by Samantha Bennett
Leanna is a photographer who’s on her third website designer. Seems no one can get it quite right, and of course she can’t launch her business until her website looks great. So she stays stuck.
David keeps putting off attending industry events, because he doesn’t have any business cards. And he doesn’t have business cards because he can’t find a logo that he likes. So he stays home.
And Jenna hasn’t started her coaching business yet, because she can’t decide on a name for her business. So her clients are going unserved.
In the words of the great Seth Godin, “Is your problem really a problem? Or is it just a place to hide?”
I see so many entrepreneurs keeping their dreams in a box because they are still getting ready to get ready, and needing to “work on my branding” might be the biggest delaying tactic of all.
While I love branding – and I actually specialize in a unique form of personal branding for creatives – I’m here today to say: Quit obsessing about your branding.
Just drop it.
Try this instead:
Treat them like you like them.
Yep. That’s it.
Try putting all your focus on treating your prospective and existing customers as though they – and their money – truly mattered to you.
Just treat them like you like them.
To extend the thought:
Treat money like you like it.
Treat your business like you like it.
Treat your co-workers, employees and colleagues like you like them.
Treat yourself like you like you.
And if you’re looking for even more qualified endorsements of this idea, please check out Peter Shankman’s Zombie Loyalists, Gary Vaynerchuck’s Thank You Economy and Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, among others.
What does it mean to treat people like you like them?
Well, I’m sure you have your own ideas about this. (In fact, maybe you’ve already had one idea about how you could be treating your clients better – go ahead and write that one down in the comments section, won’t you? That way you’ll have some extra accountability and we’ll all get inspired by one another. Thanks.)
Here are five of the lessons my grandmother taught me about how to be a good hostess, and I think they translate well for our purposes.
1) Be warm and welcoming
2) Provide a helpful orientation
3) Keep it simple
5) Say thank you
1) Be warm and welcoming
In hostess language, that means answering the front door with a smile.
You cannot make people feel too good about the decision to check out your store or site.
Studies tell us that we have between three and seven seconds to make a first impression in person, and that visitors to our website will form an opinion within two-tenths of a second. In other words, you’ll never get the chance to tell them about how great your product or service is if you don’t make them feel welcome to begin with. Keep the initial focus on them, not you.
Whether you have a real live person who greets people as they enter your physical location or a home page that is clear, fresh and clean, making the extra effort to let a prospect know that you care about their experience sets you up for a long and fruitful relationship.
ACTION STEP: Pretend you’ve never heard of you, and cast an unforgiving eye on your home page, your front door and your welcome and double-opt in emails to make sure they are human-sized, reassuring and easy to understand. A special treat (free cookie?) never hurt anyone, either.
2) Provide a helpful orientation
If this were a dinner party, you might walk them over to the bar, introduce them to a few people and let them know how long until we sit down for dinner.
You might even subtly point out the location of the restroom in case they need to freshen up a bit.
A quick orientation can work wonders. Letting people know what they can expect from you, how often they might hear from you and how they can best use your services sets the stage for success.
You may want to introduce the key players, too. Giving me the name of your customer service representative before I ever need it lets me know that you really are eager to help me. And everyone likes to feel like they “got a guy” on the inside.
Even telling people your “faults” can help. For example, if you let your customers know that you’re a bit averse to the phone and the best way for them to reach you is via text, well, that’s very useful information. Especially if you let them know this before they’ve left you five increasingly irritated voicemail messages.
If you’re a brick and mortar business, then you’ll want to pay attention to signage and your layout. (Paco Underhill’s classic, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping is a fascinating book on how environments influence sales.) Keeping your space welcoming is an inexpensive way to treat your customers like you like them.
ACTION STEP: What are the questions and complaints you hear most often? If you can find a cheerful way to address those BEFORE they are even asked, you put yourself way ahead of the game. Anticipating the needs of your customers is a wonderful way to show them that you like them.
3) Keep it simple
A good host does not provide an unlimited number of options to his guests; he keeps his offerings simple and unfussy.
Overcomplicating things is a big turn-off. And telling people your entire life story upon first meeting is just plain weird. Keep your communications clear and your clients will end up feeling both safe and smart.
