Have you ever had a huge corporate client and delved deep inside the organization only to find incompetence around you? I have, and it makes me wonder how we've become the richest nation in the world. It's also encouraging, because the bar is set very low and therefore it's pretty darn easy to be an expert!
One thing I get asked a lot is this: "What is an expert?" There are many ways to define that, but here's how I think about it. I picture myself keynoting a conference. In the auditorium are 3,000 people. After my presentation, I open it up to questions from the audience. There's a microphone on a stand in the center aisle, and soon a line forms with people who want me to elaborate or they want to disagree with me.
Picture yourself in that place. How do you feel? Prepared? Nervous? Naked? Eager? Being an expert is flat knowing that you can answer any question about the narrow field you serve. By the way, you don't need to be some amazing speaker or a strong extrovert to captivate an audience. Essentially, it boils down to two things: do you know what the hell you're talking about, and are you presenting it with a personal authenticity.
So the next question is how you get to that place where you think of yourself as an expert, and where markeplace acceptance confirms that belief. Here are my seven specific, practical suggestions:
Bill Baker (no relation) is nicer than I am, so don't pin any of my introduction on him. I recently spoke to an auditorium of C-level executives, and the title of my presentation was long but revealing: "The Happy Death of Branding, the Next Fad of Storytelling, and the Hopeful Rise of Alignment."
I guess that expresses my view of branding: there are a few firms really doing it, and the rest (and majority) aren't doing anything differently than they did before, but now they are calling it branding because it sounds upstream. There was no training in marketing, no classes, books, or even real processes. The typical four circles with the ubiquitous use of alliteration doesn't count and should be taken off your website.
Regardless of whether or not you agree with my view of branding, it clearly is yesterday's news, and storytelling comes up frequently. Rather than being marginalized even more, I think we ought to jump on this one early so that we don't relieve the word of even more meaning.
Bill (disclosure: a client) is one of the very few people really doing story telling. While the concept has been around since people wrote on cave walls, modern storytelling was really maximized by E+S (Envisioning and Storytelling) in Vancouver roughly three decades ago, a place where Bill was Chief Strategic Officer. Now, under BillBaker&Co he continues that great work with clients like GE, Relais & Chateaux, Johnson & Johnson, The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, etc. Here are some of his thoughts on the difference between faux storytelling and real storytelling. Real storytelling is a very complex skill, and I can sit for days listening to Bill point out the subtleties involved. This is just the outer layer.
Most creative firms are poorly named, especially if they are named after the principal and perhaps multiple partners. Unless you turn out to be a very large agency with a 40+ year track record, your name matters. Naming it in the traditional way after yourself does this:
Chances are that you didn't put much thought into naming the company when it began with just you as an employee. The attorney was pressuring you to come up with some name that s/he could put on the forms, and so you defaulted to the easy choice. If I had done that, my company would be Baker Inc., or Baker & Associates, etc.
One of the most significant marketing blunders that marketing agencies make is deciding who they want to marry after they fall in love with someone. In other words, they bend the criteria for what makes a qualified client, either because their sales techniques are weak or because they find themselves with far less opportunity than capacity. No part of the marketing mix is exempt, either: you find it with internet marketing services, public relations firms, marketing agencies, and design firms.
About two weeks ago, I had one of the hardest weekends of my career. Many things came together all at once and pretty much brought me to my knees.
Some people get it. By extension, then, some (most?) people don't get it. Gwen Bell is one of those people who clearly gets it. The first time I read her website, a whole lot of things clicked for me. I'm not prepared (at the moment) to adopt her lifestyle and business model, but I like her presence, how articulate she is, and how key points are explained thoroughly enough to eliminate the frequent response: "Yeah, I've heard of her and read some of her stuff."
When you add someone young to your staff, their primary business goal is to add variety to their experience. That's partly because they believe that doing so will make their next job search easier, but it's also a bit self-serving: more variety means more interesting things to do. Not really because they are forced to do research and become an "expert" overnight on a given subject, but just because there seems to be a genetic A.D.D. affliction among the creative set.