Do you know what your clients and prospects really think of your company, your products, and you? Chances are the answer is No. Even companies that think they know are often surprised to learn the real truth.
We tend to see ourselves one way while our prospects and customers see a completely different picture. How does that happen? We think it’s because people don’t notice the specific things that influence their perception – which is pretty much everything we say and do, both as companies and as individuals.
Think about it for a minute – Everything you say and do tells people something about you. Every communication, whether written, spoken (or unspoken), formal or informal broadcasts who you are and what you believe to be important.
Communication not only includes marketing materials, but also internal communications, annual reports, recruiting materials, contracts. The words you use and the way you use those words gives the world a clear picture of your "hidden identity." What are you unwittingly saying about yourself?
Everything your company does – every product offer, every rebate, every refund, every community event, every employee, and every relationship – shows people who you are and what you believe in.
You are what you do
Regardless of what your marketing materials suggest… Regardless of what you espouse in your mission and vision… Regardless of what you actually believe, actions speak louder than words. People respond to evidence more than they respond to talk.
In order to be perceived as credible, in order for people to trust you, you must be trustworthy and congruent. In other words, you must walk the talk.
Think of a time when you heard a company claim, "Our people are our biggest asset." or “This is a great place to work.” Often, I've heard those words and seen high turnover at that same firm – among both employees and suppliers. If it's such a great place to work, why are so many people leaving?
Another one of my favorites is the bank that says “We’re here for our customers” but they open at 9 and close at 3. These companies are incongruent and their clients and prospects pick up on it.
If your business hasn’t jumped to the next level of success, perhaps its because there’s a disconnect between who you think you are and what your customers and prospects really see.
The Pieces of the Puzzle
Clients and prospects form a picture of you and your company in their minds. This picture forms over time and is influenced by a number of factors. Here are a few of the most important factors:
- Every communication, both inside your company and externally: your annual report, your website, every piece of mail you send, your business objectives, job descriptions – all provide clues as to who you are and what you believe.
- How you treat your employees, your suppliers and virtually everyone you come into contact with is a reflection of who you are. It’s not enough to say people are important; you have to live it each and every day. You have to prove it through your real-life interactions with employees, customers, vendors and strategic alliance partners.
- Your internal processes, your management style, even your office environment, dress code, and the kind of music you play, all say something about your company and its values.
For example, what is a bank that opens at 9:00 and closes at 3:00 or an airline that routinely overbooks flights saying about how they feel about customer care?
- The people who answer your phones are the gatekeepers to your future relationships. This is a very telling aspect of your company identity. In a very real way, the people who answer your phone determine if your company is perceived as friendly – or not. Are they natural communicators who build relationships, or are they annoyed at doing a job that's beneath them?
- Every association or relationship – everyone you do business with and associate with becomes a part of your identity.
- How you respond in a crisis provides key insight into who you are. Do you take responsibility? Tell the truth? Can the public trust you do the right thing? When the Exxon Valdez flooded Prince William Sound with its huge cargo of oil. Exxon "stonewalled." No information. No accountability.
Johnson and Johnson, on the other hand, handled a similar crisis very differently. When several deaths associated with cyanide-laced Tylenol tablets caused a nation-wide panic, J&J put the safety of the public first.
They did a media blitz to alert consumers, stopped production and advertising of Tylenol and recalled all Tylenol capsules from the market. In the end their actions saved the integrity of both their product and their corporation as a whole.
6 Things You Can Do to Enhance Your Credibility
Here are six things you can do to become more aware of how you are perceived and consciously influence that perception.
1. Find out how others see you
See yourself as others see you. Get a second and third and fourth outside opinion or perspective. Ask the people that work in your company. Ask your customers. Ask your suppliers. Ask the delivery boy. Ask the people in the elevator.
And don’t just ask once, ask often. Solicit feedback in a variety of different contexts from a variety of stakeholders.
Pay attention. Listen to what’s going on around you. Listen not only to those from whom you ask for feedback – but to those you didn’t.
What are your competitors saying about you? How about potential employees? What is their perception of your company? Is it somewhere they’d like to work? How about x-employees and x-suppliers – what are they saying about you? Are there common themes in the feedback? Where are there areas where you can take immediate action?
2. Choose your relations wisely
We humans are associative by nature. We associate a company with the other companies it does business with, just like we associate an individual with the people (both professionally and personally) they associate with. It’s the same as with kids in school – you are who you hang around with.
You are your relationships. And chances are a relationship or association either positively enhances your credibility and reputation or it detracts from it. Rarely is their any middle ground.
Take the time to review all your business relationships, analyzing each in terms of whether it adds value or detracts value from your reputation. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does this relationship work for me?
