A client said: “I don’t want to be labeled as [specific type of service] because I do so much more than that!”
The problem is, if people don’t pigeonhole you, they probably don’t remember you at all.
You’d rather be pigeonholed as something useful or interesting to them, and then as they consume your content or work, they will be delighted to discover that you do even more.
Let me explain.
Just like anyone in the modern world, your potential client is inundated with information. To simply survive, let alone thrive, we need mental shortcuts. So your client categorizes you in her mind to quickly understand what is your relevance to her.
You can either let her pigeonhole you (which contributes to your understanding of how the market sees you), or, you can suggest a category to her through your marketing and messaging.
However, the category you suggest might not be understandable to her… or she might not have space or context in her mind for it.
Example: let’s say a plumber also has the skills of an electrician and actually enjoys doing that even more. But in his city, plumbing is in much higher demand. For his marketing, he would rather be labeled as a plumber, get clients that way, and then let them discover that he also does electricians’ work.
One day, he has has a spiritual transformation and now wants to be an “authentic pipe-flow facilitator” and not “just” a plumber.
He’s likely going to have a harder time getting people to remember his new label, because they don’t have a spot in their mind for a service provider such as a “authentic pipe-flow facilitator”. However, they can easily remember that he’s a plumber, and a super nice one too.
What about you? Of all the skills and services you offer, which one is most in-demand? Be willing to be labeled as that, so you’ll have a place in the minds of your clients and referral sources.
If you find out that most of your clients have multiple options for service providers like you, then it makes sense for you to distinguish yourself one level further… but not too much. “Nice plumber” versus “Authentic pipe-flow facilitator.”
Another example: you probably know several business coaches or consultants. How do you remember me? “Oh, he’s the authentic business coach.” That makes sense because in my industry of business coaching one of the key problems is a lot of puffery and inauthenticity.
Actually, many people pigeonhole me as a Facebook Ads expert because that is the most popular class that I teach. I’m glad to be labeled this way, because it’s my most in-demand skillset. Once they take my Facebook class, they discover that I teach classes on other topics too.
In other words I allow my audience the delight of discovery! I don’t have to give myself the pressure of coming up with the perfect description of my work that encompasses everything I do.
Creating a Category
Eventually, with authentic content and growing a fan-base, you may be fortunate enough to occupy a new category in your audience’s mind.
Then, you will have no competitors: you’ll be unique to them, and irreplaceable.
That takes having enough meaningful interactions with them, which is easiest through authentic content. Remember that quantity leads to quality.
Until you get there, before you have a unique category in their minds and hearts, you can be remembered by occupying an existing category. They will return to you for what they already understand and need.
One practical exercise to help you discover your existing category is to directly ask your audience -- at least once a year -- how they would describe you to a friend. What would roll off their tongue naturally? What might their friend understand?
Take note of their answers. Which of your offerings do they remember you by? What aspect of your skills or presence is the most obvious to them? These insights will help you improve your branding and messaging.
Keep it simple: let your audience label you however they understand. Then allow them the joy of eventually discovering all the other things you offer as well!
George Kao is a Marketing Coach for small business owners, especially solopreneurs such as Coaches and Mentors. He focuses on ethical & effective ways to grow one's platform and build true livelihood.
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