Your Business is Probably Narcissistic

I’ve never liked people whose favorite topic of conversation is themselves.

You know people like this. Right? Everything is about them. In their own eyes, they’re the most interesting person in the world. For every story you’ve got, they’ve got one that’s way cooler. For every experience you’ve had, they’ve had one better. And they’ll definitely tell you about it.

Basically, the world revolves around them – and the moon, and the stars, and just about anything else that happens to be within earshot.

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But there are two points of irony relating to self-obsession.

  1. In spite of their best efforts to impress, nobody likes a narcissist. They’re not impressive; they’re tiresome.
  2. We’re all narcissists.

Narcissism is our default mode as human beings. So, yep – when I say I don’t like people who talk about themselves, I’m being hypocritical. I love to talk about myself, to focus inwardly, and to feel self-important. And unless you’re a robot or a saint, you probably do, too.

But the bottom line is that narcissism is poison to relationships. It’s not the best way to make others feel valued. It’s just a surefire way to lose people’s attention.

Unfortunately, it’s also the way most businesses communicate.

Is your business self-obsessed?

Like most people, most businesses tend toward narcissism. It’s okay to talk about yourself. It’s not okay to do that to the detriment of relationships – or to make self-focus a higher priority than customer focus.

From a marketing perspective, there are a few ways this plays out.

Self-obsessed businesses tend to:

1. Use jargon. Self-obsessed businesses proudly spout jargonized language like it’s verbal gold. They’re not self-aware; they operate under the assumption that customers will either be intimately familiar with their industry, or be incredibly impressed by their display of knowledge. Neither is likely.

The reality is that jargon is like an inside joke that nobody gets. It doesn’t make any sense and it kind of makes people feel bad. Not a great recipe for new business.

2. Speak about themselves. Pull up a business’ website and take a look at the tagline on their homepage. Does it say, “We’ve been proudly providing the best widgets since 1983″? Are the menu items things like “Our Products”, “Our Process”, and “Our Portfolio?”

That’s natural (and sometimes necessary – we’ve got a few self-referential menu items, too), but it’s not always engaging. When businesses talk exclusively about themselves, people tune out. It’s far better to phrase things in terms that relate to the customer: “Widgets to make your life better”, for example. You / your / you’re pronouns are way more engaging.

3. Produce irrelevant content. This is an extrapolation of businesses speaking about themselves, but it’s worth breaking out: self-obsessed businesses design the entire catalogue of their content around what they see in the mirror. This is the kind of thinking that leads to extensive pages on service features without mentioning customer benefits, or that produces tons of blog posts around “What We Think About X” without ever considering whether the customer actually cares.

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The better alternative is to start by considering the customer’s needs, and work backwards from there to produce content that’s actually relevant.

Actually, that’s pretty much the key to fixing all of this.

The cure to business narcissism is to intentionally switch the focus from the mirror to the customer.

If it sounds simple, it’s because it is – but it’s also difficult in practicality. That’s because it’s hard to step out of your own context. Trying to evaluate customer perception can be like trying to read the label from inside the bottle; trying to frame messaging in the language of the customer can be like trying to speak Mandarin.

Fortunately, there are tools to help.

At New North, one of our favorites is the StoryBrand framework. It’s a system designed to help a business shift its story so that the customer becomes the protagonist or hero, while the business becomes the trusted guide. There’s still room for messaging about the business, but it’s all in the framework of how it helps the customer. The premise is that too many businesses want to be Luke Skywalker when customers are looking for Yoda.

We’re also a big fan of developing customer personas – archetypes that help to define the character of the customer so that messaging can best be shaped to speak to their needs. HubSpot is one of the leaders behind this, and there are plenty of free resources out there to help.

The bottom line is that avoiding narcissism and creating messages that matter takes intentional effort.

It’s not a one-time effort, and it’s not a binary choice. Elements of self-focus will creep into your messaging as long as it exists. The trick is to consistently and intentionally maintain a customer focus and continually push back narcissism.

Everyone likes to speak about themselves. But when we shift the focus from our businesses and make our customers the heroes in the stories we tell, we have a better chance of creating real value, real relationships, and of actually being liked.

And that’s good for business – and people, too.

Want help? You don’t have to go it alone (and honestly, you probably shouldn’t, because narcissists are rarely self-aware). A big part of better messaging is getting an outside, objective perspective on how to center the customer as the hero in your story. If you want an honest review of your current messaging, or if you’re ready to work toward something better, let’s talk.

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