The last time I told anyone my name is “Mike” was 1987.
That’s a long time ago and a lot has changed.
Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Walk Like an Egyptian was the #1 song. I had very little hair on the top of my head. Okay, not everything is different.
As for me, I don’t really remember why I switched to Michael. But I know that by the time I met my future wife in early 1988, the switch had already happened. I’ve been a “Michael” ever since.
And yet, among those who know me by name, roughly half call me Mike (and one guy who, for reasons unknown, has settled on Mikey).
It doesn’t seem to be a function of how long they’ve known me. One of my brothers goes with Michael. The other – and his entire family – use Mike.
It doesn’t seem to be function of how well they know me. My friends Matt and Belinda use Michael. My friends Fred and Rick use Mike.
Frankly, I’m fine with both.
And that’s a good thing. Because as I have discovered, people are going to do what they are going to do.
This reality doesn’t just apply to names. It also applies to how people think of you and describe your work to others.
You can tell them what you want them to hear and remember. But if it’s too complicated, or confusing, or uses words they don’t like or tend to use … well … you can say Michael all day long and some people are still going to hear Mike.
That matters. A lot.
Because in the referral-based, word-of-mouth world in which people like us operate, your ability to be remembered and mentioned, at the right time and by the right people – i.e., people who might want to hire someone like you – is entirely a function of how you are talked about.
Consider the example of my friend John. He’s a “Leadership Coach.”
He works one-on-one with people in senior positions at big companies, helping them be more effective as leaders.
The problem is that John doesn’t like the word “coach.” He thinks it’s too lightweight a word and that it fails to capture the scope and depth of what he does, not to mention his advanced degrees and years of business experience.
Is he right? Maybe.
But that doesn’t matter – we are practicing marketing here, not describing reality.
What matters is the words people already use when talking about or looking for someone like him.
So let’s say, to make something up, he instead decides to call himself a “Leadership Enhancement Consultant.” That’s beefy and impressive, and possibly even a more accurate description of his work.
But it has three big problems:
#1. Nobody will remember it. You’ve already forgotten it (don’t peek) and you read it 15 seconds ago.
#2. Nobody is asking for it. “Leadership Coach” brings up 31 million results on Bing. “Leadership Enhancement Consultant” brings up two. Not two million … two.
He would be the world’s leading provider of something nobody wants. You know, like mint-flavored bacon ice cream, or “Oppenheimer, The Musical.”
#3. Nobody will understand it. The words make sense, but since they are not used by anyone else as a thing, John will spend the rest of his professional life and a fair number of Thanksgiving dinners answering the same question: “What is a leadership enhancement consultant?”
At which point he’ll say, “It’s like a leadership coach except…” And he’s right back to where he started.
Here’s the bottom line.
I’m all about the extraordinary benefits of a niche – a narrow focus that sets you apart based on what you do, who you do it for, or where you do it.
But people have to first understand what species you are:
I’m an attorney who does X…
I’m a management consultant who specializes in Y…
I’m a leadership coach who works with Z…
Trying to redefine the overall category itself, on the other hand, by devising a new word or phrase to replace what is commonly used and understood, is creating a problem that didn’t exist until you invented it.
Start with the words and phrases already in use and put your spin on it from there.
- What variations in your name do people use?
- Have you ever walked like an Egyptian? Give examples.
- What species, professionally speaking, are you?
Share your answers below…