WARNING: ARE YOU FEIGNING EXPERTISE? 3 WAYS TO FIND OUT
I’ve always been one to avoid bandwagons like they’re straight out of the horrors of the 14th century. And when you’re in marketing, you see a lot of these.
Life in the marketing world can often be a bit like driving down the same road, listening to the same radio station. After a while, you’re seeing the same exact scenery and listening to the same exact songs--working overtime to keep yourself awake and sane.
LATELY, I’VE BEEN ASKING MYSELF THIS QUESTION: HOW DO I STAY OFF OF THE BANDWAGON AND STILL SURVIVE IN A COMPETITIVE LANDSCAPE? AND JUST AS IMPORTANT, HOW DO I KEEP MY CLIENTS OFF OF THAT BANDWAGON AND STILL HELP POSITION THEM AS EXPERTS?
Jump on your social media feeds for just two minutes, and you’ll easily spot expert professionals everywhere who have placed themselves face down at the altar of the well-oiled machine called self-promotion. Tune in for long, and you’ll easily find yourself in a head spinning, mind-numbing trance—taking in all the advice of those who have marketed their way to the land of “work 20 hours a week and become a millionaire” if only you will follow their carefully laid-out advice.
Intrigued by this inundation in my feed, I’ve turned to experts like Jeff Walker and Ray Edwards. Both have done a fabulous job at creating easy-to-follow marketing formulas for any entrepreneur looking to break into a noisy market. Reading their books like Launch and How to Write Copy That Sells, it’s easy to see why some might walk away thinking that crazy business success comes in a basic package: Write a decent sentence + follow basic instructions = arrival on the path to a million dollar launch.
Except, that’s not true (and to be clear, that’s not even a truth Walker and Edwards promote). Walker and Edwards spent years perfecting their message. They took risks with their ideas, refined their approaches, and when they found something that worked, they decided to share it with the world. It’s incredible, really, this willingness to share the very ideas that have made you millions.
THE THING ABOUT BEING AN EXPERT, HOWEVER, IS THAT PEOPLE ARE WATCHING YOU LIKE AN 8-YEAR-OLD KID WATCHES THE CARDS TURNING IN A GAME OF MEMORY OR STUDIES THE MOVEMENT OF AN ORANGUTAN AT THE ZOO.
The digital world has made it easy to study the practices of any real expert and duplicate them—except for one thing: Many “experts” showing up in our spaces are mimicking expert behaviors without owning expert experience (Just like the 8-year-old child pretending to be an orangutan at the zoo--at the end of the day, he's still just a boy after all). They’re just marketers with sufficient budgets and loud voices, causing us all to look something like a wild game of Hungry, Hungry Hippos as we scramble to get a message out to an audience who will actually listen.
NOW MAYBE I’M DRAWING TOO MUCH ON MY EXPERIENCE AS A KID WHO GREW UP IN THE 80s.
My older sister and I spent our evenings watching Unsolved Mysteries and listening to the stories of kids who had been abducted from parks and shopping malls. Stranger Danger was as real to us as Duck-and-Cover was to our parents during the 60s, and we became pretty adept at judging ulterior motives and labeling nearly every man we saw as a potential kidnapper.
In spite of our sometimes misplaced paranoia, that awareness paid off.
To this day (30 years later), I vividly recall my harrowing tale of near abduction. As my cousin and I rode our bikes to a friend's house—alone on a Midwestern country road (WHAT WERE MY PARENTS THINKING?!), a woman stopped her car and rolled her window down. She called out to me, asking how to get into town.
“Easy,” I told her. “Just go up to this stop sign and turn left. Jump on Highway 568, and take that straight into town.”
Now you should also know that although I was 10 years old at the time, I looked like a seven or eight year old. Blonde hair, blue eyes, 60 pounds—I certainly wasn’t a force to be reckoned with.
As my cousin waited for me to pedal away from the car, the woman pulled out a map (because GPS wasn’t on anybody’s mind then) and asked, “Can you get in the car and show me on the map where I should go?”
