Expertise is dead. And experts killed it.
Have you ever seen an ad from someone on Facebook (or while conducting a Google Search) that claimed the presenter was an “expert” or a “guru” at some business-related topic? For example, imagine an ad that says something like this: “I’ve helped businesses generate $1MM+ in new leads” or “I’m the marketing guru who can help you double your ROI.” There’s usually someone in a suit there too, smiling at the camera.
That’s because every independent contractor, agency, and consultant in the world is competing on a global stage to win business. And if you want to win business, you have to be perceived as an expert – or at least, that’s the way it used to be.
The Expert Apocalypse
Online platforms like Google attempt to incentivize high-quality content by disproportionately promoting and rewarding content that serves as an authoritative take on a given subject. For example, a History professor’s 50-page dissertation should be ranked higher than a middle-schooler’s 50-word blog post, despite their similar subject matter. It’s why developing pillar content is so important for SEO and other marketing strategies. Additionally, consumers tend to prefer working with experienced and knowledgeable professionals in all matters: this is common sense.
But these “push” factors have led to an overabundance of self-proclaimed experts in circulation, for a handful of simple reasons:
It’s highly rewarding to be an expert. First, it’s extremely rewarding to be seen as an expert. If you can establish yourself as a knowledgeable and respected professional in a given industry, you’ll enjoy more leads, a higher retention rate, and even more satisfied customers (as long as your performance isn’t terrible).
Anyone can call themselves an expert. What is an “expert” anyway? Is it someone who gets a certain degree or has a certain number of years in the field? Or is it someone who reaches a suitable threshold of knowledge in a given area? On some level, it doesn’t matter – because anyone can call themselves an expert in the digital age. A person may claim to be a PhD-holding serial entrepreneur, despite being a 19-year-old still in college and trying to start up a freelance business.
Visibility reinforces expertise. Thanks to the mere exposure effect and a handful of other cognitive biases, it’s natural that repeated exposure to a person (or a brand) makes us think more highly of them. If we see a collection of different ads from an individual marketing guru over the course of a few months, we’ll begin to think of them as being a more prominent and well-respected expert than they actually are – even if the effect is subconscious.
Experts force experts to emerge. If you only have a year of experience, you can’t exactly find success marketing yourself honestly. How does this ad sound: “I’m not very experienced, but I’ll try my best – and I’m probably cheaper than my competitors!” The mere existence of competitors who all bill themselves as experts means you need to bill yourself as an expert if you want to keep pace.
The nature of the internet incentivizes echo chambers and misinformation. The internet contains practically unlimited access to information and connective potential with everyone in the developed world. While this can be a tremendous strength, it also leads people to develop their own echo chambers – and makes it easy to find misinformation. Whatever your opinion is, you’re only one quick search away from finding a so-called “expert” who agrees with you, and a full community of people (along with intelligent bots) who will regurgitate your own opinions back to you.
Declining Trust and Other Downwind Factors
The prominence and overabundance of experts has led to a number of consequences for marketers:
Consumer trust is declining. It’s not all marketers’ faults, but generally, consumer trust is declining. After years of iffy coverage from the mainstream media, lies from politicians all over the political spectrum, and the overwhelming prevalence of misleading marketing and advertising, average consumers take everything they hear with a grain of salt. If you call yourself an expert with years of experience and tell them you can help them improve their business, your work is cut out for you – you’ll have to go to extensive lengths to prove this.
Terms like “expert” and “guru” are losing meaning. If you want to use terms like “expert” or “guru” in your marketing as a way to describe yourself, you’ll have to revisit that strategy. These terms are so popular and so widely misused that they’ve begun to lose their meaning. Once distinguishing markers of authority, these words have become cheap and easily exchanged.
Competitive differentiation is becoming harder. Most of your competitors are probably heavily invested in content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, and other strategies meant to establish them as popularly perceived experts. They’re also pushing themselves as experts in your specific industry, making it harder for you to make the same claim. As a result, competitive differentiation is becoming harder and harder.
Thriving in a World Where Expertise Is Dead
But let’s not lose hope. It’s more than possible to thrive in a world where expertise is “dead” – as long as you account for this fact and build it into your strategy. These tips and strategies can help you do it:
Understand and review your competition. If you want to stand out from the competition, you have to understand your competition. That means taking the time on a regular basis to read your competitors’ core pieces of content, review their lead generation strategies, and possibly even evaluate their customers. The more you understand about them, the more you’ll be able to grow your own strategies; you can find more ways to creatively distinguish your business from theirs and get ideas for how to promote yourself innovatively.
Focus on a narrow niche. Some brands attempt to market themselves as broadly as possible, trying to reach the largest possible target audience to win more sales. But this isn’t the best idea when the market is flooded with competitors. Instead, it’s better to focus on a narrow target niche. Instead of describing yourself as a general “marketing expert,” you can become an expert in a very specific strategy, or become an expert at serving a specific industry or type of business. This way, you won’t have to contend with all the big agencies trying to make more general claims – and your claims of being an expert will be much more believable. On top of that, if your niche is specific enough, you might have a legitimate claim as one of the only experts in your category, even considering the near-universal reach of the internet.
Show, don’t tell. In the world of fiction writing, a common piece of advice is to “show, not tell.” In other words, you want to demonstrate something to your audience rather than explaining it to them explicitly. Instead of saying, “Bob was nervous,” you could say, “Bob padded the sweat from his brow and began to fidget.” Similarly, instead of calling yourself an expert, you can simply show your audience how much of an expert you are. The best way to do this is to develop consistently good content over time, then publish and syndicate it. Try to get your work featured with well-known publishers in the industry as well.
Prove your claims. In line with this, make sure you prove your claims. You’re an expert – but why? How much experience have you had? What miracles have you been able to work?
Expertise is “dead” in the sense that pretty much everyone is a self-described expert. But you still need to show your expertise is you want to continue competing in this landscape. Find a way to differentiate yourself – and still showcase your authority – if you want to thrive.
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