience, and effective. Use response tactics (such as rewards or drawings), or use customized website metrics (such as Google metrics) to help you determine what tactics attract people and what don’t. Then use this information to adjust your marketing tactical plan accordingly.

You can also produce tactics that rely on your strengths. If you are a creative, think of non-traditional channels for delivering your message. If you feel less creative, see what ideas exist on the internet that you could adapt. You can also rely more on numbers or targeting than creativity. The average response for direct mailings, such as a sales letter or advertising mailer, is 1-3%. Just determine how many responses you want and compute backwards for your mail quantity. The more detailed research you do in identifying your targets, the better your response rate.

Reach Out and Touch
Much success can be achieved from your branded, differentiated promotions. But beyond mere image and message, successful, memorable differentiation can be achieved through unique channels. The ever-increasing new channels sprouting online are great examples, which is why viral marketing is in such rapid growth. Differentiation doesn’t have to be a face alone. In a masquerade ball of different masks, something else must stand out in the crowd (such as a dramatic entrance). Finding unique channels, minus the promotional noise of your competitors, is key. For example, if you really wanted to promote to a specific company but could not find a good way to get through gatekeepers, you could partner with another service provider. An IT consultant is an example, or a courier. Trade services to promote each other. Some companies will have needs for one, but not both of you. Planting a seed along the way of each company can only increase your “brand awareness” in the market. Partnership marketing is growing in popularity, and this is one way to apply it at the individual work-hunter’s level.

Another type of differentiated channel could be a local restaurant. If you target a specific company or street full of companies, you could identify the local lunch hot spot. Getting there before the rush, you could make a point of always leaving your business card or self-promotional card on your table as you leave. Sure, many will wind up in the table busser’s pan, but with persistence, eventually another customer will pick up your card. And depending upon your braveness to cold-sell, you could always make a point of talking to new customers in the restaurant and give your soft-sell elevator speech.

You can also involve other people in your promotional choices. Send out a survey asking people to choose between two logos, taglines, or flyers for yourself. This gets them involved in your search directly in a creative way. Even free surveys can be information-rich and easy to execute online, through tools like SurveyMonkey. Send it out to prospects, contacts, and friends alike. If you’re a creative, there’s nothing to lose, so long as you are clear about your own self-understanding. Tell people who you are, what you’re trying to promote and sell, and ask them their choice of the best creative version to do this. The results can tell you what others think about you, get others thinking about your search, and possibly get you an offer. Some industries, however, may not take well to this ­ particularly if your inquiry communicates self-uncertainty. But all of these ideas should be considered in advance, matched to your audience, worked into your marketing tactical calendar, and checked for brand-conformity and message consistency.

In Conclusion
There are many ideas and guides for career self-promotion. But there are also a lot of fundamental, beginning marketing strategies which can be crucial to the hunter. Don’t jump into searching or promoting without a solid plan. You’ve got to know everything about what you’re promoting, who you want to talk to, and where to find them before diving into the “hows” of promotions. Vertical and horizontal marketing strategies can be of great help to such understanding. It is also crucial to realize the differences between projecting niche expertise versus a jack-of-all-trades image. The investigations may take a while, but once your groundwork and brand are polished, you can stage regular calendar-planned promotions to run, seemingly, automatically. The better you plan, the greater your success!

Figure 4: Two Self-Positioning Approaches/Perceptions

(with Strategic Self-Marketing)


Broadness; Jack-of-all-trades (Projection to the Market)

High (information/knowledge) involvement positioning

Customer involvement/ perception

Low concern/involvement

Hi-quality mktg image presentation for industry

Low-quality/parity customer perception

Price skimming/premium price


Barrel bottom or penetration price promo

Innovative or hi-value service & positioning

Broadcast/mass-communications, undifferentiation

Opinion/thought leader

Un-valued function/service
(employers change workers easily)

Utilitarian advertising response

Promotions/ response

Brand confusion/multiple messages

Word of mouth (WOM) or viral


Information mktg/web (education)

Un-valued knowledge

1-to-1/micro-marketing/CRM/direct salesmanship

Customer relationships/ retention

Uninvolved/mass audience tunes out promotions

Specific narrow targeting

Costly; market to everyone to acquire business

Customer loyalty/customer-focus

Anonymous audience focus

Long-term relationships

short term, new customer acquisition, high churn

This chart is a comparison of theoretical specialization projections and effects for marketing
strategies and customer/employer perceptions, attempting to uncover misalignment potential
­ Jake Aull 11/08

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