Maybe it’s because I’m an ad guy. Maybe not. But remember the TV and print ad campaign from a couple of decades ago where the model/spokesperson admonishes, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!” WHAT? A person is right there on TV making claim to an attribute that may or may not be shared by the viewer. Let alone that such an admonishment is just not done! Thinking you are beautiful is one thing (no, I have not had the experience personally) but acknowledging it is quite another. Who brought this person up? Movie stars? Hand models? I remember sitting there thinking she probably just alienated 80 percent of the audience who were having thoughts like, “Now I am going to hate you. I didn’t before because I don’t know you. But now I know enough. I DO hate you.” Then I realized that the product company probably didn’t care since the remaining 20 percent could serve them just fine. Who knows?
The point is this: where I was brought up, it was up to others to compliment you on your attributes and accomplishments; up to them to reinforce what’s good about you. You never started a conversation with, “Hey, I just won first place in my school’s spelling bee!” (Another experience I never had). No; you were expected to wait for Grandma or a friendly aunt to do the groundwork with something like, “Did you hear about your nephew’s spelling bee? Tell your uncle what happened.” Then you had official license to launch into detail while, of course, still being mindful not to make it too much about you. You’d say things like, “Yeah it was great. My friends did really well, and it was really fun to be part of it…and oh…by the way, I got first place.” Or better yet was to just say you placed and make them force it out of you that it was first place. Score!
Today I see things happening in a similar fashion that echoes back to the “I’m beautiful” claim.
We have a tendency sometimes to go overboard with terms we should never assign ourselves. I’m guilty of it; I think everyone is. With all things speeding up in our world, some pressure comes to bear to impress as fast as we can since we only have a few seconds for that first impression. My feeling is that we can’t waste that precious time with self-congratulations and posturing that we can’t prove or with characteristics that we haven’t earned.
Case in point: I caught myself a few months back saying to a very familiar client that in my role as their “Trusted Advisor,” I had to point out a few things that I didn’t agree with in their approach to marketing. Anyone out there just throw up a little bit in their mouth? To my ears it was the business equivalent of, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”
Trusted? Who says? That is only something that my customer can say. (Or my friendly aunt…just kidding.). I can say that I want to be their advisor, that I want to earn their trust, but I can never claim that I have it. I have to earn that every day, and I specifically don’t get to put it on my business card or use it with my “out loud” voice. I am constantly amazed that we lack the understanding that the best marketing message is when our customers relay it. We seem to get it for a while, and then we let it go. (Note: be vigilant in updating customer references and quotes.)
In the new world of social networking technology that enables instant and constant review of goods and services, we don’t stand a chance of survival if our customers aren’t saying good things about us. Your own voice isn’t enough. You need all the voices that know you, and hopefully trust you, to be in that choir singing in unison. I’m not saying they will love us every day. What I am saying is that they should have the transparent, at-the-ready thought that you are trying your best on their behalf at all times.
At the end of the day, it still comes down to two things: let the work speak for itself, and let your customers speak for you. If not, you can always bring your favorite aunt to the presentation.