I recently read a study that indicated that the number one factor in customer loyalty is singularity of message: just do one thing. If people can express what you do in one simple phrase, they are much more likely to stick with you, to refer you and to offer you repeat business.
Even if you offer a multiplicity of products and services, you can still focus on one simple message. Example: when you think “Nike” you probably think, “Just Do It” and “shoes,” right? Now Nike has about a billion SKUs, but they’ve done a great job of making us think just one thing when we think about them.
(And, by the way, that’s what branding is: it’s whatever people think of when they think about you.)
ACTION STEP: Can you eliminate some of your options? Narrowing down your packages to, say, three price points could end up making your more money. After all, the confused mind says, “no.” When you make it simple to understand your offers, you make it easier for your people to say, “yes.”
A lifetime of social anxiety has taught me that the best way to handle being at a party is to simply dedicate myself to listening closely to whomever is right in front of me. I give my complete focus to that other person, and this calms me right down. A good host listens with her ears, but also with her eyes, her hands and her heart.
Branding and marketing anxiety are just like social anxiety (What will they think of me? Will I seem weird? Will I be rejected?) and “the listening cure” solves all.
You can listen by paying closer attention to your customers’ direct communications with you, of course, but you can also try eavesdropping (follow their conversations on social media) and you can listen by watching their behavior. What do they click on? What do they share? What gets their attention? What do they dream about? What do they wake up worried about?
Pay attention to what your people are saying, and then let them know you’ve heard them. The easiest way to do this is to simply repeat it back to them.
Use the same language they use. Match their tone, their enthusiasm and their syntax. Just letting people know that you hear them goes a long way towards letting them know that you like them.
ACTION STEP: Find a way to use the exact words of your customers on your homepage. The most obvious way to do this is with a testimonial, but you can also use their language as headers, copy and FAQs.
5) Say thank you
Gratitude is the single easiest way to let people know that you like them.
Thank them for showing up. Thank them for just being themselves. Thank them for their interest, their curiosity, their willingness, their loyalty and of course – thank them for their business.
You can thank them with compliments, surprise gifts, a kind word or with a gentle touch. You can give them some more of your time, share confidences with them, do them an extra favor. You can clap them on the back, offer a toast in their honor, pass them a little note. Whatever feels right to you and your people will work.
And as I’m sure you’ve noticed as a consumer, there are so few businesses that offer any gesture of heartfelt gratitude, you will immediately stand out.
ACTION STEP: Send a real, old-fashioned thank you note to someone you respect. Keep it short, sincere and spontaneous. Extra credit points if you do make this a regular practice – once a week perhaps?
Treating your people, your business and yourself with simple civility and kindness might be the best marketing & branding strategy of all. And it’s where small businesses can truly excel.
After all, big businesses have to work really hard to pretend like they care. It’s a huge, expensive challenge for them to act like they have a personality, and most either fail miserably or don’t even try. (For example, Virgin Airlines has done a pretty good job of imitating a person who cares, while Spirit Airlines is just dismal.)
Small business owners don’t have to pretend – you actually are a person who cares. You started your business because you had a passion, and your love for your work is the gas in your tank. You have stayed motivated all this time because of how much you care, and letting your love show will energize your business and inflate your revenue, allowing you to keep the love going strong.
After all, who needs branding when you’ve got love?
Originally from Chicago, Samantha Bennett is a writer, speaker, actor, teacher and creativity/productivity specialist and the author of the bestselling, Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day (New World Library) which Seth Godin called, “An instant classic, essential reading for anyone who wants to make a ruckus.”
She is the creator of both The Organized Artist Company and The Organized Entrepreneur, organizations dedicated to helping creative people get unstuck, especially by helping them focus and move forward on their goals. She has spent 15 years as a personal branding expert for Sam Christensen Studios and was honored as an Ultimate Marketer Finalist at ICON 2010.
Now based in a tiny beach town outside of Los Angeles, CA, Bennett offers her revolutionary work to overwhelmed procrastinators, frustrated overachievers and recovering perfectionists everywhere.