The businesses that have “been there, done that” and help their customers do the same, those are the businesses that people trust. In this blog, we’ll look to Yvon Chouinard, CEO/Founder of Patagonia for advice on how great companies position themselves as guides and turn cold leads into cult followers. You’ll find that no matter your personality, you can develop empathy and leadership skills to lead this way.
Before Yvon Chouinard started Patagonia, he was an ambitious young climber in the Yosemite valley. He needed the best equipment to make the technical climbs of El Cap, Half Dome, and other well known faces in the valley. Yvon wasn’t impressed with the quality of the climbing equipment he was using, and his climbing companions weren’t either. They needed better pitons, made with better iron, that didn’t have to be left in the face of the rock. In that moment, Yvon Chouinard the climber became Yvon Chouinard the entrepreneur. He bought an anvil, some good steel, and started making pitons in the Yosemite area that spring.
Fast-forward to today and Patagonia is the face of outdoor/adventure wear in the world. These are some lessons from Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia that we can learn and apply as B2B/B2C companies.
Empathy & Authority: What All Hero’s Look For In a Guide
Empathy and authority are the one-two punch that make for a kick-butt guide. Surely you’ve met the guy that’s been there/done that, but when it comes to helping you, he seems to just drift off into stories about himself. Not helpful. Then there’s the guide that knows your problem, but has no clue how to get you past it (they haven’t gotten past it themselves). It takes both. If we were serious outdoorsmen, we’d look to somebody that had climbed the face of Half Dome, but could also come down and help us apply the same adventure to our own personal narrative. This is the mark of a great leader. They don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution; they truly look into the best interests of each individual and strategize accordingly. Patagonia took out a full-page ad in the New York Times on a Black Friday a few years back, and the ad was called, “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” They went onto explain that frantic consumerism was a disease, and unless you really needed something from Patagonia on Black Friday, not to buy it. This is a suicide move in the American Business mind, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It was a great example of a guide using his empathy and authority to take care of his customers. Moves like that position you as an even more trustworthy guide, and as before mentioned, turn customers into cult followers.
Tip: Keep sentences like, “We know how it feels to….” or, “No one should have to experience..” in your back pocket and use them often. If you actually know how it feels, people will trust you to guide them out of their current story and into one that involves your brand.
The Testimonial Effect: Let Others Do The Talking For You
If you’re a legitimate guide in your industry, chances are your customers have plenty to say about what you mean to them. When you open up the space on your website to let your customers brag on you, a couple things happen. First, would-be customers find out the kind of people you help, and get a greater sense of belonging to your brand. They never get that chance if your customers are nowhere to be found on your site. Second, they don’t have to take your word for it (they don’t even know you!), they get to find out straight from the customer themselves. As is the case with most things we buy, we buy because it came highly recommended. If you own a piece of Patagonia clothing, you probably bought it because you saw someone wearing it. That someone was representing the brand. Patagonia’s online presence is filled with adventurers showing off the longevity of their brand.
You’ll also find that if you did a good job for your customer, they’re more than happy to brag on you in a post-project survey. If the customer has to think about what it was they liked about the project, they’re also more likely to share that with their friends and family. Brand evangelists are born when a company has the humility to ask the customer about the experience.
Tip: Build a survey into the process you have with your clients. Accept their feedback, get better, and also use their praise for content on your site.
A guide is a person who has moved past the problems they help their customers with. They use that authority as well as empathy to create frictionless buyer journeys for their customers. They become the faces of their company through humility and curiosity, not through braggadocious pride. Finally, they help the hero solve their problem, and get on with the rest of their life.
Tip: Find guides that you admire in the world. Whether they’re in your industry, or outside of it, articulating what you like about their leadership and what you want to emulate will help you set clear goals to becoming the guide your customers are looking for.