Find the People Who Think You’re Cool

As I was lacing up my leopard print Aldos and putting on my synthetic leather jacket today, I was thinking that I wanted to look cool (or at least, as cool as it’s possible for a 40-something woman to look—by the way, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s new podcast is giving me life). 

When you get down to it, marketing or cultivating your thought leadership ecosystem is about getting other people to think that you’re cool (or whatever the kids are calling it these days—dope? Straight fire?). Yep. It’s true. We never really leave high school behind.

But seriously, it’s easy for experts to forget that this is the game we’re playing as business owners and leaders who are trying to sell a service or get others to listen to us. 

Experts often fall into one of two camps when it comes to posting on LinkedIn or doing other types of content marketing: 

  1. “I don’t have to do any marketing because I’m brilliant and people will automatically see my brilliance. All I have to do is be the expert.” Or 
  2. “I’m the only one who really cares about all this expert stuff, so my marketing needs to be totally divorced from my expertise.” 

Both of these mindsets are mistaken. If I’m right that marketing is about getting other people to think you’re cool, then marketing is ALL about how you package up your brilliance. And I’m here to tell you that expertise is inherently cool. All you have to do is figure out how to tap into that in your own way, which brings me to the lesson for today: How to find the people who think you’re cool.

1. Find Your Audience Sweet Spot 

The obvious place to look for people who think you’re cool is in other circles of experts. There’s a reason you look forward to your professional association’s annual conference every year. Presenting there and hanging out with other subject matter experts who “get it” makes you feel like a rockstar and that’s awesome. But I’m guessing this isn’t the best place for you to find consulting clients.

Your clients are non-experts. That’s why they need you. So when I’m talking about finding the people who think you’re cool, I’m talking about looking for audiences of non-experts who think you’re cool—your audience sweet spot.

It’s not always easy to find this group of people at first. But once you home in on what this audience is, you’re on the fast train, destination: thought leadership.

One sure way to identify your audience sweet spot is to build relationships with other experts you know. Experts recognize other experts. They’re fast learners and once they think you’re cool, they will introduce you to other cool kids who will also pick up on your brilliance. These are also known as strategic referral partners.

Whenever I meet an expert in another field and have the thought, “I’d like to work with anyone this expert works with,” I know I’ve found a great referral partner and then, I get to work building that relationship. And if they have a pre-built audience of smart non-experts I can speak to, then that’s my number one ask. 

This is the Venn diagram revealing your audience sweet spot: experts in other related fields + an audience you can speak to.

2. Make Your Audience Make a Decision About You

After you identify your audience sweet spot, it’s time to consider how you’re going to win them over. While you might think the way to win people over is to ingratiate yourself to them or to flatter them, in reality, the key to getting them to think you’re cool is to challenge them. In particular, you want to make them make a decision about you.

If you’re an expert who fears that you’re secretly the only one who cares about the stuff you’re talking about, then it might be because you aren’t correctly applying this principle. Thought leaders are good at saying bold things in a way that gets people’s attention, sure, but what truly makes them stand out is that they say things that draw a line in the sand. 

So, if you find yourself too often donning your professor hat and doing a lot of lecturing, think about how you can make your audience make a decision about you (a decision that’s not [yawn]). 

When you draw a line for them, your audience knows they need to choose a side. Suddenly, you’ve raised the stakes of being an audience member. You’ve added a bit of excitement and intrigue. Now you’ve captured their attention and they’re listening because it feels like a tiny bit of their reputation is on the line.

Now I’m not talking about red states vs. blue states here. I’m not suggesting you should be unprofessional or employ shock marketing tactics—not at all. But as an expert, you know how to get an audience to think critically. Make your audience think and the idea people in the room will flock to you. In this way, you’re lighting up the bat signal for those who will think you’re cool.

3. Stay Open to New Audiences

While your audience sweet spot is the low-hanging fruit, you also don’t want to turn a blind eye to new potential audiences. Again, this is part of what I mean when I suggest that you are always in marketing mode as a subject matter expert. You want to be open so that you can pick up on the signals from those who think you’re cool.

Not only will you discover new audiences this way, by taking note of what types of professionals think you’re fascinating, but also you will learn the best ways to package up your brilliance. Where do people get excited about what you’re saying? What really makes people perk up in a conversation with you? Where do your words resonate? 

4. Be Generous

Finally, to find the people who think you’re cool, you need to be generous. Not to go all “after school special” on you, but the actual cool people in life are okay with not being in the spotlight all the time. In other words, they are generous with their praise and look for opportunities to make others look good.

This is what I mean by being generous. I’m not suggesting that you need to devalue yourself or give away a lot of your time to make yourself appear cool. I’m suggesting that to find more people who think you’re cool, you need to think about how you make others feel. 

We’ve all known plenty of experts who were a**holes and who were intimidating as hell. They definitely didn’t care about marketing or packaging up their brilliance for others. And guess what? They really were the only ones who cared about their expertise. Be different. Be generous. Find the people who think you’re cool.

Marketing Yourself is Cool

Of course, all of these recommendations point to one thing: your content. Yes, I’m talking about all the written content you create from your LinkedIn posts to your articles to your book, but I’m also talking about the conversations you have. 

When relationship marketing is the core of what you do, then your goal of getting other people to think that you’re cool isn’t only about what we typically label as “marketing activities.” It’s also about how you show up in every networking situation. If that sounds exhausting, I understand. It can be exhausting. So I want you to remember:

  • To guard your energy and time carefully.
  • To take a broader view of what you mean by “marketing” (“relationship building” is much friendlier than “filling your pipeline,” for example).
  • It’s okay to take breaks from networking and any other marketing activities.
  • It’s okay to ask for help and find the support you need so you can do the fun parts.

Marketing really is as simple as finding the people who think you’re cool. When you find them and meet them with the right package for your brilliance, thought leadership will be yours.

Image by: lookstudio on Freepik