Self fulfilling prophecy

Self fulfilling prophecy

Earlier this year, an old client and friend of mine, came back to me to seek marketing advice and guidance. In doing so, he reaffirmed to me the importance of self-fulfilling prophecy in marketing – particularly when it comes to start-up businesses.

A construction lawyer, my client established a highly successful practice, Vincent Young, eight years ago. Brett decided to say goodbye to his career in a big corporate firm and branch out on his own, with nothing more than a collection of contacts, a down-at-heel office in the city, and a fervent belief that there was a desperate need for lawyers who understood the construction game inside out.

But to compete with the bigger firms, Brett knew he needed to create a compelling brand for his fledgling firm. Rather than knocking together a dodgy logo and getting a round of business cards printed, I helped Brett to build a brand and website that would befit the business he wanted to become, rather than the business as it was at the time. It was like the tailor stitching an adult suit for the young boy – and in the process creating something for the man he would one day become.

Eight years on, Brett’s business has grown into the adult’s suit. He’s weathered the global financial crisis has built a strong and loyal clientele, with a great team of lawyers and consultants around him, and he’s now laying the foundations for the next eight years.

I share this business story because it illustrates a classic case of a sociological theory called ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. And this sociological theory is one of the secrets to entrepreneurship.

‘Self-fulfilling prophecy’, first coined by sociologist Robert Merton in 1948, is “a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedbackbetween belief and behaviour.”

When it comes to marketing your business, its essential to create a vision of what you want your business to be, and then to build the brand and the marketing story around that – in some ways, irrespective of the reality at the time. It’s about conveying the vision for your potential customers, and giving them a sense of safety and comfort. Quite simply, if you believe in yourself and your business, then it’s far more likely to become a reality.

You may be working out of your sister’s back bedroom, you may running on a client base of one, but the key is that you can’t have the appearance of that. It’s about looking like the business you want to be. Otherwise, why would anyone want to buy your products or services?

However, there’s a dichotomy at play here. While you need to project your business as you want it to be, it can’t be all smoke and mirrors – and that’s the delicate balancing act. If you win the work, or if you sell the product, you must deliver – and deliver well. If you can’t live up to the brand promises you make, your brand will be dead– particularly in these times of instant reviews and 24/7 social media.

Good marketers understand that a compelling vision is vital – and that brand and marketing revolves around that vision. If you believe in your vision, it will be contagious, and others will begin to believe in it too.

Founder of Aussie Home Loans, John Symonds, understands the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy. John entered the market at a time when the big banks dominated. Despite a tiny budget, John hired a public relations agency to get his brand off the ground. John says that having no money to advertise was fortunate because “I learned all about marketing [myself] – this was by default, not a plan — but because my story was so controversial and it was what consumers wanted, it worked.”

Hillary Clinton once said that that the worse you feel – and the tougher things are – the more effort you must take with your appearance. Wise words for all business owners.   The tougher the times, the younger your business, fresher the market, then the greater the effort you must make to show your potential customers and clients the business you want to be. Self-fulfilling prophecy can work both ways, positive and negative, and when you’re in business, there’s only one way you want things to go – and that’s upwards.

Tips for marketing self-fulfilling prophecy

  • Build the brand for your future business, not the business as it is today
  • Create a vision and story for your business and keep telling that story – if you do it well enough, and for long enough, it will become true
  • Don’t let physical reality get you down – even if your business is in its early stages, it doesn’t need to appear that way
  • Have confidence – if you don’t have confidence in your business or brand, why would your customers?

About Nicole Smith

Nicole Smith has spent nearly two decades helping professional services firms to grow their businesses.  A strategic marketing expert, Nicole established the Tin Shed marketing co-op in 2010.  See:

This article was first published in Business First magazine.  

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