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Your Brand Positioning Strategy: Likability vs. Expertise

Austin Church

by Austin Church

Oct 01, 2012


I left off the last post with a question about developing a smart brand positioning strategy: should you worry more about being an expert or simply being likable?

Before I attempt to answer, I should clarify: I do think you can be both. This question doesn't relate to the depth of your knowledge or level of your talent but to how you build a brand around them and how you sell them.

When you are meeting with a new prospect, should you emphasize your experience and credentials or should you simply show yourself to be likable, a person easy and fun to work with?

I will spend the rest of this post explaining why I believe the latter represents a better brand positioning strategy for earning a lot more money.

When I got laid off from my job as a copywriter back in 2009, I had only worked in marketing for six months. This relative lack of experience made me self-conscious. Why would any self-respecting business hire someone so green?

I overcompensated by trying to prove that I knew my stuff. I talked too much and spewed out statistics like this one: "The number-one ranked result for any given Google search gets 44% of the clicks."

Impressive, right?

My stats were accurate, but my assumptions about branding and sales were wrong. Most people don't use Excel spreadsheets stuffed with numbers or fancy pie charts to make purchasing decisions. Hiring a short- or long-term contractor is more of a gut decision based on personality than a logical conclusion based on the data at hand.

Fast-forward three and a half years. I have discovered that most people hire for likability first and talent second.

"But how could that be?" you might be thinking. "Don't people want the very best services that they can afford?"

Consider the following two scenarios.

Scenario #1 – Mr. Expert

Under the assumption that people hire based on talent, you jabber for forty-five minutes about what you can do for Desirable Client's business, website, or brand. You wax poetic about your "award-winning web development, internet marketing, and e-commerce initiatives," and you manage to convince DC that you're good at what you do and that your services offer good value for what they cost.

Guess what? You may still lose the contract.

You may be the best thing since pull-up diapers, but if you aren't the sort of person that Desirable Client wants to invite to a dinner party, then DC might still ignore all of your qualifications and hire the guy with the great sense of humor.

How much does Desirable Client really care about your degrees, accolades, credentials, certifications, and ability to breathe fire underwater?

Trying to impress prospects is the surest way to overwhelm them with information that they find irrelevant, confusing, or, even worse, boring. Even if you do have a red cape and save business owners from the burning buildings of their own ineptitude, talking about yourself for thirty minutes can come across as tacky, at best, and self-centered, at worst.

Would you enjoy listening to some dude recite his resume and not-so-subtly tout his own awesomeness? Probably not.

Most people aren't interested in what you know; they're interested in how you can orchestrate a desirable outcome. What they care about is the disappearance of their problems.

Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime. Convince a man that you're a world-class fisherman, and he'll listen for an hour before ordering a hamburger (and hiring someone else).

Scenario #2 – Mr. Likable

Business is a lot like middle school. We like to be around people with whom we share a lot in common. Parlay this quirk of interpersonal dynamics into your brand positioning strategy and watch what happens.

Stop trying to sell yourself and start asking questions.

When you give Desirable Client a chance to talk about himself and what he cares about, whether that's his golf handicap, his kid's reading level, or his Harley, he will walk away from that conversation thinking, "I like that guy (or gal)!"

DC may know almost nothing about you, but his mind has formed a subconscious connection between you and his favorite subjects. He likes you by association.

Here's the secret power of likability: If Desirable Client likes you, then he will assume that you're an expert.

But how could that be?! He has no evidence, right?

Men in particular like to claim to make decisions based purely on the facts, the information at hand. But how many men will buy an ugly car for the sake of its high safety rating and excellent fuel efficiency? Not many. Most men see a car, admire its lines, salivate over its stereo system, and then go looking for consumer reports and reviews to justify the emotional decision that they already plan to make. Remember that Desirable Client, whether male or female, is a human being, and human beings excel at all sorts of baffling behaviors.

To like a person and at the same time believe that person is incompetent causes cognitive dissonance. Human beings don't like cognitive dissonance, so we trust our gut and hire based on the warm, convivial glow that follows a pleasant conversation.

You don't have to be the best if you're easy to work with.

Hear me on this: I'm not suggesting that you manipulate anyone or try to pass yourself off as an expert by being funny or agreeable. But I am suggesting that if you don't spend most of your time in meetings asking questions, listening, and taking notes, then you're likely missing out on sales.

Scenario #2 offers a win-win brand positioning strategy. You get to connect with Desirable Client on a more personal level, and he'll probably never try to find out if you're the expert. After DC awards you the contract, you will, of course, provide top-notch products and services and give him no reason to doubt your expertise!

Savvy freelancers and entrepreneurs build their brands using likability, not expertise.

Categories: Business, Complete Elephant | Tags: brand positioning strategy

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