The benefits of professionalism are well known – increased perception of respectability, authority, trust, and dependability. But is there a downside to professionalism? Is it possible to be too professional?
Yes. Ahem, I mean yes sir, it is possible. Professionalism is scripted behavior which at extreme levels replaces personality; it makes businesses orderly… and boring.
It’s true that if you strip away the personality of a business, you’ll get a predictable result. This is appealing because predictability is important in business – delivering goods on time, giving amazing customer service, and producing high quality goods and services. Of course, it’s unappealing for a different part of your business…
Why Do We Fear Marketing Our Businesses Differently?
The goal in marketing is to make your business “stand out” and by definition that means being different, and having ‘personality’.
Your business entity is a like a person – there are good and bad ways for it to stand out, and even more ways to stay unknown. If I asked you right now to come up with the worst possible strategy for being noticed in a crowded room, you’d probably say, “blending in.” It’s exactly the same with businesses; if you blend in, you won’t get noticed or talked about.
Commercial: “We’re just like the others: *jingle begins* professional, customer service, quality, low prices, trust, values, our Generic Company is at your service.”
Many people are terrified of public speaking, which is one of the more attention-heavy human experiences. Perhaps we fear this same exposure for our business? Not plain mass exposure, but harmful or embarrassing exposure. The reason we’d fear speaking in front of thousands of people is the possibility of making a mistake.
Who wouldn’t love to give a rousing speech to a standing ovation?
The key to overcoming the fear of being different in business is the same as with public speaking – do it and learn from it. Take the risk of leaving the professional safety zone to reap a greater reward. The reward is the most valuable marketing event in the world – word-of-mouth viral marketing.
How To Be Less Professional And More Remarkable
Professionalism in business is not remarkable, it’s expected. If you conduct your business professionally and deliver on your promises, you will get results from that, but it rarely translates as well into a marketing campaign or brand. If you spout off your keywords like every other company, you’ll be just another company.
1. Be Relatable, But Different
The best way to be a more remarkable business is to be relatable and different from your competitors. People like businesses they can relate to, and they notice businesses that are different. Combine those, and people will notice and like your business.
Dos Equis has had a mind-shatteringly-good campaign for the last few years – The Most Interesting Man In The World. The ad relates to the fantasy of every man – being interesting. Their sales have risen 20-30% since the ads began, with other import sales going nowhere in the same time frame. There is even a meme about it.
“Beer advertising typically assumed young guys were unsophisticated party animals. In fact, more than anything, these guys want to be seen as interesting; they want to stand out from the crowd. […] He is a man rich in stories and experiences, much the way the audience hopes to be in the future. Rather than an embodiment of the brand, The Most Interesting Man is a voluntary brand spokesperson: he and Dos Equis share a point of view on life that it should be lived interestingly.” – Havas Worldwide (Formerly known as Euro RSCG, the marketing agency behind the Dos Equis campaign)
As a twenty-something male in the target market for these beer companies, I can attest to the fact that Havas got it right. The competition’s formula was the same – commercials of stupid guys doing stupid (albeit funny) things. To be fair, these are relatable commercials to some “party animals.”
But Havas made a campaign that was relatable to all men in a different, more powerful way than any competitor, and with a suave commercial the demographic loves. While many brands will “attach” a mascot or spokesperson to their brand, Havas separated “the interesting man” from Dos Equis (as a voluntary spokesperson) to make him even more relatable – he’s just “some really interesting guy who likes Dos Equis.”
You can see it’s not easy. Even with their message, if they had fumbled the comedic timing or catchphrase, it may not have had the same impact. Analyzing success is easy, replicating it is not. Still, that is no reason to accept having a bland company. There are multiple levels of success, and it’s my belief that even trying and flubbing your attempt to be different in a relatable way will give your business better results than jumping on the generic carousel.
2. Personify Your Business
While on twitter, I came across this Wendy’s interaction. It surprised me because it completely changed the way I viewed Wendy’s. They became less of a lame Corporate chain in my mind, even though it was just the person in charge of their twitter account.
