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Academic Coaching & Writing

Academic Branding Cycle

Academic Branding is a new approach to clearly articulating your unique expertise and purposefully managing the way you are perceived in face-to-face and virtual encounters. Academic branding is a process of self-discovery: It invites you to identify the best in yourself and feel comfortable putting that identity out in the world.

Your academic brand conveys who you are as a thought leader and how you stand out from colleagues in your field. Defining and communicating your academic brand is a very personal endeavor, involving an interdependent cycle of activities.

The Academic Branding Cycle (see depiction below), developed by Academic Coaching and Writing, provides a structure to guide you along the process. Working with an Academic Coach on your brand can begin at any phase of the cycle, depending on where you are in the process. Working through the cycle will result in a well-crafted plan for creating, implementing, adjusting, and maintaining platforms to showcase you and your intellectual contributions.

academic branding cycle

Discover & Define Your Academic Brand

Over the course of your career, you have devoted a substantial amount of time to the specialty area that represents the focus of your scholarship and teaching. Consider all the descriptions of you and your expertise that appear on your CV, your university’s web profile of you, the bio that you submit with conference presentations, and articles that have been written about you in the media. What do these items say about you? What messages are you currently conveying about yourself? Can you articulate your brand in a clear statement of one or two sentences? Or do you need to discover more about how you want to be perceived and what brand messages you want to create?

An important aspect of developing your brand is defining an academic brand identity. Discovering and defining your academic brand is an excellent place to begin working with an Academic Coach. Coaching can assist you with recognizing your unique strengths, skills, passions, and values; acknowledging what sabotages your progress; and envisioning the messages that you want to present to the world. Through this discovery process, you will be able to define a clear, academic brand statement that serves you well in the other phases of the academic branding cycle.

Develop Your Plan & Network

An Academic Brand Plan is a multi-year, multi-phase document that identifies the goals you want to achieve, the strategies for how you will get there, specific action steps to take towards your goal, resources needed along the way, a timeline, and how you will know if you have achieved your goals. For example, you may articulate the goal of getting a contract for a public-oriented book based on your research. You will likely have multiple brand-oriented strategies for how to prepare yourself to be seen as an academic who is successful at translating scholarship into written works that lay audiences find appealing. Your first strategy may be to launch a blog that obtains more than 1,000 followers within one year. Your second strategy may be to ask people in your network for connections to editors in the mainstream media so that you get invited to write articles for outlets such as the New York Times or Huffington Post. A third strategy may be to write and present a TED talk that gets incorporated into the ted.com website and viewed by tens of thousands of people. Whatever goals and strategies you select for yourself, the result will be a detailed, long-term Academic Brand Plan with a timeline for achieving specific goals and measuring their impact.

Too often in academia, the myth of the independent investigator persists. But the most successful faculty members today know how to develop a network of people—those they can partner and collaborate with, those they can delegate to, and those who provide mutual support. As counterintuitive as it may seem, your Academic Brand Plan must include goals and strategies related to developing your connections with people. One area of focus needs to be on the strategic relationships that are critical to your academic success. A strong Academic Career Support Network will help you avoid seclusion, extend your network, be seen in venues outside of your subspecialty area, and develop new avenues for collaboration and career advancement. Your Academic Brand Plan also needs to include strategies to grow your audience—those academics and nonacademics who will follow you on social media platforms, read your blog, and read your books.

Build Platforms & Visibility

At this point in the Academic Branding Cycle, you should be clear about your brand, how it relates to your unique strengths and skills, your plan for achieving your branding goals, and the people who will be essential to supporting you in your success. Now it’s time to start building. Often, people want to start with this step, thinking that creating a website or blog will be the way to get started. While it can be tempting to jump right into creating platforms, don’t fall into that trap! Successful platforms are born from clear brand identities, not the other way around. Working with an Academic Coach can help you develop the skills needed to implement the strategies and action steps articulated in your brand plan. You may need to learn how to use social media platforms, research target audiences and online communities, decide which online platforms are right for you, launch your website or blog, and understand analytics to measure your impact.

The Internet will likely be a natural place to begin increasing your visibility. But with the immediacy of today’s social networking sites, you want to slowly and cautiously increase your visibility in ways that send the messages you want. An online presence is your virtual footprint—what people find when they search for you online. Increasing your online presence by developing platforms allows you to disseminate your work in ways that highlight the brand you are purposefully cultivating. Through social media, a personal web page, and/or a blog, you can build your audience by connecting with like-minded colleagues and followers.

Accomplish, Adjust, & Amplify

An academic brand should never be static. Maintaining your platforms and visibility is an ongoing practice of content development and image management. Start slowly at a pace at which you can comfortably maintain your efforts. Taking a slow and steady approach to increasing the visibility of your brand can be very wise when balancing the other requirements of an academic career. As you begin to amplify your branding activities, the goals that you set for yourself in the planning stage should be easily measured such that you are able to assess your progress against those goals. Set aside an hour or two each month to review your analytics so that you can amplify what is working and let go of what is not working. For example, some academics find much success developing their network through Twitter while others do not. Branding is not a “one size fits all” endeavor; you must monitor your accomplishments and adjust your efforts as needed.

This phase of the Academic Branding Cycle can be one of significant successes and rewards, as you see the hard work you put into defining, planning and building your brand come to fruition. Be mindful, however, that academic branding is a continuous process as you revisit each phase of the branding cycle to refine your brand message, your plan, and your platform to align with your ongoing development as a scholar.

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