The Entrepreneur’s Marketing Dilemma

Communication is a complex subject, and each new form of oral, visual, or digital dialogue has its own set of criteria that make it effective; as well as its own snake pit of hazards that can make it downright dangerous. Let’s put the current Macarena’s of marketing, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, aside for one moment and speak about another hot trend in marketing communication – video.

Visual communication is about tapping into your audience’s emotional response to innate psychological desires: that’s the reason video is such a powerful marketing and branding vehicle. Video possesses more emotionally connective tools than any other medium. Using picture, movement, color, sound design, music, and motion graphics to speak directly to an audience with each viewer experiencing an intimate one-on-one experience makes Web video unique in its ability to communicate online. But you have to know how to use these tools in order for them to be effective and to make a memorable impact on your audience. Audience response is less about what you say, and more about how you make people feel. Use these tools without sufficient understanding, purpose and expertise and you may make the wrong kind of impression.

“People forget what you say, but they remember how you made them feel.” – Warren Beatty

You Ain’t No Tony Robbins

I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs and most know that appearing in their own marketing videos is a dangerous game. No one wants to look like a fool; however there are those whose egos and/or acceptance of the hype and misinformation surrounding personal branding have led them down the proverbial garden path of delusion. I trace a lot of this current excess in ego-marketing to three things: open access to great communication tools and venues; the mystique of the misguided personal branding concept; and a failed grasp of the implications of the so-called customer-conversation revolution.

Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

Low-priced high tech hardware and software combined with easy access to inexpensive high-speed online presentation venues has created a new class of entrepreneur who has great ambition and ideas but with little understanding of how various communication methods differ, and what makes each effective.

Because video involves so many different elements, with some communicating directly and others subliminally, it is imperative that you understand how each impacts the presentation and delivery of the message. Concept, script, performance and styling each impact an audience in different ways. If even one of these elements is off, the result will be a muddled and confused message met with skepticism and disbelief. Of all the elements mentioned, the most important is performance; a bad performance by an entrepreneur can make him or her appear to be a fake, no matter how well intentioned and genuine they are.

There are charismatic business speakers like Tony Robbins who are presentation phenoms, and there are a few entrepreneurs who can make people hang on every word, but these people are few and far between. If you’ve ever thought of being your own company spokesperson in order to save money or to inflate your ego, ask yourself, are you really as good as Tony Robbins? Unless you’re a communication savant, it is best to have your marketing communication created and presented by people who know what they are doing.

The Personal Branding Myth

You often hear celebrities talk about ‘Their Brand’ as if they were a laundry detergent, a notion that reveals a lack of understanding of the differences between brand and personality. It’s the equivalent of people talking about themselves in the third person; something that is oft-putting, and often a sign of a narcissistic personality disorder, not surprising considering the arrogance that can develop from being catered to by media and fans.

Personal Branding is nothing more than another way of saying ‘self-promotion.’ Unfortunately it often crosses the line that separates marketing your business, and that icky feeling you get when you hear over-hyped media stars talking about themselves as if they were products. Unfortunately this trend has crept into the realm of entrepreneurial marketing, a trend that does not serve the entrepreneur well when brand is confused with an individual’s personality.

Number 6: “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own… I am not a number, I am a person!” – The Prisoner

The Web provides a wealth of opportunities for entrepreneurs, but common sense has been buried by a tsunami of fad marketing hype. Social media has turned meaningful communication into nonsensical blather, privacy into an unlocked diary, and real relationships into fanciful imposters. There was a time when people fought desperately for their individual humanity as artfully portrayed by Patrick McGoohan in the classic 1960s “The Prisoner.” Sure we have moved on, this is a different age, a different time, and technology has opened the door to all kinds of new opportunities; but no matter how much technology has changed, people are still people, and the fundamentals still count no matter how much the purveyors of the next marketing gimmick scream at us to jump on board before you miss the boat. Let the shysters, charlatans and carpetbaggers sell their snake oil to someone else. You are not a number or a product, you’re an individual, and that carries more weight in the marketplace than a pet rock.

Businesses Are Entities That Differ From The People Who Run Them

It is important for entrepreneurs to understand businesses are entities that differ from the people who run them. Businesses have an identity that is created by the collective experiences of its customers, employees, and colleagues: a company can have a personality but it is not a person. People are not a brand, and why for heaven’s sake would people want to be degraded to the point that they are no-longer human beings but a product, a product that can be discarded and deemed obsolete like last year’s Blackberry.

The poor economy, high jobless rate, and universal access to the Web has produced a large number of entrepreneurs who are talented and full of new exciting ideas but who lack the business experience necessary to guard against the formidable avalanche of misinformation and confused marketing tactics, tactics like Personal Branding. Describing yourself as something less than a person reduces your company’s impact, and diminishes your ability to be an effective manager. It takes a lot of skill to run a business; one could argue that entrepreneurs have the toughest job of all, including those high-priced corporate executives with their legions of advisors and yes-men.

Entrepreneurs have to make tough decisions and sometimes they are going to make mistakes. A business can survive a mistake if it’s handled properly because no one expects a company to be perfect, but if that mistake is owned and attributed directly to the boss, then it becomes personal, and people are less forgiving. If you want your company to be synonymous with you as it’s personality, you better be perfect, or your business will suffer.

Social Media Is Not The Same As Managing Your Brand

Years ago the ‘Clue Train Manifesto’ championed the idea of giving the consumer a voice, an idea that is not without merit. No one would argue that customers should be ignored, but that is not the same as allowing the inmates to run the prison. Clients have every right to comment on their experience with your company and you ignore those comments at your peril. That said, this is not the 1950s; this is the digital age where memes spread like a bad case of head-lice, and not always with justification. The Web is wonderful but it has little in the way of checks and balances. It’s one thing for a disgruntled customer to march up and down in front of a store waving a placard warning passers-by of some perceived business slight, but it is quite another to have that message spread across the digital universe with the speed, force, and impact of a runaway freight train.

If You Don’t Manage Your Brand, Someone Else Will

It’s currently not fashionable to be a control-freak, but I’ll remind you that the single most influential business leader of the last thirty years was an intolerable control-freak by the name of Steve Jobs. No one had a bigger ego than Jobs and no matter how much he is associated with the company he co-founded, he knew that Apple stood separate – he was a significant tool of the enterprise, but still only a part of the whole.

No matter how big or small your business, you must manage your brand. Brand may be defined as the position it holds in the collective minds of your audience, but that does not mean you can’t manage it, after all that’s the real job of running a business.

A Final Word

In the end, online entrepreneurs must understand it is people who buy what they sell. You can use every marketing technique and scheme ever invented, plus every form of analytics and demographics available, but if you don’t understand what makes people tick, you’ll never be more than another online wannabe.

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