Marketing a small service business is a delicate balancing act. It’s like living the fable of the Goldilocks and the 3 bears every time you create content.
Earlier I talked about Middle Bear branding…where you strike a balance between being too cookie-cutter and being so far out, your audience won’t know what you’re talking about.
Another dichotomy is suggested by Donald Miller of Storybrand, which I discuss in Strategic Storytelling Episode #47. Listen on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite platform.
Full disclosure, I’m taking his idea out of context. He says stories need to demonstrate both authority and empathy. You have to show you’re capable of helping others but at the same time, you have to show you genuinely care about your clients.
I would suggest the dichotomy is about expertise and approachability. To me, being known as an authority is about being the go-to person. During the client experience, you’re an expert. Being known as an authority is part of your brand – like being a thought leader. I’ve seen the terms used interchangeably and I’ve done that too.
Many people have bad memories of teachers and authority figures who tell them what to do. I’ve met consultants and coaches and other service professionals who like to be authoritative, even confrontational, when they work with clients.
Frankly, I see that style as a danger signal. When you’re paying someone they can educate but it’s up to you how to apply what they suggest. You’re a marketing pro, not a cop.
We tend to think of experts as cold, stuffy, and yes, sometimes dictatorial. At the same time, when I’m hiring a service professional, I want to believe they can help. I want them to be confident they can help. You may have heard me tell a story of a lawyer I hired through LinkedIn. She wrote, “I am confident that I can help you.” She turned out to be one of the best lawyers I’ve dealt with.
But when you’re marketing, you also need to avoid scaring prospects away. Nobody wants to pay someone to insult and humiliate them. A few people associate arrogance with expertise, but in my experience, arrogant professionals are insecure, and they tend to be less knowledgeable than respectful, courteous professionals. To me, that’s a red flag.
At the same time, professionals need to be especially empathetic, as in “I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there.” It’s far more important for them to respect their clients. This is especially challenging for professionals who see their clients at their worst moments.
Take lawyers, for example. A lot of legal clients have made a mistake – maybe a big one like failing to file taxes or getting a DUI. Or they’ve signed a contract without understanding the implications. Or they got into a bad business deal.
Financial professionals also see clients in trouble. They don’t have all their tax documents. They didn’t handle their money well and now they’re in debt.
Even fitness professionals deal with clients who are badly out of shape and dread exercising.
Middle bear branding is about a continuum – too much or too little differentiation. But now you have to incorporate BOTH elements into your story. You have to show you’re approachable and easy to talk to, yet also that you’re willing to work with clients to find solutions. And the best way to do this is with stories.
“I’ve been where you are” won’t always be available. Very few criminal lawyers are also criminals. Most cardiologists have never had heart attacks. Many money coaches have never been broke.
Tell a success story. I’ve explained this more in Episode 46 of my podcast
Your hero – the client – will be shown as smart. You make it clear your client isn’t a loser.
Yet you show that you have the expertise to win. You’re the guide – but you’re not the only game in town. That’s Episode 47 of my podcast.