IF I HAD BEEN ALLOWED TO SAY CURSE WORDS BACK THEN, I WOULD HAVE USED EVERY SINGLE WORD AVAILABLE.
I knew something wasn’t right. She wasn’t who she said she was, and she wasn’t looking for directions to town. I knew how to spot a fraud, and this blonde-haired, beautiful, thirty-something woman was the incarnate manifestation of danger and threat.
I rode away as quickly as I could—praying to the Heavens that she wouldn’t turn around. I’m not sure I ever took that route to my friend’s house again.
I think of that story sometimes when “experts” show up in my social media feed or in my inbox. Everything they’re presenting is beautiful—but something isn’t right. Something is missing from their message, setting off every alarm in my body and telling me to run like hell.
WHAT DO TRUE EXPERTS LOOK LIKE?
1. They Haven’t Made Their Millions Overnight.
While technology has made our lives easier, good business is still hard work. The most successful businesses have some powerful stories to tell—stories that are full of wild progress and daunting failure. If you’re going to sell me something, I’m going to be looking for those well-worn scars. I want to see what tripped you up and learn about how you overcame those obstacles.
2. Experience Trumps Anything Else.
Einstein once said that “the only source of knowledge is experience.” As a genius, you would expect him to say “a great source of knowledge is experience,” but he banked everything on experience. Why? Because he understood that while education and knowledge can inform our expertise, it’s experience that actually makes that expertise valid and true. Like Plato's allegory of the cave, we can believe there’s a world out there based on the shadows we see on the wall, but unless we get out there and experience it, our understandings will always be greatly misinformed.
The digital world has made it easy for anyone to hang their shingle and open for business. If there’s anything humanity has gotten right, it’s the ability to tell stories. Because it’s woven deep into our DNA, it’s easy for any of us to write narratives about ourselves—and that includes calling ourselves experts when we’re lacking in experience.
But in the business world, the stories our consumers tell about us are just as important as the stories we write for ourselves. Calling ourselves “expert” is easy, but without experience to back up our claims, the consumer will quickly separate the “wheat from the chaff,” leaving our newfound fame glowing with the embers of short-lived glory.
3. Their Hands Are Open.
Now here’s the bread and butter of the content marketing industry: You want to be listened to, thought of as an expert, revered as a guru? Then give away your best stuff.
There’s an ancient story out there that talks about three men who were each given gifts. Two of the men invested those gifts and generated a tremendous return on investment. But one man hoarded his gift, hiding it in the ground out of fear of losing what he had. As the moral of the story unfolds, we learn that if we want to multiply our return, then we'd better be gracious with what we’ve been given.
Of course, I’m not talking about giving away the whole farm, here. But I am saying that when true experts share their knowledge, something crazy begins to happen: People tune in. They tap into those mental triggers that Jeff Walker identifies in his book, Launch: authority, reciprocity, trust, anticipation, likeability, evens and ritual, community, scarcity and social proof.
When your audience begins to trust you, they become engaged and loyal. They share your knowledge with others around them. They let you into their digital homes because they’ve come to believe that what you offer has true value.
Are the “experts” in your life doing this for you? Are you doing it for others?
The best content doesn’t just show up in people’s feeds or inboxes for the sake of existing, and it doesn’t present offers or opportunities loosely based on “claims” of expertise. Instead, it brings value and knowledge based on experience, data and research.
If you’re not doing this now, or if you’re stuck on how to make that happen, read some of the greats in content marketing: Ray Edwards, Jeff Walker, Ann Handley, Joe Pulizzi, Jay Baer and Michael Brenner. And then, make sure your content team knows how to tap into your own experience to produce resources that go beyond hype and trend and deliver on the type of true value that actually convinces your audience to get into the car with you and help you on the road to success.
Lindsay Hotmire is a B2B writer who creates powerful content for innovative companies. She works mostly with SaaS providers and startups, but is inspired most by great entrepreneurs who have a vision and a story worth telling.