I worked a conference with one of my clients this week. It was a small show, not a ton of traffic, so I had an opportunity to chat with a few of our fellow vendors. As company representatives they were primarily in the sales and marketing field. One gentleman and I got into a detailed discussion about the differences between marketing in the States versus other parts of the world. He was representing an Israeli company, and he said the primary difference between the two countries marketing strategies boiled down to the product versus the individual.
Israeli marketing for this particular technology centered around the product itself: Look at all these bells and whistles and how great they are, how new and innovative. Whereas the American marketing version sidelined the product features in favor of, how will this solve user problems? Or, the classic, what’s in it for me?
Our conversation migrated to image, and how one’s digital presence contributes to consumer interest. Now, I live and die by the belief that your digital image matters a lot. If you look shoddy online it will impact whether or not people want to spend money on your products or services. Period. It’s about trust and credibility.
For instance, let’s say you’re in some facet of the technology business, but your website looks dated and janky. It’s dominated by dark colors, huge paragraphs of small font text and a lack of white or negative space.
What’s a potential customers first reaction? It’s to click away.
They think: Let me find another website that’s easier to read, more appealing to my eye, and makes me think they’re dialed into my tech needs today as opposed to yesterday when this style of website was still popular. Okay, they may not think that exactly. That response is a bit too industry-style nuanced. But will they instinctively feel some more simple and fast acting approximation of that? Yes.
I actually turned down a client because after I performed an initial assessment and recommended some website updates, that person unilaterally declined saying, “I’ve already spent XX thousands developing this tech. I don’t want to spend another few thousand redoing a website.” I suggested a cost-effective, even free alternative like WordPress. Almost anything would have been than what they had, but no. They made it clear that it wasn’t going to happen. I had to walk away.
I knew that no amount of content marketing help from me would make corporate clients – which was the primary audience the client wanted to attract – appreciate that company’s product. Not with that site as the first impression, and certainly not when the asking price to buy in was thousands of dollars.
You could have the greatest, most convenient, most helpful product in the world, but if you present it poorly, most people won’t buy it. They’ll buy something that costs more and looks better first. These days you can barely compete on the basis of your product’s merits without name or brand recognition. Competition is too stiff out here. Before you even get to the product, you’re competing for a customer’s attention, and in a noisy, global marketplace, that’s extremely tough to get.
Your image matters.
It’s the same thing when it comes to personal branding. Let’s say you’re job hunting. You’ve got the perfect black suit. Your job experience is deep, vast and current, and you have the job titles to match. Your education is solid. Your resume is readable and perfectly formatted with no suspicious gaps in employment history. But when the HR recruiter or interviewer Googles your name to get a feel for you pre-interview they find dodgy pictures of you scantily dressed, drinking heavily, or engaged in other, shall we say, compromising behaviors.
Your perfect resume? Solid education? Perfectly tailored black suit? They are now worthless. They will no longer view you as a professional no matter how fabulous you appear on paper because they can’t unsee the image of you sloppy as hell, doing beer bongs in your favorite “F*&K the police!” t-shirt.
Of course, there’s levels to it, right? There are a lot of mitigating factors such as audience demographics, industry perception, your message, a bunch of stuff can play into the weight and impact of your image. You might get lucky enough to be interviewed by a hip hop enthusiast who adores beer bongs. But do you really want to chance it in a tough job market when the first response is to dismiss rather than take a chance on the unknown?
Fair or unfair, silly or unrealistic, image matters. Take the time to shape yours, digitally and in person.
At that conference, I realized that I was too casually dressed. I wore my rather jazzy camo print gym shoes with black pants and a long sleeve button-down shirt because my foot was hurting. I also forgot my blazer, so when it got chilly I put my hooded jacket on. Later, as we were packing up to leave, one of my new table buddies made some comment about how young I looked. I told him my real age, and he was shocked. It was a compliment, but it brought home to me: I have to be more careful how I portray myself in public.
I should have taken the time the night before to find some flat professional shoes that wouldn’t hurt my sore foot. I also should have put a blazer that matched my outfit by the door, so I wouldn’t forget it. I’ve been to more than enough conferences to know they’re always well air-conditioned, and my bird bones catch a chill easily.
I needed those things to present a professional image. Why? I have a young-looking face, and my preferred hairstyle is a ponytail. As a business owner, one representing a client in a public venue, I should have done better.
Think about it like this. Mark Zuckerberg’s image is in shambles. He’s a creator/founder of Facebook, one of the most influential companies in recent history. He has millions of clients, millions – or is it billions? – in revenue, but he’s made some huge public missteps related to data privacy, and now the public does not trust him.
People are calling for his resignation, trying to oust him from his own company and break it apart like kindling. He’s become the poster boy for everything that’s wrong with technology – an entire industry – as it relates to data privacy and security. His image is beyond tarnished. If he died today or tomorrow, his accomplishments, his charitable contributions, any good things he’s done would all be pushed firmly behind his many failures.
Here’s one more example. I went on vacation with a friend many years ago. She had long braids with a few bright red ones mixed in. It was the perfect protective style for the Bahamas and for her work situation; she’d been there for years and everyone knew her and her work product well.
On the plane ride home we shared the row with a handsome white man on a company retreat. It more pleasure than business if his coworkers high spirits were any indication. He wore a sports jacket and button down, his hair cut was razor sharp and he had at least $10-20K worth of veneers in his mouth. His smile was absolutely beautiful.
My former friend was wearing a faded shirt with a rip in the collar and leggings. She asked him all about himself, and then suggested that he give her a job. I turned my face to the window and pretended to be asleep. I listened as she continued talking and he gave her polite but simple answers. It was clear to me he had no interest in the conversation, what with her sloppy attire and dayglo weave she likely didn’t fit the image of a professional candidate for an employment referral. She did everything but straight out ask him for his business card; he did not offer it.
Image is important. In some cases, it’s everything.