Does the success of your business depend on how well-known you are? Does your profile really make the difference between black and red? Is the modern model of entrepreneurial independence more about the person than the product? Can you run your business from behind the scenes, if that’s where you’re most comfortable? Is a whole paragraph devoted to reiterating a single question really the best way to start a blog post?
I have an answer for most of those.
Many a great business runs largely on the strength of its “face,” a charismatic founder whose personal charms and apparent sincerity woo customers straight to the checkout page. Tim Ferriss, Jason Zook, and Michael Port are great examples. Their businesses are inseparable from the force of their own personalities and unique outlooks, to the point where their customers’ trust in their product is a reflection of their customers’ trust in them. But is a strong personality a necessary ingredient?
The Need For A Face
While the strength and value of your product is the bedrock of your biz, marketing is something you have to always be doing. Marketing, in a nutshell, is the act of connecting with your customers—and connecting with your customers is best accomplished by introducing yourself along with your product.
Some people are reluctant to take this approach. Some shy away from the limelight, and want their product to be the star of the show. Unfortunately, no matter how great your product is, expecting your audience to Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain makes it harder to sell. This is because today’s consumers (especially the younger ones) are used to knowing the story behind the product. This generation likes to know how the sausage is made, right down to the fitness regimen and personal hobbies of the pigs. An unwillingness to interact with the audience can even be misinterpreted as an attempt to hide something.
Consumers don’t just want to shop; they want to connect. From Rockefeller to Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg, the personality (or the perception of it) defines the business. We’re social animals—try as we might, we see everything in terms of interpersonal relations. From sports to politics to marketing, it’s simply impossible for the public to divorce their feelings about…well, anything from their perception of the people behind it.
Building Your Reputation
The biggest misconception about being the face of your business is that you have to somehow “craft” an identity with which customers can relate. Some entrepreneurs even fear that who they are isn’t “good enough” to make a favorable impression on an audience. This is a complete misunderstanding of how good, honest marketing works. It’s not about being something you’re not. It’s about doing something your audience appreciates. If you consistently provide something valuable to your audience, the only thing you have to “be” is yourself.
If you’re known as a giver, as a font of something useful to people, you’ll build the kind of personal capital that can be converted to sales. This is the essence of content marketing. Master self-marketer Seth Godin once said that the fastest way to grow a business is to become famous. You don’t have to walk the red carpet, but earning the gratitude of a wide audience and popularizing your authentic self can do more for your business than any number of pop-up ads. Eventually, people will find out about your business by researching you: not the other way around.
The key is positive familiarity. Noah Kagan sells software, but when people think of AppSumo, they think of him just as much as they think of the product. Kagan makes a purposeful effort to stay in front of his audience, speaking, presenting, touring, and dealing personally with customers. This isn’t because he couldn’t have someone else do this. It’s because he knows that familiarity with him as a person underpins the strength of his brand.
Doing the Work
While not everyone is comfortable being in the public eye, I have to strongly recommend coming out from behind the scenes. Be well known, in a positive way. Be known for your honesty, for your expertise, and for your refusal to put on a facade. Be known for being yourself, and be trusted for what you deliver. I know from experience the difference this approach makes; a substantial portion of our customers agreed to try our products because they felt like they “knew” Nicole and I well enough to put some faith in us.
Of course, it takes a long time to build that kind of reputation. With rare exceptions, it takes months and years of networking, public speaking, writing, and generally producing content. That investment of time and effort is part of the cost of doing business. Carving your public image through consistent work takes time, but it pays off. Blogging, producing videos, offering instruction—these are the bricks with which you build the audience’s image of you.
We live the Internet age. The distance between producers and consumers has narrowed drastically. If you’re not putting yourself out there, you’re not giving the audience what they need to trust you. Sharing the story behind your business, your motivations and your perspective is a huge part of what helps people decide to choose your business. Modern consumers don’t just think about the product; they think critically about its origins and the merits of the company’s overall mission. You are a part of—a massive part of—what you’re selling.