For your reputation to flourish, your ego must die

THOUGHT LEADERSHIP, REPUTATION – Bruce Springsteen reportedly once said that there would always be rock stars so long as there were people in the audience imagining it was them up there on stage. Even rock stars – famous for their egos – know it’s always about the audience. Building a reputation as a thought leader begins with understanding that it’s not about you. If you want a following, make everything you say and do about your ‘customer’.

The fundamental reason why anybody engages with a speaker or listens to music, follows a podcast and reads a blog or a self-help book is because they have a problem to solve. Whether or not that problem is related to their aspirations, pains, or pleasure, it is their problems that interest them. They only really want to know about you so far as your experiences and expertise help them solve their problems.

There is a misconception in marketing that the conversation should be about you, your service, product or brand. While these things may grow in importance as the purchasing process progresses, you will never convince your viewers, listeners and readers that you are an expert or that what you have to offer is superior in quality by telling them that it is so.

Engage the heart and the mind will follow

To an extent, particularly if you are positioning as a thought leader, you have to talk about yourself. Establishing your credentials is important for building trust, but do it in a way that imprints what you have to say into the audience’s experience.

For example, I was about six or seven years old when a teacher ridiculed me in front of the class for colouring-in a windmill in purple. But rather than turning this into a tale about my pain, I would instead relate it to my audience. Ask them, “have you ever… been called stupid by an adult? Stood there while other kids laughed at you? Told that you’ll only ever be a wannabe?”

Most of your audience will have experienced something similar at some point in their lives – remind them of it, and you’ll be reaching down into their emotional guts. That’s engagement. Relate your experiences and expertise to what your audiences have felt or feel, and you’ll be heart to heart with them. There’s nothing more powerful. It does, however, require that you be vulnerable.

We know that buying things, accepting ideas or concepts, and adopting causes happen at an emotional level. Still, we don’t do enough to make an emotional connection with our customers.

Use your stories or your customer’s stories

Stories – such as my year-one teacher’s ridicule – are the undisputed king of emotional engagement, but it doesn’t have to be your story.

A device that will let you connect emotionally with your audience, build trust and establish your credentials simultaneously is what I call the ‘hero’s story’. It may be your own life-changing story, that of a customer or a stranger. It is, however, important that the story has a transformational emotional component to it.

We win audiences by sharing our experiences but in particular, our pain. Talking about how you won a gold medal, built a million-dollar company or dived to the bottom of The Great Blue Hole with no oxygen is interesting at that moment, but not life-changing. Your triumphs and successes are about you – they are ego — and most people struggle to relate.

Put aside ego, be vulnerable, and you’ll be on your way to building a reputation as a thought leader.

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