Monday, August 01, 2011

Does Your Company Take Itself Too Seriously?

Think about the last time one of your customers made the following complaint:

“I like their product, but I just wish the company would take themselves more seriously.”

Exactly. They’ve never said that. Ever.

WHICH MAKES SENSE: We live in a litigious, hypersensitive and politically correct society.

And instead of branding their humanity, organizations – in the name of “professionalism” – are prohibiting their employees from expressing any shred of soul in their work.

Here’s why it's dangerous to take yourself too seriously:

You limit yourself.
You lose perspective.
You miss moments of joy.
You stifle the growth process.
You create unnecessary stress.
You forget who you really are.

This has got to stop.

Today we’re going to explore a few ideas to help take yourself less seriously:
1. Grandiosity isn’t relatable. If your commercial only shows the product at the very end and spends the rest of the time pontificating about its awesomeness, you’re too serious. If your promo video is nothing but an overproduced, epic adventure that says nothing about what actually makes the product unique, you’re too serious.

It’s not enough to get over yourself – you have to stay over yourself too. And part of that process is admitting that your marketing doesn’t always have to solve the world’s problems. Yes, people are buying more than just what you sell. But not every customer cares which organic farm your cocoa beans came from. Sometimes they just want the cookie. Is your brand still riding the wave of elitist pretention?

2. Master the wink. Smart brands create a smile in the mind. The subtly tug our emotional heartstrings in a playful, respectful way. And instead of carefully architecting their image in every touchpoint, they steep themselves in casual panache.

That’s the secret to taking yourself less seriously: Adopting a more playful attitude in everything you do. Extracting the innate and inevitable funniness of your brand. Not through jokes. Not through cheap laughs. But through true humor. After all, humor is the only universal language. And it has the capacity to override people’s native defenses.

But, not if you use it as an additive. That’s not humor – that’s hair gel. And not if you use it at other people’s expense, that’s not humor – that’s cruelty. Are you aiming for stiff, formal and starched; or flexible, bouncy and sweet?

3. Playful is the new professional. Professional is just a word for brands that seek sanitize the soul out of business. Instead of delivering emotionless, forgettable non-service, bring your humanity to the moment.

Don’t let the feeling of formality keep you from communicating freely, either. Speak with soul. Ante up the emotional temperature. Delete every dehydrated, annoying, tired, vague, empty, overused eye-rolling piece of jargon in your marketing materials.

Talk friendly. Talk like people talk. Because the goal of your brand is make this moment, right now, a more humane, pleasant passing of time. How much value are you sacrificing on the altar of professionalism?

4. Stop nickel and diming customers. I used to work in guest services for a large hotel chain. And in the two years of my stint, the most consistent complaint from our guests was about minor charges. But that wasn’t surprising: The bigger the hotel, the more small things you have to pay for. Drury Inn, on the other hand, positions their brand with the tagline, “Where the extras aren’t extra.”

Free breakfast. Free beverages. Free copies. Free wireless. Free phone calls. Free cable. Free parking. Free coffee.

Which probably costs them a nice chunk of change at the end of the year. But at least thousands of their guests don’t check out pissed off. What about you? Please tell me you don’t take yourself so seriously that you’re sacrificing experience on the altar of expense. Not good for business. How often are you nickel and diming your customers?

5. Educate yourself in the language of humility. First, publicly celebrate mistakes. Prove to people that you’re willing to support and learn from failure. Second, engage young people by asking them to teach you. And actually listen to and take notes on what they shared.

Third, flip through your daily planner from five years ago when the economy was thriving. Remember how good that felt. Fourth, create a daily gratitude wall at your office. Use sticky notes and never write the same thing twice. And lastly, start a daily blog. The commitment required for writing and maintaining it will shock the hell out of you.

Ultimately, it’s hard to take yourself too seriously when if you’re busy knocking yourself off of your pedestal. When was the last time you did something for the first time?

6. Creativity doesn’t erase credibility. Just because you work in a conservative industry doesn’t mean you should be afraid of doing something offbeat. And just because your company serves sensitive customers doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun.

I once stumbled across a website for a urology clinic that specialized in vasectomies. Their practice leader was a surgeon named Doctor Richard Chop. His patients affectionately called him, “Dr. Dick Chop.” Swear to god. That guy couldn’t take himself too seriously if he tried.

Nobody gets a free pass out of creativity. It’s everybody’s job. Who is murdering your creative nature?

REMEMBER: There are some things in life worth taking seriously.

Health. Values. Relationships. Commitments. Honesty. The new season of Glee.

But when it comes to your business, when it comes to your brand and most importantly, when it comes to your employees and customers – lighten up.

Nobody ever got mad at their boss for being too much fun.

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* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Publisher, Artist, Mentor
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

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