Shake up expectations and play your customers’ preconceived notions
A scruffy-bearded man with unruly hair, lumberjack-esque attire, and a bodybuilder’s biceps stepped up to the mic, a stark contrast against the well-kempt speakers who’d gone before him. Even though we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I can admit that I grossly underestimated this man’s wisdom, largely due to his unusual appearance.
My snap-judgements and the stereotypical biases I attributed to his shabby presentation were quickly dashed once the words started flowing from his mouth. To be frank, I was shocked, just like everyone else who heard him speak for the first time, with the knowledge, experience, and brilliance that betrayed his unassuming outfit. However, I now know that such a jarring contrast was all a part of his strategy, and it worked like a charm. Lucky for us, we can borrow a similar strategy to shock our customers into actually paying attention, then paying respect, then paying for our services.
When you show up to work for a boss, part of your job is likely to fall in line to some degree. Most employees are paid to do the work, not to shake things up, create a spectacle, or draw excess attention to their eccentricities. While blending into the crowd may work in the workplace, it likely won’t take you quite as far in breaking through the noise to attract and convert a customer for your new product, service, or startup.
One of the inherent detriments in thorough competitor research is the temptation to mimic our successful competitors. We see their social media content, email copy, founder’s demeanor, and we may assume following suit will result in similar success for our venture, as well. Unfortunately, that may not be the case.
This lumberjack-looking CEO doesn’t sell flannel shirts, axes, tractors, or anything else even vaguely reminiscent of the first impression he gives off. He’s actually a best-selling author with a 9-figure net worth who’s exited multiple of his own startups, runs a micro-cap private equity firm, and coaches entrepreneurs to facilitate their growth towards investable status. When you hear those credentials, you might expect a grey-haired, clean-shaven man in a suit.
Truth be told, if you saw that predictable man in a suit, you might ignore his advice or keep scrolling, since you may assume you’ve heard it a million times. He must be like every other grey-haired hundred-millionaire founder-turned-investor; boring. That’s exactly why this founder has purposefully broken the mold.
Predictability in marketing, copy, appearance, and any other prospect-facing content makes standing out and gripping the audience’s attention 10x harder. Because this man’s attire and his well-spoken golden nuggets of wisdom seem to conflict so harshly, they create a moment of cognitive dissonance that shocks viewers into actually listening. By dashing your expectations within the first few seconds, he makes you wonder what else you don’t know or wrongly assumed.
Let’s be honest: Most prospects who see your outbound marketing aren’t all that open to it. That’s the nature of unsolicited, outbound and content marketing: Your audience may not be interested in, open to, or receptive to what you’re shoving in their face. Nonetheless, you can alter that reception and open their minds by shattering the preconceived notions they initially harbored.
By challenging your audience’s expectations within seconds of their first engagement with your content, you have now shifted their brain from closed-minded, guarded scrolling (ready to shoot down anything that looks like an ad or promotional marketing) to recognizing they were wrong. This is the pivotal moment in which you flip their switch from assuming they know better into learning mode.
Upon realizing their stereotypical expectation of your content was wrong, you’ve piqued their curiosity as to what else you have to offer that they don’t know. These next few seconds are critical to delivering the most hard-hitting, eye-opening value you have. A cold audience doesn’t trust you yet, but they’re open to the idea that you’re “different” from the rest. This is your chance to prove your value, and recycling anything reminiscent of the platitudes or generic advice your competitors rattle off could wreck this limited window of opportunity forever.
If step 1 was to shock the audience with your unexpected, counterintuitive presentation, step 2 is to over-deliver with unique, unanticipated value.
Everyone wants to put their best foot forward in sales, marketing, and entrepreneurship. Sadly, misusing this adage can set an unreasonably high bar and create standards you and your business can never meet or surpass. This lumberjack-looking CEO is making no mistakes in cultivating an audience that underestimates him.
That’s a piece of the strategy, and it’s also a controversial mantra he preaches in his business-building advice as well: He believes founders should set goals low enough they can surpass them, rather than so high they perpetually fail to reach them. He believes the confidence from each of those outsized wins is what creates the inertia that pushes entrepreneurs forward, even in the most daunting and challenging of times.
He isn’t the only one. Sam Altman and Y Combinator have spoken on the idea that entrepreneurial burnout doesn’t come from working too much or too hard, but rather from perpetually failing to achieve your goals and thus, disappointing oneself. The two solutions are to solve the challenges impeding those goals and/or to set some more realistic goals in between to facilitate a few encouraging wins along the way.
Along those lines, lowering your audience’s bar to be impressed with the underdog hustle strategy is a way to nearly ensure you surprise, delight, and overdeliver. There’s nothing wrong with ethically hustling your audience into realizing just how much value you, your product, service, or company actually provides, in spite of their initial closed-minded expectation.
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