5 clever ways to position yourself as a (real) expert

Guru. Master. Legend.

Wouldn’t those be nice words to hear after someone introduces you?

Maybe. Personal branding is all the rage these days. But most of us don’t have to be THE leading voice on a certain topic, but a unique, thoughtful and useful voice that is part of the conversation.

I say: Beware the lone guru.

There are so many “personal brands” out there, claiming to be expert in this, or someone who can teach you the secrets of that, or the end-all, be-all source for (INSERT TOPIC HERE).

How nice for them.

The ones who claim to be experts in helping you establish yourself as an expert make me giggle the most. I mean, you should at least have some experience or competency in your chosen field before you expect that article in Fast Company. Experts are not invented, they are cultivated. What are your special skills, talents, experiences that can form a solid, authentic foundation for you to then learn even more and become a valid expert?

My vocation of choice is as a storytelling expert: small business brand strategy, marketing, messaging. Do I know all there is to know about these topics? Hell to the no. I am one of MANY brand strategists and experts. And that’s totally cool with me.

It’s not about offering people one authoritative voice to follow, one cult to join, one Kool-Aid flavor to drink. (Tweet!) There are so many talented brand strategists out there – seeming competitors – whom I admire, follow, learn from and even cite.

No one built up their knowledge and competency on their own. They learned it from somewhere, from someone.

But if you want brand awareness for yourself or your company, if you want to get press + customers + love + speaking gigs + influence, it is a good idea to establish yourself as part of that expert tribe, as someone with a valuable perspective and keen insight into this area.  So instead of getting frustrated every time you see one of these vocal, self-promotional, personal brand “experts” instead of pouting, why not follow some simple tips to join the conversation?

Here are 5 tips on how to establish yourself as an expert

(and no, I’m not claiming to be an expert in expertise – these are just tips I’ve used that have opened up new opportunities for me to help brands + businesses). All of these assume you already have a true level of education, knowledge or experience in your chosen area:

Keep soaking up knowledge:

That’s right. Think you know all there is to know about your topic? You’re done before you even start. Read the best-selling authors out there, attend conferences, read blogs and newsletters. Find out how others are approaching this area, stay up-to-date on trends, and pick and choose which bits of wisdom resonate – or don’t (see Tip #2) – with how you view this topic area. Keep a list of 5-10 sources to follow regularly so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Present a point of view:

It’s not enough to go out there and agree with every expert you read or follow in your space. Often, if you can present a valid, contrarian point of view, people find that much more interesting – and the press may bite. I have often used contributed articles (see Tip #3) and blog posts to say why I thought a certain expert got it wrong, and put my own unique spin and experience on the situation. Being willing to challenge the status quo – for real reasons, not just to be a pain in the neck – displays confidence and authority that people will notice. For some great advice about presenting value-drive content that rabid fans will adore, check out this Jay Baer blog post.

Write & pitch contributed articles/stories:

Not every piece of content you write should be about selling your products or services. People don’t pay to subscribe to news feeds or publications to get commercials. But can you convince Entrepreneur.com that you’re the perfect person to comment on 5 ways companies are actually making money from better SEO? Can you convince Katie Couric that 5 overlooked stressors are making women and mothers ill? Can you persuade TechCrunch to accept your premise that Big Data is changing the way companies roll out new products and features? Think about the macro trends and theories rather than just your own offerings and offer a thought leadership point of view that benefits everyone. Sidenote: Offering guest blog posts to robust online communities like Biznik or BizHive or influential blogs is also very effective.

Speak in public:

Nothing impacts your street cred more than presenting to group as the…you guessed it…guest expert! Have you contacted your local Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Administration or chapter of a national association? Pitch yourself as a speaker on your topic of interest (no sales pitches, please – except they may allow you to have one slide at the end to promote your book, service or special offer). Start building your buzz locally first and then you can start to point to those successes when applying to national event and conferences. Nervous about presenting? Hire a speaking coach, media + presentation coach, or other developmental coach to squash those fears and help you get your message out there. Some great resources for creating an online speaking profile and finding gigs are SpeakerMatch and eSpeakers.


Cue the groans. But I’m telling you, blogging is one of the single best – and free – ways to share your philosophy and highlight your expertise on an on-going basis. You don’t need permission or acceptance like you do for scoring a media article or on-camera interview. Think of your blog as YOUR media outlet where you can say whatever the heck you like, Wrote a contributed article about the new rules of workplace etiquette and no publications bit? Fine, post it on your blog. See a juicy new trend in your space that you’re dying to comment on? You can post it tomorrow. The other added benefit of blogging regularly is that you become search engine friendly around these topics, and the more content you have online, the better to establish your expertise when people are searching for info on those topics. Want proof of the power? I often receive both media and sales leads from blog posts that I’ve written 3 or 4 years ago. Need help on where to start and what to write about – or even just how to work with your blog? Take a session with this woman now or check out Problogger for fabulous tips.

What actions have worked for you in establishing your expert status? Which experts do you admire and follow? Share your thoughts and get some link love back to your (expert) site!

