Coaching is an over-saturated, over-commoditised market. As more people join the profession, this situation is only going to worsen. Let’s explore two marketing case studies that show how coaches can successfully brand themselves.
When coaching first became a “thing” in the late 1990’s, it was enough to describe and market yourself as a Life Coach, Business Coach, or Executive Coach. However, a search of a site like LinkedIn will quickly show you that these categories are becoming over-saturated.
In order for a coach or coaching practice to stand out in an over-crowded market, branding becomes a business imperative.
Successful and sustainable brands
Neuroscience and the related field of neuro-marketing tells us that successful and sustainable brands do three things really well. They are:
- Attention-getting – they stand out from the crowd and get their potential clients’ attention;
- Memorable – they keep the attention of their potential clients, and progress their clients along the “know me, like me, trust me” continuum from (what I call) “brand agnostic” to “brand advocate”;
- Emotionally engaging.
Brands are more than just logos
Don’t make the mistake of simply looking at a “brand” or “branding” as a collection of colours, fonts and a logo. Brand marketing is so much more than that.
A strong and sustainable brand has depth, credibility, authority, category leadership or dominance. In addition, it definitely ticks the three boxes above – attention-getting, memorability and emotionally-engaging.
Stereotype Content Model
Prof Susan Fiske, a behavioural psychologist based at Princeton University, developed the Stereotype Content Model, together with other team members (which included Amy Cuddy). The model proposes that we evaluate people and brands along two continua: a “warmth” continuum and a “competence” continuum.
The ideal is to rate well on both the warmth and the competence continua.
To understand this better, let’s look at our evolutionary development:
In caveman days, when we were scanning the savanna and saw something move or something strange or out of the ordinary, the first thing that our brain did was to evaluate whether or not it was a friend or a foe. We calculated whether this was something “warm” or not.
Only then, did we evaluate how competent this “thing” was, and if we recognised it as a competent foe (like a charging lion), we’d be sure to get away as fast as possible!
Similarly today: when we first encounter something or someone, our brain is quickly evaluating them on the warmth and competence scales.
Warmth vs Competence
Factors included in the “warmth” spectrum are likeability, trustworthiness, friendliness, sincerity, honesty and similar qualities.
When looking at the “competence” spectrum, we take efficiency, reliability, quality, qualifications, knowledgeability, capability, intelligence, skill, assertiveness, creativity and effectiveness into account.
The neuro-marketing criteria for successful and sustainable brands, combined with the Stereotype Content Model (warmth vs competence) can manifest in a number of ways, but let’s look at two different marketing case studies.
Case study 1: Top international coach
This coach was identified by Harvard Maclean as one of the top 5 coaches in the world. She came from a training and organisational development background and is a real fore-runner and pioneer in the field of coaching.
She is actually such a natural marketer that she doesn’t really need the services of someone to help her with her marketing, except perhaps to give her occasional advice and to look after the visible aspects of her brand – logo, brand colours, fonts…
Her internationally-renowned and recognised brand was built partly by becoming one of the first members of the growing profession to receive her Doctorate in coaching.
She made a point of networking closely with other leaders in the field internationally. Her powerful and extensive network within the coaching community and at corporate C-Suite level is a masterpiece of business strategy.
She has authored a number of books on coaching on different aspects of coaching (leadership coaching, team coaching). One of her books has become a recommended text book in many post-graduate coaching programmes around the world.
She writes and publishes articles extensively and has also been a subject matter expert contributor of chapters to books authored or compiled by other people. She also lectures internationally.
These all combine to create a strong, prominent brand with international exposure and recognised credibility in the international coaching community.
However, the single biggest thing that she did to establish, entrench and build her professional brand was to establish a not-for-profit professional body for coaching and mentoring in her country of residence. She will always be the first, and founding president of this coaching body.
As founding president, it also complimented her strong international network, which she built and leveraged to the benefit of the coaching professional body.
Her brand has substance and credibility beyond a logo and brand colours. She would rate very high on the competence scale, but her sociability and inclination to network place her very firmly in the warmth category.
Case Study 2: Top International Coach specialising in one specific coaching model.
This coach is the recognised leader in delivering coaching – and in training coaches – in one particular coaching model.
When we first started working together about 3 years ago, her visible branding was incoherent and undistinguished.
Our primary focus was to create a strong, memorable and attention-getting visible brand.
We did this through a combination of brand photoshoots to use this coach’s personal brand to attract attention. Based on the principle so cleverly worded by Prof. Susan Fiske: People were the first brand and faces were the first logos (The Human Brand: How we Relate to People, Products and Companies Fiske, S & Malone, C), we ensured that this coach’s face and image was a dominant feature of her visible branding.
The coach’s brand colour palette was developed, using a combination of bright, vibrant and attention-getting colours. Again, this allowed us to visually brand her offerings and to strongly differentiate between them by using different corporate colours to represent different offerings.
The corporate colours were also used as a base to determine any and all visual imagery used in marketing, particularly on social media, to create a coherent and curated look and feel for her professional brand.
After the first year, she started receiving comments from colleagues and clients on the impact that her visual branding was making.
We also introduced client journeys where we sent highly personalised and targeted communications to her clients and former students to invite them to work with her in a different way.
Her students, for example, have a learning pathway where many simply do the introductory level training and don’t go any further. With the personalised and targeted messaging, we were able to fill her more advanced programmes multiple times during the year.
Last year, she had her most successful and profitable year in her long-standing business to date.
We deliberately used visual branding elements to get attention and maintain attention, and we used personalised communication to emotionally engage with her existing and potential clients and shift her firmly into the “warmth” quadrant.
In conclusion, branding is a dance between what we allow potential clients to see and how we make them feel. Brands need to appeal emotionally but also hold underlying substance, stature and credibility.