When it comes to watching sports, I am far from what you would call a “superfan.”
Baseball? Only if I’m at a live game.
Hockey? No interest. Looks like something a bunch of middle schoolers invented after their moms told them to turn off the TV and go play outside.
But basketball … that I like.
Plus, because I play each week in my town’s middle school gym, there’s some potential for me to take what I learn from watching the professionals and apply it to my own game.
And when I say, “some potential,” I mean “zero.”
Am I technically playing the same sport as the large men on TV?
Sure. Like them, we have two hoops, ten players, and if you have the ball in your possession, walking without bouncing it is frowned upon.
But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Unlike the pros, in our game there’s no clock, no coaches, and no referees. Plus, if memory serves, I have never had to worry about hitting my head on the backboard after a particularly ferocious dunk.
The pro game is about pushing the limits of human physical and mental focus and toughness. Our game is about walking out of the gym at the end of the night on your own power.
In other words, while I enjoy watching the professionals, there is little benefit in my trying to model my game after theirs.
Which brings me to you and your marketing…
Stop Copying the Big Guys
If you haven’t given a lot of thought to marketing – let alone been formally trained in it – it makes perfect, logical sense as a professional service provider to look to the brand name companies as the model of “the right way to do it.”
After all, the Marriotts, Nikes, and Microsofts of the world are clearly doing something right. Why not just shortcut the process and follow their lead?
I can think of at least two reasons…
Reason #1. We don’t have the financial horsepower to build a well-known brand.
There’s nothing magical about the phrase “Just Do It.” The McDonald’s arches? Those look like something your five-year-old drew on the wall with crayon when nobody was looking.
But put hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising behind them and they become part of the culture.
Your company tagline and logo, on the other hand – and believe me, it breaks my heart to have to tell you this – are recognizable to nobody other than you and (possibly) your mom.
So while it’s fine to have these things, neither is going to move the marketing needle (i.e., help in your quest to stand out and be remembered). Settle on something you like and move on.
Reason #2. We are not in the volume business.
According to The Google, Pepsi and its owned brands have 25.9% of worldwide beverage share.
That’s correct: One out of four purchased drinks on the face of the Earth is a PepsiCo product. They are in the more-is-better, available-to-anyone business.
You and I, on the other hand, are not.
And while it’s true that my writing is also occasionally responsible for rotting the teeth of unsuspecting children, small professional services providers and independents like us are in an entirely different business.
We have clients, not customers. Our leads come from word of mouth, not advertising. We sell a service that is hard to sample, difficult to comparison shop, and heavily trust-based.
The big consumer brands need to appeal to a broad swath of humans. You and I need a few dozen new clients a year.
Do This Instead
So, “Mr. Look how cool I am for using a word like ‘swath’ in an earlier sentence,” if the answer is not fancy graphics and taglines, or trying to appeal to everyone in the hope of attracting someone, what’s a better approach?
I’m so glad you asked. I live by a very simple marketing mantra: “Stay in front of the people you know, over and over again, in a way that positions you as a likeable expert.”
And while this simple phrase (it’s trademarked, don’t steal it) does not account for the entirety of how to market a professional service, it’s a good 85%.
Let’s break that phrase down…
“The people you know.” Make a list of everyone you already know, defined as, “if you called or emailed them you would not need to introduce yourself.” Then commit to connecting with each one of them, individually, at least twice each year.
I have nothing against strangers, but the people you know are way more predisposed to listening, buying, and spreading the word about you. When you focus on your existing relationships you are gaming the system.
“Over and over again.” Focus on activities that put you in front of the same audience, ongoing: newsletter, social media presence, podcast, networking groups, etc.
“Big bang” events such as publishing a book, speaking at a once-a-year conference, or getting quoted in a major publication are good for your resume (and ego), but do little to keep you top of mind over the long haul.
“Likeable.” When you sell a professional service, it’s very hard (impossible?) for a potential client to distinguish between your skills and those of everyone with whom you compete.
Even after they hire you, if you are a financial planner, leadership coach, management consultant, freelance writer, etc., they don’t know if someone else would have been more capable.
But we all know, definitively, who we like and trust. When you share personal stories and speak/write in a more “everyday” tone, who you are – not just what you know and can do – shines through.
“Expert.” Likeability alone is not enough to get hired. I still need to believe you are good at what you do.
But since I can’t try you on like a pair of sneakers (although if I could, you strike me as a Men’s size 10 ½), the next best thing is creating content.
Not just “liking” and sharing the work of others on social. You need to take a position, have a point of view, and put your thoughts out in the world so others can get a sense of where you stand.
Will some people disagree with you? Only if you’re doing it right.
Here’s the bottom line.
Every time I hear a business consultant address an audience of small professional service providers using companies like Apple, or Walmart, or American Express as examples of marketing excellence, I cringe.
It’s not that the companies in question are not successful, or that the stories shared are not interesting. It’s just mostly irrelevant.
Instead of blindly copying the big guys, who live in an entirely different universe, look for marketing tactics that align with your audience, your business model, your natural strengths, and your available resources.
Now if you’ll pardon me, it appears a young “branding consultant” has drawn a big letter “M” in crayon on the wall and I need to go clean it off.
- Did you ever invent a game with friends when you were in middle school (extra credit if it was hockey)?
- What is your favorite unhealthy beverage?
- What is your marketing mantra?
Share your answers below…