And The Oscar Goes To…

I watched the Academy Awards last Sunday night… the entire thing, from start to finish. I didn’t plan on it, but with my wife and oldest son out of town, and my two younger kids in bed, I found myself face-to-face with the kind of time-wasting perfect storm that just begs for television.

What I found must interesting about the event – and in particular, the pre-ceremony interviews – was the contrast between the way the actors presented themselves unscripted and in person, and the way I’ve come to “know” them on the screen. In some cases, the disconnect was pretty startling.

I remember a similar experience a few months ago, watching Robert De Niro speak to the audience at a PBS, Billy Crystal tribute. Having seen his movies, I expected the real life De Niro to be charming or funny… or at least menacing. He was none of those things, and frankly just seemed kind of awkward and embarrassed, like somebody’s uncle who’d reluctantly agreed to make a wedding day toast.

I don’t know much – actually, I don’t know anything – about acting. But from what I can tell, it seems that part of what makes for a great performer is the ability to fade so far into the background that the real person is unrecognizable.

When you’re marketing a professional service, on the other hand, and particularly if yours is a small or solo practice, the exact opposite is true.

What I mean is that while being different people in different situations may be what it takes to win an Oscar, being consistent and authentic in all situations is what it takes to market yourself effectively. (And when I say effectively, I mean cheaply, consistently and easily.)

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you don’t have a large (if any) marketing budget. Most – and certainly your best – client leads come from word of mouth: People read things you’ve written; bump into you at business events; hear about you from friends in common or get in touch as the result of some other relationship-based connection.

The thing is, for that word of mouthiness to work efficiently, you need to be both authentic and consistent. If people are going to remember you and talk about you as a result of the organic buzz that is relationship marketing, they need to have a clear sense of who you are:

“He’s the most trustworthy person you’ll ever meet. He’s always got your best interests in mind as his client.”

“You’ll love her… she’s smart, funny and very direct.”

“He’s extremely bald, and yet for an E-Newsletter guy, oddly likeable.”

When instead, you’re all over the map depending on the situation – friendly but serious professional in front of clients; quirky jokester in your newsletter; business-speaking-mumbo-jumbo-spouter on your web site – you don’t give the world a consistent fixed point from which to describe you.

That’s a problem. You’ll never get the momentum necessary for word of mouth to work if everyone you encounter holds a different view of who you are. (Read that last sentence again; it’s important and I spent a lot of time on it.)

So step one is to figure out who you really are beneath all the costume and make up. I spend a ton (a ton) of time on this question with clients as we develop their E-Newsletters. If you want to be remembered, you have to be authentic. And if you want to be authentic, you need to know what that means for you in particular.

Step two is to try and ensure that the same you comes across in whatever you do. Look at all the things you present to the outside world – web site, business cards, holiday gifts, voicemail message… even the car you drive – and see how well it hangs together as a reflection of who you really are.

Bottom line: If you can take care of these two steps on the way to authenticity, not only will you find more word of mouth opportunities coming your way, you’ll happily discover that the whole process of presenting yourself and your business to the outside world just got a lot easier. And while they don’t give golden statues out for simply learning how to be yourself, it does come with a significant financial reward.

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