- Are there common values and shared purpose?
- Is this relationship important to my long-term goals?
- Is this the kind of company or individual I want to be associated with?
- Does this association add credibility or detract from it?
3. Tell the Truth
When you make a mistake, fess up and own up. Customers are far more likely to forgive a mistake than they are a cover-up or even a negligent withholding of information.
Don’t hide your services inside or behind marketing-eeze or legal-eeze. Describe distinctly and coherently who you are and what you do. The more open and honest you are about what you can (and cannot) or will (or won’t) do, the more your customers and prospects will respond.
4. Walk the Talk
There’s a story amongst the consulting ranks of a renowned time management consultant who responded to questions about his program by saying “I haven’t had time to look at it.”
It appears that it is not only time management consultants who are afflicted with this. Financial consultants with bad personal investment track records, Insurance guys who don’t use their own products, marriage counselors who have never been married or who have multiple divorces, and so on.
If you are concerned about your integrity and credibility (and you better be), never, under any circumstances try to sell something that you’re not. Inevitably someone will call you on it. Strive to be congruent in everything you do.
5. Get to Know Your Target Market
Reputation is based on relationships, which are based on “relating” which is based on people. You can’t have good relationships unless or until you understand yourself (as an individual and as a company) and understand the people you are dealing with – how they are wired, what they value and what they want.
If you know what your clients and prospects want and expect from you, you stand a far greater chance of meeting their expectations.
6. Speak the Language of Your Target Market
Once you get to know your target audience, your next step is to learn to speak their language. That means using language that gets through their mental filters. It means presenting information in a way that stands the absolute best chance of sinking in and inspiring them to action.
Make it easy for prospects to say yes. Make it easy for clients to get the kind of support they need to stay loyal, to refer you to their friends and colleagues.
NOTE: This article was written in 2000, before we had all the different web communication vehicles we have today. It's a bit dated, in that it doesn't mention these, but the message still rings true. Tune in to subsequent posts to learn how to "read" people when you're not face-to-face.
In the 1980s I realized that professional credibility determined if a person or firm would be successful. Credibility relies on communication, and that means: 1) writing content that is relevant to your target market; and 2) using words/phrases they relate to.
A few years ago, I started noticing the term "content marketing" and thought, "What's the big deal? We've been doing that for 20 years!"
Stop Reading! Today's content is judged by a very different standard. That's because (in a business context) people no longer read. They skim. If your content cannot be skimmed, it most likely won't reach the target. Additionally, a world of other content is just a click away.
- You need quality content to attract your target market.
- You need new content to keep people coming back to your site.
- You need to format the content for easy skimming.
- You need to edit to add active verbs.
- You need to imbed the target's values.
- You need to identify points of relevance before starting.
If you can't do that, you need to get help.
For example… In the financial industry, the sellers always want to sell a product. "Do you have LTC coverage?" That's insane. The target market doesn't care about the products. They have concerns or problems. If the firms can't talk to the target about those concerns and problems, they're demonstrating irrelevance. When you talk about products, you're essentially approaching the world backwards.
Turn that around. All the company has to do is re-frame the content and approach it from the target's perspective. Then, follow the other points in that list above.
- Mike Lovas
For the past twenty years, I've been researching how to use psychology in marketing for financial advisors. The most important marketing tool today is your website. I say that for three reasons:
- That is where most people go to check you out and determine if they want to contact you.
- That's where you can show them your professionalism and humanity.
- It's safe for visitors. They don't have to worry about getting a sales pitch.
The point is, if you do not already have a dynamic and psychologically-effective website, your business is going to suffer.
I've already written several articles on how to capture people's attention on your home page. So, today, we're going to look at how to get people to keep coming back to your site. The more often they return, the higher your chances of getting a new client. Here are some guidelines:
- People do not return to see the same stuff. Meaning, if you don't up-date your content on a regular (weekly) basis, why would anyone go back there? Most sites have a little line near the bottom of the page that says, "Last updated" and the date. You would be amazed at how many financial sites have not been updated in years – or, at all, ever.
- People do not place value in duplication. Meaning, they don't want to see a site that is a duplicate of other sites, with the same tools, same calculators, and same generic content. If you have not toured other advisor sites, you owe it to your firm to do so. What you'll see is that nearly every one is basically the same. If you follow that model, you'll be showing that you have nothing fresh to provide.
- People look for relevant information. What's relevant to them? Well, it's not your products. It's solutions to their problems. Meaning, they don't go to your website when everything is going great. They go when they have a question or puzzle that needs to be solved. You can probably name of six to ten topics most of your clients ask you about: retirement income, taxes, long term care, estate planning, investing, etc. In other words, you need to provide them with guidance in those topics. The guidance cannot be generic! People see through the generic for what it is.
