Have you noticed lately how everyone’s an “expert/guru/thought leader/internationally-known, highly-regarded, award-winning something or other”? My jaw can only drop so many times in awe before it starts to hurt.
I was just reading an email newsletter promoting some online interview with another uber-ambitious, game-changing Gen-Y type, “the face of today’s digital world, the best her generation has to offer,” as they modestly described her. Oh wait, wait for my favorite part here – “master millennial of the universe“. Now excuse me while I crawl under a rock and hide with the rest of my underachieving generation. Or vomit…I haven’t decided which.
I’m thinking, “Really? If this person is as immense a marketing powerhouse as her bio makes her out to be, why haven’t I heard of her?” I have a resume writing & personal branding business – I know a thing or two about people overly-inflating their reputation and professional credibility.
Don’t get me wrong, as I truly believe that formulating strategic marketing partnerships – such as this gal did with said online magazine geared toward career-driven millennials – is essential to the growth and success of any business. It’s a great opportunity to establish yourself as a leader in your field, build visibility for your business, and tap into a larger, more established network of followers who share a common interest. But remind yourself that everyone is doing it, everyone is positioning themselves as a thought leader, the next creative breakthrough in [insert subject matter area here], and working hard to establish a commanding presence in a saturated market of expert professionals.
Truth is, most of the time we’re just a blip on the screen. We’re not the Top 10, the 30 under 30, the absolute authority of career advice, business strategy, or creative innovation. And that’s okay, because that shouldn’t be the goal – gaining market share is not the same thing as winning a popularity contest. The goal should be gaining and retaining customers by delivering value in the form of something they actually want, and can benefit from. You can be wildly successful when it comes to amassing a social media following, but still not make a penny in sales. Because people aren’t buying personalities – they’re buying thoughtful, innovative and useful products and services. They’re buying tangible value.
What intrigues me is how people are different from one another in their approach. I’m not moved by receiving 8 different emails from 8 different female entrepreneurial gurus, all promising me 4 secrets to take my business to the mid 6 figures, in the next 6 months. Because I look at that and I don’t think “Wow, that’s an intriguing thought,” (ok, maybe for second). My business focuses around consulting one-on-one with people on how to find a job, make a career, and leave a career to start a business. I write a lot of emails, a lot of resumes, and I make a lot of phone calls. If I were doing mid 6-figures of that type of work, the only marriage I’ll have left in 2013 is with Verizon Wireless.
I’m also not looking to hire and manage a team of 6 other people so that I can scale my business enough to be able to do that. Many people share my preference for sustainable work-life balance over scalability.
What really goes through my mind is, “If it’s so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it already?” And I realize that it’s because it’s not easy, and then I start to go through this cycle of emotions – suspicion, resentment, annoyance, and eventually a complete lack of response altogether.
Too many people are looking at marketing like a popularity contest. While positive reputation, high visibility, and a good amount of professional credibility will get you noticed, and potentially make the difference in whether or not your business sustains, it’s not the entire story. It’s also (and I might argue, more) about honing in on your offering to your customers – what’s really unique and interesting and worth investing in? How will having this handmade thing, or this hour on the phone with you, change their life, change their business, change the way they feel about themselves? How is your brand, your product, even YOU, relatable to them in a way that says, “Don’t worry – I totally understand what you need, and what you don’t, and I’m confident that I can help you,”?
You can strive be the “expert”, and you should have an expertise of some sort that qualifies you to do what you do, and to charge for it. But you also need to be relatable and relevant in regards to the needs and interests of your customers. I’m not saying your $1000 a month coaching package isn’t worthwhile – but maybe I’m not looking to buy your reputation along with your product. A lot of people make the mistake of trying to cram more benefits and features into their product than their customer really wants, needs, or desires to pay for.
The Internet is churning out thought leaders at the speed of light, and it’s becoming less and less impactful from a reputation marketing standpoint. For God’s sake, PLEASE, go back to the user experience – think about what makes a great product, the importance of attractive, interesting branding, excellent value, clear messaging, creative marketing – all that stuff that the “experts” think is boring and work that’s better-suited for their 22-year-old interns, because their reputation makes them exempt from the “administrative stuff'”.
Some people are under a false assumption and direction that in order to generate success, they need to work toward attaining a certain comfortable point in their business where their brand is well known enough that marketing is no longer needed, customer service is no longer needed, and where the website or social media stats are there. And then once you’ve achieved that “ranking”, the revenue will just consistently pour in from that point on. But it’s not true, and it’s not a sustainable business model.
It can be incredibly frustrating trying to build a brand that stands on its own unique legs in a marketplace where competition is immense and fierce. I’ve often felt, “there are only SO many ways to be different, and position myself uniquely.” And that may be so, but again, it’s less about winning the race and beefing up your reputation as it is about offering something people can truly benefit from, and which instills that sense of “I really must have this,“. You may not have control over your competition, and even how you fit into the competitive fabric within your industry. But you will always have control over the quality and makeup of your product, and how you offer and deliver it to your audience, and you should never stop working to improve upon that experience. At the end of the day, reputation might bring in the traffic, but good products close the sale.