When self-promotion turns into egomania

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When your business is just you, promoting your business is pretty much about blowing your own trumpet. For many of us, that’s an uncomfortable prospect.

I’m happy waffling on about what my little business can do if it’s through the protective veil of an article like this or even, at a push, in a formal proposal. But coming up with a marketing message that doesn’t make me sound like a complete egomaniac is another story altogether. Probably should have considered this before I went solo…?

My high school motto translated as something like ‘before honour is humility’. I didn’t think it struck home with me at the time but I did somehow emerge as someone who is often hamstrung by modesty. Self-esteem certainly is a commodity to be nurtured.

Over recent years (probably because I’m getting a bit old) these sentiments have been magnified by working with some incredibly smart young New Zealanders who seem to radiate confidence in their own abilities. It took me far too long to realise that this is often just as much a façade for them as it is for many of the rest of us.

I confess, I’m slightly in awe of those bright young things who can quickly reassure you of knowledge and capability beyond their years. And with many, that self-confidence is absolutely justified.

So, I guess that brings us to what I see as one of the most important decisions for any small business – defining your brand and building an authentic story around it.

If you genuinely are the first or longest established, the largest or the only one locally, feel free to herald that fact. There’s a difference between telling people about a clear point of difference and an arrogant boast.

Advertising Standards takes a dim view of the use of words like ‘best’ and my feeling is that, thankfully, most Kiwis do too. I’ve noticed that, in consultancy and professional services, ‘best’ gets bandied around with little substance, particularly in areas that relate to new technologies and concepts that are out of the comfort zone of most customers. If you say you’re the ‘best’ or call yourself a ‘guru’, it is simple: prove it, honey.

Good service and positive working relationships are crucial aspects of what helps great brands thrive. But it’s not exactly sexy marketing, is it. We all claim to be terribly nice people, of course. We all say we put our customers first and become part of their team – one big happy family.

For most organisations, marketing based on the soft skills can sound just that, soft. And frankly, shouldn’t it be a given anyway? I guess that, because the disappointing reality is that prioritising client relationships is not always a given, it’s often worth a mention, so long as your behaviour lives up to that brand promise.

If you don’t focus on your undoubtable brilliance, or what an all-round good bloke you are, it comes back down to the offer. Most Kiwis like facts, no messing – what am I going to get for my investment. Even for those for whom the emotive factors are a driver in decision making, customers still deserve clarity in what it is you can do for them.

For those of you lucky enough to be selling a product, I’m almost jealous. You have lots of facts to tell your customers and can balance out talking about features with benefits to tug at the heart strings.

For those of us selling advice, the intangibility brings up different challenges. Exactly what a client gets from us is different with every organisation. And if not, we’re doing probably it wrong. That means our own marketing risks being based around generalised concepts and we’re reliant on successful projects to support our story.

If you’re operating in a busy market which is lacking differentiation between you and your competitors, it may be a struggle to find a point of difference to focus on in your marketing and communications. Sometimes that’s just life. In many cases, particularly in professional services, the differences might be quite subtle.

The way you tell your story can, in itself, create your uniqueness. Perhaps it’s in the language you use, an eye-catching design approach, the causes you support or the company you keep.

Trumpets don’t always need to roar. Soft hugs don’t necessarily need to be exchanged. But whatever you do, do it because it’s right for your brand, genuine and sustainable. You need to be able to sleep at night.

So, as I finalise the wording for my own marketing materials, I realise I can’t go with something like “I’ve been doing this a while and I kinda get it.” Or can I?

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Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz

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