Advice. If you do not already have a blog on your website. Get one. Start writing blog comments. They should be only about 100 words long. Each one should focus on one aspect of those topics above. Start by explaining what the problem is, then begin to solve the problem. Do not offer investment advice or name specific products. Simply explain the steps that consumers can take on their own to start to solve their problem. In this way, you become a resource.
For example, one of the blogs I recently wrote for a client explains estate planning in consumer-friendly language. I explained what it is and why a middle-class consumer might need to get one. Another focused on long term care and women. Others look at elder fraud, social security maximization, and what to do if you don't have enough money to retire. The point is, make your content relevant to the people you want to do business with.
SIDEBAR: After reviewing hundreds of financial sites, I can safely say that most are absolutely terrible. Amazingly, nearly every one of them makes the same mistakes. In September, my good friends at Advisor's Assistant asked me to deliver a webinar on "Little Disasters – the accidental blunders that keep people from trusting your website." In the program, I showed about two dozen financial web pages. All but two or three of those pages chased people away and made the same mistakes. They were examples of what NOT to do in a website.
If you want help with your website, just give us a call: 509.465.5599.
Who in his right mind launches a website knowing it will annoy visitors? Professionals and organizations always believe the world is chomping at the bit in anticipation of their website. They seem not to know when something on the site is annoying.
We use 44 points in our "Psycho-Social Marketing Analysis." One of the points deals with videos. Beware…
In the sites we've analyzed one of the truly most annoying elements is the video that automatically launches. This might be interesting to first-time visitors, but don't you want people to keep coming back? So, everyone who returns to your site is forced to deal with that same video. Trust me, they quickly learn to loath it.
There is another amazingly annoying aspect of website videos – the ones that take too long to load. How long is too long? About one second, or the point that the3 visitor aborts. There is some recent research on this topic. I'm quoting from Jakob Nielsen's "Alerbox." And, as you can see, I've included a couple of links:
Professor Ramesh Sitaraman analyzed 23 million cases of users trying to watch online videos and calculated the bounce rate depending on the delay in having the video start playing.
The main finding is that 6% more users abandon the video for every 1 second extra delay.
Does your site annoy your target market? Give us a call, and we'll help you figure it out.
The key to getting outside the box is to read articles that have nothing to do with your business.
Here’s an example. I have a subscription to a neuroscience magazine. One of the headlines referred to an “invisibility cloak.” That absolutely nothing to do with my business. But, it was so intriguing that it sparked a flood of ideas. So, one of my next articles will address how sales people become invisible.
Do you know how?
Most rational people eliminate adjectives from their presentations. The guideline is: "less is more." However, recent research throws salt on that.
The research was conducted at Purdue University and discovered that sensory language is far more effective at engaging the reader. They compared the writing of popular authors from older times and modern times. Same result: the researchers conclude that adjectives that are sensory in nature are more impactful and memorable.
Picture yourself talking to a small audience. That could be anywhere from three people to a hundred. As you deliver your words of wisdom, you see someone's head lean back and the person's mouth form the word, "Oh." Bing! That person "got it." You now have an "Oh" Rating of one.
Teachers look for those lights to go on in their students' faces. But, professionals who deliver group presentations are often ambivalent or unaware of the "Oh" experience in their audiences. If you can't recall seeing the Oh face in your audiences, you could be batting zero. Meaning, you might be reaching zero people.
If you do not know how to structure your information so people can easily understand the points and catalog them in their minds, you are most likely confusing your audience, rather than teaching them. Confusion means death to the Oh.
Want to know how to eliminate the confusion, just ask.
Smart web designs follow human perception rules. The most notable of these design hueristics are referred to as "gestalt rules for human perception". These rules describe how we see and experience different perceptual phenomena in the world around us. According to Gestalt psychology, the whole is different than the sum of its parts. Based upon this belief, Gestalt psychologists developed a set of principles to explain perceptual organization, or how smaller objects are grouped to form larger ones. These principles are often referred to as the "laws of perceptual organization."
Here are several great resources with illustrations of applying gestalt principles in web design:
Andy Rutledge does a fabulous job in his 5 Part series Gestalt Principles of Perception
Michael Tuck in Gestalt Principles Applied in Design has some of the same items mentioned by Andy Rutledge but quite a few new ones as well.
Kevin Matz in The Gestalt Laws of Perception and how to use them in UI design, also provides some easy to follow illustrations.
Dr. Pamela Rutledge looks at Gestalt Principles and other psychological elements in web design.