"Being Professional" is Utter Bullshit

Aug 16, 2021

My friend Joe Glover from The Marketing Meetup invited me to do a hot seat group coaching session where attendees could submit one challenge on how they struggle with differentiation.

So, I got to read around 60 submissions from different founders, in-house marketers, freelancers, CEOs, etc.

A similar question came up twice:

An event applicant asks whether it's possible to stand out in marketing and remain professional.

"How to be fun while still being perceived as professional by C-Suite execs?"

An event applicant asks whether it's possible to stand out in marketing and remain professional.

"How can I get noticed without offending people and remaining professional?"

In other words, you might be asking yourself: “Can I radically stand out while still remaining professional?

Quick answer: OF COURSE you can!

Allow me to put you at ease...

You don’t have to send audio notes on WhatsApp saying, “Yo yo yo, motherfucker” like I sometimes do.

You don’t have to say “Fuck!” every three sentences or do anything irreverent at all.

Let me put it to you this way…

I used to work for a place that considered itself professional.

Men had to wear suits; beards were not allowed…all the cliches you can think of in a corporate office.

Yet, they made misogynistic jokes all the time in open space, and they got blind drunk during work events.

Is that what it means to be professional?

Fuck no.

Here's what being professional really means...

Here's how Seth Godin defines it:

​Notice there’s nothing there about wearing suits and being clean-shaven.

At its heart, radical differentiation is a positioning method to become:

  • the ONLY product/service in a specific category

  • to serve a specific group of customers

  • in a specific way.

That’s it.

I believe there are three principles of being a true professional.

  1. Help the people you seek to serve to reach their goals. That’s the biggest one. Your duty as a professional is to obsess over your customers.

  2. Stay true to your words. Be honest. Be true to yourself. Be true to others.

  3. Respect others by not causing any active harm, by not slandering a single person or company.

Whether you’re perceived as professional depends on your customers’ worldview

Let’s take a fictional example.

Let’s say you’re offering gardening services to people who have huge properties.

You could have two types of clients: Prince Charles or Ozzy Osbourne.

Whether you are perceived as professional depends on your customer’s worldview

Prince Charles probably expects his gardener to be well-groomed, proper-mannered, and to have a pristine background with a glittering reputation. To him, anything else is unprofessional.

That’s his worldview.

Ozzy Osbourne, on the other hand, probably wants a gardener who isn’t so uptight, who won’t glare judgmentally at him as he smokes a blunt beside the pool in his underwear. To him, anything else is unprofessional.

That’s also his worldview.

Put simply...

You can’t be perceived as professional by both Prince Charles and Ozzy Osbourne, and if you try to be professional to both, you likely won’t be perceived as professional by either person.

You have to go all-in in one direction.

Only then will you be radically different, and depending on which direction you picked, Prince Charles or Ozzy Osbourne will see you as supremely professional and fit for the job.

Right?! This is crazy important to understand.

You must understand your customers’ worldview.

How do they see the world? What are their values? What do they believe? What do they hate? What do they fear? What is the game they’re actually playing?

It's scary, I know...

We’re afraid to go all-in in one direction.

This fear comes from our herd mentality.

We fear rejection from our customers, our boss, and our colleagues. “What if they laugh at me? What if they think I’m an idiot?

We fear that we’ll offend others. “What if I challenge something and they send me death threats?

We fear that we won’t make enough money. What if I lose out on an ocean of customers because I’m too edgy to them?

But, think about it…

If you go all-in as a gardener to appeal to worldviews akin to Ozzy Osbourne, he likely won’t reject you or be offended by you, and you have a much better chance at earning his money than some generalist gardener.

Meanwhile, Prince Charles is far too busy brushing up his polo skills to be offended or to waste a moment of his day even thinking about some irrelevant gardener.

Lean into your fear and go all-in, or risk obscurity.

How to lean into your fear: a few principles to stay professional and stand the f*ck out...

Principle #1: Being professional and standing out happens at the intersection of what your people believe AND what you stand for or against.

For example, Everyone Hates Marketers can be considered a hostile brand where I serve marketers, founders, freelancers etc. who take a stand against our common enemy, marketing bullshit.

A hostile brand can still remain professional, even while saying words like "bullshit"

Do I remain professional when I say 54 fucks, 6 shits, 11 bullshits in a single podcast episode? (true story)

You bet I do.

Because I serve people like you who see cursing as a vehicle to fighting marketing bullshit and challenge the industry in general.

Principle #2: Challenge the status quo in one way, shape, or form because your target customers are underserved.

Challenge the thing that is causing them pain.

Adam Morgan, author of Eating The Big Fish, created a few templates for what he calls “challenger brands:

10 templates for how to become a challenger brand and remain professional

You can see by now how it’s not just about cursing to be noticed. It’s about how you challenge something that is causing a group of people to be severely underserved by the category.

THAT is radical differentiation.

Principle #3: List what is typically done in your category, and find the openings.

List down what competitors are doing and saying. Think, “They are doing this, so we could be doing that.

Look at what they’re NOT doing, where they are NOT spending their time.

Get inspired by brands you admire in other industries. What they do could also work for you as long as it matches your customers’ worldview.

Principle #4: You can’t please everyone, so don’t try to.

I know you’ve heard this many times before, but don’t try to please everyone. You are probably severely overestimating the number of people that you push away by challenging the status quo in a specific way.

You will notice that a lot of people believe what you believe even if they don’t say it openly, even if they might not have believed it themselves first.

Just by virtue of you showing up, you’ll have people following you more because you’re taking a stand.

Principle #5: Don’t swear for the sake of it. Stay congruent with what you’re challenging.

Don’t swear just because I do.

There are plenty of other ways to be noticed while staying congruent with the way you see the world.

I do it for a specific reason because I’m challenging my category which has a culture that makes marketers feel like a watered-down version of themselves, so I hope that by cursing they feel they can let loose and be themselves.

Principle #6: People don’t change after 5:00 PM.

Even if you serve HR offices and you think it’s a very boring, super clean-cut category, understand that these are the same people who scroll through Instagram laughing at stupid cat videos at 11 pm.

There are ways to appeal to their beliefs and worldview even in a B2B setting.

So, here's my question back to you...

How can you stand out WITHOUT being professional?

Is it even possible?

Standing out is all about serving the right people. It’s about challenging the status quo of a category that is undeserving them. It’s about going all-in to obsess over their worldview. It’s about taking a stand against what’s causing them pain.

That sounds pretty professional to me.

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