- Robert Middleton
This month I got philosophical and decided to interview myself about
"Authentic Marketing." I've noticed over the years that many
professional service business owners have real issues with marketing.
(They hate it, avoid it, are scared by it, etc.) This "interview"
addresses some of those issues.
Q. What is authentic marketing?
R.M. You might think of this as marketing or promotion of one's
business that doesn't come from self-centeredness but from a higher
place, a place of service and contribution. When you are marketing
your business authentically, those who come in contact with your
business are inspired to work with you, they don't feel coerced or
Q. That somehow sounds antithetical to American business. After all,
we associate marketing with being less than truthful. I think we've
even come to take most marketing messages, not just with a grain of
salt, but with downright suspicion. How is it really possible to
R.M. Sadly, American business and the advertising industry realizes
most people want fairly superficial things. They realize that people
act from their own self-interest and therefore prey on motivators such
as beauty, greed, status, and instant fulfillment. But of course, most
products and services don't deliver on those promises. A shampoo
really isn't going to make you more popular. A new car isn't going to
make you any happier.
Q. So you seem to be proving my point. Where does authenticity fit
into all of this?
R.M. First it comes with the realization that all marketing isn't
about promotion or advertising. That's really just the tip of the
iceberg of marketing. Marketing is really about the complete
experience one has with a company's product or service. So marketing
isn't just a slogan or a brochure or an advertisement. It's about how
the company answers its telephones and how they respond to complaints
and how they deal with their customers. And, of course, it's about the
actual quality of their product or service.
The bottom line of authentic marketing is about truly caring about
your customers and clients.
Q. So what does this look like in the marketing of professional
services? You use your 5 P model of Positioning, Packaging, Promotion,
Persuasion and Performance. Is that what it means to market
R.M. Not really, that's just a model for different stages in the
service business marketing process. The 5 Ps are a very useful tool
but you can still use those principles without much caring at all,
where the sole purpose is just to make more money. That can be done,
but authentic marketing, at its core, is about caring. From that point
you can start to market from a whole different place.
Q. So what happens after you start caring?
R.M. You'll start to realize that caring doesn't happen in a vacuum.
That is, you can't just sit in your office and really care about your
clients and do nothing! Caring requires action and marketing is a very
powerful vehicle for action. You can only make a difference with the
services you provide if people understand what those services are and
how they work. And people will never be able to take advantage of
those services if they've never heard of you.
Q. So once you've made the commitment to care about your customers or
clients, and I assume that would include things like providing high
quality services, communicating honestly and responding quickly, you
still have to get the word out.
R.M. Yes, exactly, and this is where people have such a problem. They
can understand good service, good communication, reliability and all
of that -- they see that as being authentic -- but they have a hard
time "getting out there," as you say, getting known, communicating
about their services to a wider audience, even explaining the value of
their services. This part of marketing often doesn't feel authentic.
Q. Why is that?
R.M. It's what I call "car sales syndrome." What I've observed in
speaking to thousands of people in workshops and seminars is that when
it comes to marketing and selling, most of us immediately have the
image of someone selling cars - usually used cars! That's what selling
is to us. You know what I mean -- deception, not caring, talking
without listening, and outright manipulation. Since that whole realm
is so distasteful to us, we don't want to have any part of it. After
all, we ARE professionals, aren't we? We don't want to stoop that low,
and of course, that's very understandable.
Q. That sounds like quite a hurdle to get over. People are happy to
provide great service and in fact do care about their clients but they
don't want to be tarred with the same brush as "car sales." So they do
very little in the area of self-promotion. And if they do, they always
feel a little tainted by it. Is that correct?
R.M. Absolutely. If that's the mindset we're stuck in we'll never
reach the number of clients we could or really make the contribution
we're capable of. In many cases it means we often end up with less-
than-ideal projects, doing things we'd prefer not to do instead of the
work we really have a passion for. So in trying not to sell out to the
"false gods" of marketing and selling, we often end up selling out
anyway. I've seen this with hundreds of clients. Their issue isn't
always: "how can I get new clients," but "how can I get the right kind
of clients and do the work I was meant to do?"
Q. So how do you help them market themselves authentically?
R.M. It's quite simple really but we make it too complicated. First
you commit to caring about your work and your clients above all else
and then you commit to holding true to that attitude of caring in
every aspect of your marketing. You realize that marketing and selling
your services have nothing to do with selling used cars. You start to
realize that authentic marketing is about communication, education and
helping solve problems.
For instance, when you're working on the material for your web site,
you need to explain how you help your clients and build a solid case
for your services. There's nothing wrong with building that case from
every legitimate angle possible -- case studies, testimonials, details
about how your service works, etc. You don't have to resort to
hyperbole and hucksterism to do that successfully. You have to be
completely honest and demonstrate your caring without saying things
like "we're a caring company," which no one believes anyway.
Q. This doesn't sound easy to me.
R.M. It's simple, but not necessarily easy. It takes a very high level
of commitment and self-honesty. It takes being vulnerable and open. It takes working at
continuous improvement. It takes really digging into the actual value
you provide and finding the best way to present that information. But
that's what builds trust and relationships.
The companies who get it, and I'm including both small and large
businesses, turn themselves inside out to communicate to their
customers with complete integrity. Those kinds of companies build
loyalty that a competitor could never erode with a million dollar ad
budget. For instance, I get many referrals from people who have never
even worked with me. That's because they feel they know me and trust
me through my marketing.
Q. Does it take much of a budget to market authentically?
R.M. For a professional service business it can be done with virtually
no budget at all. Communicating one-to-one with your clients and
prospects (what I call keep-in-touch marketing) can be done by e-mail
for virtually free just as I've been doing for over 3 years. It's
really an authentic one-to-one conversation with those you do business
with. And that can be done in many, many ways, from giving talks to a
thousand people to writing an article for a web site to speaking to
someone at a networking event.
Q. Authentic marketing certainly feels right, but is it really
profitable? After all, if you don't make money in your business,
you're out of business. All of this sounds somewhat idealistic.
R.M. That's what I used to think as well, but it's really just the
opposite. Authentic marketing is about the long-term. It's about
building loyal clients, not about making a one-time sale.
For example, I have a client that provides supplies to the
construction industry. I talked to several of her clients to get some
testimonial quotes. It was a wonderful experience speaking to them
because they were all so thrilled by my client's service and
responsiveness that they wouldn't go anywhere else. Being authentic
doesn't mean being a doormat. Authentic marketers can be very
hard-headed business people. But they tend to attract the right kind
of clients so it becomes very profitable for everyone.
Q. So what are the first steps in beginning to market a professional
service business authentically?
R.M. Just decide to start. You'll see opportunities opening up
everywhere for authentic marketing. Commitment to this is
all-important. Without it, you'll be stuck with your outmoded notions
of selling used cars and you'll never take a step.
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