I built my first business on the power of cool.
It was a brick and mortar retail store called THE BLISSFUL in my Ohio hometown. (These are its blog archives.) 2000 square feet of funky, French-inspired lifestyle goods — everything from organic cotton t-shirts to upholstered chaise lounges to a stone bust imported from Egypt to Scandinavian stationery. Four years of harder work than I’ve ever done in my life — oftentimes back-breaking, dispiriting, pride-swallowing work — alongside my (cool) mom (that’s her at left, across from me at an Asian fusion restaurant), who was my unofficial business partner and the shop’s visual stylist.
It was a cool store.
We sold cool stuff that we merchandised in a way that made it look even more cool; other shop owners would drive in from states away to surreptitiously photograph the shop and get ideas for their own displays. Oh, she just . . . we could hear them whispering one to the other as they ambled from display to display, narrating aloud the elements that made up our vision.
We won an independent retail industry award and got cool perks because of it, like comped hotel rooms when we traveled to market. I was invited to serve on the Advisory Board of a retail trade magazine.
Our customers mythologized us as shopkeepers. “My mother knows the owner,” one man who’d called the shop told me . . . about me. “The owner travels back and forth to France all the time.” I’d never been, and had never claimed to have been, to France.
A writer and stylist for a high-profile shelter magazine called me to ask if she could do a story and a photographic feature on my home (assuming it was as cool as my shop was). At the time, I was living with my parents and sleeping in my childhood bedroom.
I got used to being a merchant of cool*.
(Hat tip here to the fabulous documentary of the same name — whose topic is not exactly what I’m talking about in this post.)
When I closed my shop and started freelancing full-time, I assumed that my new Brand Proposition could easily be the same as the one from my retail business: buy from me because my brand, my POV, and my “eye” are cool, and this is the coolest approach to
home decor/gifts/personal accessories copywriting/branding and marketing consulting you can get.
I intentionally shaped my freelance brand as aspirational in flavor, because aspirational lifestyle retail — over the top displays that bore little to no resemblance to how people would actually use these objects in their own homes, but that was what was cool and wow-worthy about it — was what I knew and did well.
I tried marketing my freelance business on the power of cool for a year or so.
I trusted that the Right People would be attracted to my brand, because, well, they’d just “get it” or they wouldn’t. I would’ve bet the farm that just “being myself in my brand’ was the best way to shape it. I ended up working with all different sorts of clients that year. Some of them were Right Enough for my phase in business, some of them — weren’t.
I wrote sales page copy for myself that was way too meta. My $127 audio course converted at about 1% of my list size. I cycled through highs and lows, both with income and in entrepreneurial self-esteem.
Then one day, a mentor gave me a b*tch slap of a newsflash:
“You know why your sales pages aren’t converting? It’s because you’re trying to market your brand on the power of your personality. Like, hey, look how cool I am, don’t you want to spend time with me and my brand because we’re so cool? You need to talk benefits. Results. What they get. People would LOVE to throw money at you if you’d just tell them what they’re f*cking getting!”
People aren’t really drawn to our brands by us, because of us. It’s not our cool factor, our witty one-liners in audio interviews, or even our jaw-dropping tagline that calls them in.
People are drawn to our brands by what they need from us to be more of themselves or to have the life they’re trying to create.
In order for them to realize we’re offering what they need from us, they need to believe that:
- we see them,
- we get what’s challenging for them, and
- we have a thoughtful solution.
Cool alone isn’t cutting it.
I’m not anti-cool by any means. I love cool. I refuse to assign any one tantamount definition of cool to cool.
Cool is subjective. Cool has 32 flavors and then some. Cool looks, sounds, acts, thinks, and feels differently on each of us — and on each of our brands.
As for me, I stepped down from the platform I was intent on riding around on (to protect myself and my energy as an introvert), and I got wise to how to really connect with my Right People. And it wasn’t — shockingly, to me! — about modeling ‘cool.’
Neither was it, for me, about becoming hyper-accessible or more available for Skype chats with everyone who wants to say hello, or endless emailing back and forth with people who love to discuss ideas but have no immediate intention of ever becoming clients.
For me, it was about (and still is about) designing a business that addresses my ideal clients’ true needs, core desires, and persistent questions. It’s not about me living out my own journey through the offers I create. It’s about composing a brand story that speaks to my Right People’s identity at many levels.
It’s about approaching branding, copywriting, and marketing with empathy, taking the focus off of me and how I want to feel and looking at life and the problems my business solves through my ideal clients’ eyes.
My brand today is a reflection of my style and aesthetic preferences, sure, but you better believe I conceptualized it to please my Right People first. I can do that easily now, because I know who they are.
We hear this advice all the time — focus on your readers’ needs, step into their shoes — but have you really done it yet? (Hint: If you had, you’d already know exactly what your Ideal Client wants to buy from you.)
The risk of self-centric branding and marketing — marketing your business on the power of your own personality, the juice from your own vein of cool, or on the stoked embers of how you want to feel – is building a business that misses out on serving Right People because you’re expecting them to look just like you.
Conflating yourself and your Ideal Clients is the quickest way to build an ego-centric business.
Assuming that you must design your business and your brand to serve a past version of yourself — I can’t think of a more limiting belief for a business owner.
When you conflate your Ideal Client and yourself, you fail to see and understand who they are because you’re so caught up in Doing You through your business. You assume their needs, challenges, questions, stumbling blocks, and pain points are the very ones you yourself have struggled with — or are still struggling with.
In some cases, this is absolutely true.
And in other cases, it’s absolutely untrue.
Have you considered that maybe your Right Person doesn’t have all that much in common with you psychologically or emotionally, and may be drawn to work with you for that very reason?
Are you sure you can only be satisfied in your business if you’re serving people a lot like you?
Ego-centric businesses, while they might attract big headlines, don’t necessarily have big bottom lines.
It’s time for a new paradigm in branding.
Here at The Voice Bureau, we begin with each client’s Voice Values, three to five core features of your naturally powerful voice that you already rely on when you’re connecting with readers, clients, and colleagues.
Think of your Voice Values as the current of Empathy that flows through your brand. Your Right People are drawn to you because of your Voice Values. So whether we’re rewriting your About page, helping you finesse a sales page for your new online program, or putting together a visual creative brief you can hand off to a web designer — we start by looking at how you’re already primed to connect with your ideal clients. (No navel-gazing or psychoanalysis on your part necessary.)
Discover Your Voice Values today, right here, for free. Enter your best email address below and click Go.
In the comments, would you share with us:
Where have you caught yourself conflating your own journey with your Ideal Clients’ journey? Or what assumptions have you made about your Right People that you’re ready to let go of so you can really serve them? I’ll share my story if you’ll share yours.