Honesty and authenticity

Jul 24, 2017

When marketing your firm, it’s great to be friendly and persuasive, but if you sell your brand for cheap, it’s a real turn off.

I recently started watching a show called Black Mirror on Netflix. It’s a British science-fiction anthology series, sort of like The Twilight Zone. Each episode is a stand-alone story with a unique plot, cast, and setting, all focusing on a dark aspect of modern society, set in an alternative near future.

One episode begins with Lacie Pound, a sunny, well-dressed lady, ordering coffee and then sitting down to take a perfect bite out of her cookie. She finds the ideal angle and caption, photographs the scene, smiles to herself with satisfaction, and then spits out the cookie which she is clearly disgusted by. In this new world, a single ubiquitous social-media platform is running the country. Everyone is labeled with a single score out of a potential five points, something that changes by the minute as the cumulative effect of their online and in-person interactions is rated by everyone else. In addition to giving personal affirmation, the score also impacts a person’s access to services, and even their employability.

Lacie has a respectable 4.2 score, but she needs a 4.5 in order to be able to afford the rent on an apartment in a community where she wants to live. Despite Lacie’s rosy personality, constant smiling, and sing-songy greetings, she isn’t always rated well. She doesn’t seem to have the self-awareness to understand why, but as viewers we can see that she just seems fake. As you can imagine, when she starts taking calculated steps to boost her ranking, everything quickly spirals out of control. Eventually and inevitably, she’s unable to keep the lid on her boiling pot of emotions resulting in the total decimation of her personal score.

We live in a world where people are encouraged to create not only a strong brand for their company, but also a personal “brand.” With Uber, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Glassdoor, and many more, people are constantly being rated, thumbs-upped, sad-faced, and critiqued by the public. Curating a perfect persona, both for yourself and your business, creates a lot of pressure, and efforts can quickly backfire!

Back in “real life,” a professional I know recently had his first child. Since her birth, he has consistently used his personal social media channel to promote the commercial sponsorship of his daughter in a variety of ways, such as regularly mentioning a children’s clothing line – I’m assuming he has partnered with a sponsor – and requesting votes to make her the next “Gerber baby.”

I’m not sure he’s posted a single picture of her without some associated product link. I don’t think I’m alone with the bad taste in my mouth. I would be highly unlikely to give this professional my money for anything, and I am turned off from the internet clothing line (which has a horrible name by the way).

For all you leaders of AEC firms, this isn’t just about online marketing and social media. It’s about every employee, how proposals are presented, and who you send to visit a client. Being real and authentic is hard to put a numeric rating on, but it’s just as important as being cheerful, friendly, and persuasive.

Christina Zweig Niehues is Zweig Group’s director of marketing. Contact her at christinaz@zweiggroup.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.