Wide-eyed, rookie business owners tend to think that everyone in the world who has any use for their products or services is their potential client. Driven by this fallacy, they try to make everyone like their brand – they try to say all the right things, without ever alienating any single person.
And that’s precisely where they go wrong.
Having a brand that targets everyone is like not having a brand at all.
The level of generic and boring in a brand like that makes it difficult for customers to understand “is this the right thing for me?”
And this is not even your biggest problem. Oh no, the biggest problem will become evident only in months and years to come: dealing with clients will become a total nightmare.
Why you need to keep certain people out of your business
Product businesses with no maintenance and low customer service needs may never come in touch with the majority of the people who buy their things. Think big retail brands like Unilever, Coca-Cola, Levi’s, etc. You get into the store, buy your thing, consume it shortly afterward, and never look back again. Customers contact you only if they feel you’ve delivered a sub-par product to ask for a refund.
For service businesses and product businesses with high-touch customer service, it’s a completely different story: we remain in contact with the client for the entire duration of the project, and often even for months afterwards.
The client-professional relationship in this type of engagement is intense. You spend a lot of time talking, brainstorming, debating, presenting and supporting. Every interaction has potential for things to go wrong:
- Miscommunication and misunderstandings
- Difference in expectations
- Huge variation in client’s knowledge of your industry
- Unclear responsibilities
- Different standards of politeness and professionalism
The entire process is riddled with traps, and it doesn’t take much for things to turn south – with a certain kind of person, that is.
In time, you’ll learn what types of people you play with well, and you’ll be able to recognize them more easily. From the first email interaction, it will be clear as day whether this person is your Dream Client, or a Client From Hell (or anything in between).
The thing is, you don’t even have to wait to interact with people to filter out those you don’t want to work with – you can do that even before you ever hear from them, using a polarizing brand.
Branding serves two purposes: attracting the right kind of clients, and pushing away the wrong ones
When I say “right” and “wrong”, I don’t mean ethically or factually – I mean wrong for you personally. We’re all different, and our tastes in friends and acquaintances differ. It’s the same with clients: they’re the people you spend a big chunk of your day with, and of course you want this time to be as enjoyable as possible.
Let me give you a bit of news in case you haven’t already heard:
Work can be fun.
Not every single element of work (although there are ways to even make chores slightly more fun), but at the very least the billable work you do while you’re engaged with your clients should be fun. Otherwise, why bother doing this? You could be working in a coffee shop or a bank and get health insurance and more time off.
Let me rephrase this: time spent engaging with your clients can and should be fun. If it’s not and you absolutely hate it, one of two things are happening:
- You’re performing the wrong service.
- You’re working with the wrong clients.
If your problem is the first one, I recommend you go explore other options, because it’s not going to get any easier. If you’re sure it’s not that, then you’re in the right place – I’ll tell you all about how to get better clients.
What is polarization?
Polarization is the effect that happens when you have a strong brand. Different people respond differently to a strong brand message: some love it, while others hate it.
If your audience is just silently nodding their head, not responding at all, or ignoring you, this means you have a weak brand.
If you get a lot of positive responses to your marketing efforts, and a few critics or haters here and there, this means your message is strong, and you should keep up with what you’re doing.
Having critics is a sign of a strong brand
If you don’t have any, this either means that you have a weak brand, or not enough people know you exist.
Polarization is good. Don’t water yourself down for your clients. Be as picky with your clients as you are with your friends. (Disclaimer: if you’re getting more backlash than encouragement, and you’re not in human rights activism or other area subject to controversy, this might be a sign you need to course-correct.)
How to be a polarizing brand
Here’s the trick to using polarization in your branding:
Identify what your best clients love about you, and the general population finds odd, uninteresting or repelling. Then crank it up to 11.
Someone complains you’re writing about “soft” topics, while your best clients can’t get enough of your deep thinking? Write even more soft stuff.
Someone complains you’re wearing too much makeup in your videos, while your biggest fans constantly compliment your makeup and funky wardrobe? Bring back the 80s.
Someone says they don’t have enough of an attention span to go through your long, well-researched, information-packed articles or books, but it’s the very thing that your ideal readers respect you for? See what it would look life if you actually tried to pack even more data and references.
Someone from the audience yells that you’re not funny, but others are barely holding in their pee from laughter? Ignore that guy, they can go watch someone else.
People’s reactions to your business can be a guiding compass on what traits to turn into a defining brand element.
What if you’ve made it into a game: how many people can you provoke with this blog post? How many people will clutch their pearls and hide their children when you show up?
Mind you, I’m not saying to openly attack, shame or insult groups of people. That’s not good branding, it’s called being a jerk. The sweet spot are the things that are not harming anyone at all, and just don’t jive with everyone’s taste or belief system. Aim for meaningful enough to push certain people away, but try not to get physically hurt or sued.
Experiment. Let your hair down and bring more fun to your work.
Be more you in your business, and copy other “experts” less. You can’t make everyone like you.
The pressure of being liked and respected by every single person in the world is making you do boring and unremarkable branding and marketing decisions.
Focus on the audience that really matters, and ignore the rest. Stand out and own your quirks.
Your brand answers your client’s question: “Is this business right for me?”
Make sure the answer to that question comes out loud and clear.
Your quirks are your strengths. Learn how to use them.
My new book The Human Centered Brand teaches you how to create a magnetic brand in a way that’s natural for you, and easy to implement.
In the book, I lay out my best advice for creating a lasting and memorable brand and provide clear steps you can take to make progress immediately. It’s written specifically for service based businesses and creatives who want to grow authentic relationships with their clients and their audience. Find out more about the book or scroll down below to download the free chapter and the bonus resources.
About Nela Dunato
Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.
On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...
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