More bang for the celebrity buck

Authenticity is the word du jour when it comes to branding. Imagine that: Customers get mad when you say you are one thing but act like another. Shocking. While there may be some goods and services where we could give two figs about authenticity (did that kitchen gadget really do what it did on TV? Ah well, chalk it up to $19 and a lesson learned. I should really know better), customers are way more discerning these days. Trust is the watchword in this post-Enron/post-economic collapse/value for the money world we live in.

So why all the hating that companies are actually making their celebrity pitchmen (and women) get their hands dirty with the products they are endorsing? This recent WSJ article talks about how Popchips has leveraged social media-savvy stars like Ashton Kutcher and not only made them spokespeople, but have integrated them into the company, in his case as President of Pop (get it?) Culture. The comments on the article are hilarious. First of all, I’d venture to say that if this bugs you, you are not in the demographic anyway and you are not the people that Popchips cares about.  Secondly, I think it’s much more authentic to make a star that hawks a product have a say in how it’s developed (albeit a high-level say) and marketed. That feels much more real to me than a plastic “I use it, shouldn’t you?” cheesy billboard from the 1950’s.

Is it silliness and marketing hype? A bit, yes. But it’s savvy business sense for these companies to stretch their dollars farther by learning from and leveraging many celebs’ wide-reaching social media fan base than simply getting them to pose for a few pics and then being done with them. That seems like a way smarter use of the investment that could pay off longer term. The people the company wants to reach are indeed influenced by a product that Ashton not only endorses but plays a part in shaping. Don’t go hating on the idea just because you might be annoyed by him. It’s actually a brilliant branding move.

Who would you hire to represent your business if you could? Please share in the Comments.

2010 Advertising Trends: Tiger Fallout and Less Glitz

Great article in today’s WSJ about advertising trends for 2010. Writer Suzanne Vranica combs Madison Avenue to find out what we’ll be seeing in 2010. Here are her 10 trends and my Red Slice take on them.

1) Rising Stars: We thought we were done with Joe the Plumber but alas, everyone is a critic these days. So rather than just citing expert movie critics, fancy awards or the like, more companies will opt for showcasing good reviews and quotes in their ads from normal folk via Twitter and Facebook comments. I love the democracy of this era, and I’m a fan of Yelp, but I’m not sure that just anyone who has an opinion is really always relevant to me.

2) Divided Attention: Embedding more advertising in programming will be a continuing trend to counteract TiVo and DVR zapping. Some will get more creative with this, split-screening actual content with ads on the other side of the screen, or giving viewers more “behind the scenes” footage on a talk show or live event while an ad runs alongside it. We thought we were ADD now with the 24-hour news ticker. Yikes.

3) Mobile. For Real This Time: Companies will get more creative making mobile ads more useful to consumers via real-time ads while shopping or in a specific location. The article states this may be in the form of apps and widgets rather than pure-play advertising, which has not translated that successfully to mobile use. If someone made an app to help me find random stuff at Safeway that is not listed on the aisle signs, that would be cool.

4) Tiger Fallout: Watch for companies to sponsor more teams or events and less individual athletes and celebs, leaving them exposed to less risk from, ahem, “personal transgressions.”

5) Getting to Know You: Consumers may start to give more personal information and “opt-in” just to ensure they only see relevant ads. This may also come into play with cable companies who can target specific households and demographics for advertisers. Not sure this one will really fly, as people balance identity theft concerns with trying to simplify their lives – and their in-boxes.

6) Cheaper Pitchmen: Employees: While Best Buy has been using actual employees for their ads lately, I’m not sure this is the way to go. The thought is that employees understand the products best and can be the best evangelists, which is totally true, but not all employees are camera-ready or engaging enough to do what ads need them to do. I would say this may work if the right employees are chosen and not just the CEO’s son-in-law or the like. Not sure if Southwest us using actual employees for their Bags Fly Free ads (which I adore) but if they are, then they totally lucked out and have some great people they are using.

7) Lux 2.0: Luxury companies finally got their digital acts together, although late to the party. But given the budgets they have to work with, they could be on the cusp of innovative advertising and “leapfrogging the competition” as the article states. I would say this extends to luxury publishing/media brands as well (another industry late to the party).

8) Avatar Envy: I hate to say this to my fellow actors, but this is a new trend. Less real actors, more animation and virtual talent in ads seems to be the financial way to go. It’s cheaper and avatars don’t demand residuals or require Union contracts – or lock themselves in their trailers. Plus, it avoids issues as noted in #4 above.

9) Watch One, Get One Free: As the ad noise gets deafening, companies offering real value will rise above the din. Notice all the free Wi-Fi at airports lately, sponsored by so-and-so? Just like “cause marketing”, giving away freebies will attract attention and good will for the brand.

10) Less Glitz: Really? Promise? In our Recession-era, post-Economic bust hangover, making cheaper ads for the digital savvy marketplace will be the way to go. If it can’t be said in 140 characters, is it really worth it? (I totally kid – don’t get me started on short attention spans….)