This is much easier for small businesses and soloprenuers to accomplish, but how often do you see them mimicking large, faceless corporations as if it’s better? McDonald’s started out as a simple hamburger stand, not a corporate hamburger stand. Take advantage of your ability to personify your business while you’re small, because it is an advantage.
How I’m Taking My Own Advice
I rebranded my blog, Deep Existence, from “Personal Development’s Deep End” to “Stay Focused In A Distracted World” because the former means nothing while the latter is a relatable desire/problem.
I’m launching a new service business in the editing industry, but it’s different from every other editing business you’ll see. It directly targets bloggers. It could seem less “professional,” but I can tell you this – we’re going to deliver great results while making the process more educational, fun, and interesting. That is a competitive advantage.
For example, let me walk you through one of the videos for Review My Post.
- From the start, we set a casual tone, but the voice talent and production values are relatively high for what it is. We’re trying to say to customers, “hey, we’re different and relatable, but we care about quality too!”
- Humor is intertwined throughout the video, without taking much attention away from the information being shared. We think it makes it more interesting and easier to pay attention to because viewers can’t anticipate what will happen next. In many of these informational/promotional videos, I tune them out because they’re similar and uninteresting to me.
- It’s completely unique in the editing industry. The editors and companies I’ve seen are focused on their “professional” look and wording. Another reason we’re more casual is that we’re marketing to bloggers, and blogging is traditionally a more casual medium.
- Bloggers crave feedback. But nobody has offered them (us) a compelling way to get it. Traditional editing doesn’t cater to a blogger’s need to be interesting and conversational while communicating their message clearly.
- We really want to communicate that learning and improving one’s writing can be fun and interactive. Many editing websites have bland websites and sleep-inducing copy.
So while every other editor is chasing the “we’re professional and dependable” branding, Review My Post is sticking out and saying, “we’re going to help you write content that people love to read, and it will be a fun process.” And really, isn’t reader enjoyment a primary benefit of writing (unless you’re the IRS)? It is certainly important in blogging. Do you think we succeed? Let me know in the comments!
Being less professional was the right choice for our business – and maybe it is for yours too!
Here are three actions you can take to be a little less professional, and a little more interesting and appealing to your customers.
1. Get into your primary customer’s head and find out his/her strongest desire that relates to your product, then position yourself as the bridge.
It wasn’t until Dos Equis that a beer company really understood a rather large niche market of beer drinkers – men who aspire to live an interesting life. There are niches upon niches, and massive overlaps, but the key is to connect with a specific niche emotionally.
Grab the mindset of your business’s quintessential customer. Jump ahead of the standard “What need does my product solve for this person?” question and go for this: “What ‘dream’ of theirs could my product or service affiliate itself with?”
People buy stuff to improve their lives, and especially with services, there is potential to show them a reflection of their dreams as they look at what you’re selling. I don’t know about you, but when I see even a glimpse of what I want in life, I’m ready to buy anything that brings me closer.
If you’re having trouble relating this to buying beer or toilet paper, understand that these products are more than just their physical components. To some person, fluffy white toilet paper of the best quality could make them feel like they’re successful. To the guy at the bar, buying a Dos Equis might make him feel more interesting, which gives him confidence to approach a girl. Suddenly, his $5 beer is a wingman!
“Hey girl, I’m the second most interesting man in the world.”
For my company, I want bloggers to understand that they need feedback on their writing to improve their “blind spots,” and that Review My Post is the best way for them to move forward towards their dream of becoming an elite writer/blogger. It’s a compelling reason to buy an inexpensive review, don’t you think?
“Yeah, but what if my product doesn’t relate to anyone’s dreams?”
The “dream” isn’t always a lofty personal aspiration. For example, a “dream” of mine is to find a medical facility with transparent pricing. I have to ask how much it costs to get an MRI of my shoulder, and they’ll tell me “it depends.” Instead of knowing what their service costs, I’m supposed to accept whatever they deem fair after I get the service?
I have no doubt that a medical facility which advertises their prices will see an increase in patients, because they’ll meet this ‘dream’ of those who are tired of being surprised by medical bills. Of course, this isn’t one of my personal ‘dreams,’ but something that would make me a free, enthusiastic ambassador of the business.
2. Make the wording on your website or product more interesting or humorous
The legal portion of your website is supposed to be the only bland part. Otherwise, verbose, lifeless text does not excite anyone that I know. Make your information clear, but conversational and approachable, with *gasp* occasional humor, or you’ll sound like the IRS.
“Refunds received from Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC or EIC), Child Tax Credit (CTC) or any other tax credit are not considered income for any federal or federally funded public benefit program. Also, under the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010, your credit or other tax refund is not counted as a resource for at least 12 months from when your receive it. If you save your refund, federal or federally funded agencies will not use it to determine your eligibility or the amount of your benefit. This new rule is for refunds received after December 31, 2009 and through 2012. It is always best to check with your local benefit coordinator to find out if your benefits fall under this provision.” – Excerpt from IRS.gov website
Hey, wake up! You fell asleep on your keyboard. Can you imagine reading a book full of this kind of language?
*accountants raise their hands in shame*
You’re welcome for the tax information.
Maybe it’s just me, but I am always refreshed when I see a company like Glacéau.
“The inside is natural. The outside is plastic.” – Glacéau Smart Water Bottle
They could have said “This bottle, made from high-density polyethylene, contains natural ingredients.”
Glacéau knows that when a person sees something funny, unique, or interesting, they might just share it. Again, sorry to pick on Uncle Sam, but how often are IRS quotes shared on Facebook when someone isn’t complaining about them? I have shown people my vitamin water bottle before because the writing on the back was interesting. Glacéau got me to give them the most valuable marketing gift a company can ask for – word-of-mouth advertising.
3. Find an area your competitors are all the same in, and be different
The caveat with this one is that you must choose strategically. For example, a restaurant can’t say, “all other restaurants try to give good service, so we’ll be rude.”
Actually, that worked.
At Ed Debevic’s restaurant in Chicago, wait staff treat people horribly on purpose and it’s a popular tourist spot. You’d be surprised at how effective being one in a million can be, even if it’s in a negative way.
“The fun never stops at Ed’s. the louder and more sarcastic you are, the better the service.” – Review from Google+
So when I say strategically, I mean that you can’t say, “we’ll only offer onions on burgers at our restaurant,” because that doesn’t mean much to anyone and it’s not remarkable. But if you offered 45 different sauces for your burgers, that’s remarkable.
Your particular business has big implications on how you can apply this advice, so the big takeaway is this…
Don’t Scare Yourself Into Mediocrity
Marketing affects toilet paper sales. Toilet paper sales. That means it affects everything.
Don’t sell yourself short by thinking, “I sell what I sell, and people will want it or not.” People want to be sold to. They are always looking for products and services to improve their lives.
Try something crazy. It worked for Half.com.
When Half.com marketing VP Mark Hughes convinced Halfway, Oregon to rename their town to Half.com, the story received national press. In other words, they received national advertising for free. Half.com sells books, music, and other forms of media, all of which have nothing to do with their unique marketing idea.
Half.com was sold to eBay six months later for 300 million dollars. They stood out. And the ripple effect continues, as I’m writing about them now.
This is a challenge to you. It’s time to stop trading money for exposure and stopping there. Be different, be remarkable, and and you’ll get better results for free.
Think about your business.
- How are you positioned?
- Are you really different from your competitors?
- In what ways are you more or less relatable to your target market?
- Have you tried doing something remarkable yet or are you playing it safe, hoping people will see that you “provide world-class customer service” and be amazed?
Let’s discuss in the comments how your business is relatable and differentiated or what you plan to do to make it that way. I’m excited to hear what you think, and how you position yourself!