Expertise Is Dead: How to stand out when everyone is an expert

Expertise is dead. And experts killed it.

Have you ever seen an ad from someone on Facebook (or during a Google search) claiming that the presenter was an “expert” or a “guru” in a business-related topic? Imagine for example. an ad that says something like this: “I’ve helped companies generate $ 1MM + in new leads” or “I’m the marketing guru who can help you double your return on investment.” There is usually also someone in a suit smiling at the camera.

Does that sound familiar?

This is because all the independent entrepreneurs, agencies and consultants in the world are competing on a global stage to win business. And if you want to win business, you have to be perceived as an expert – or so it has at least been.

The Expert Apocalypse

Online platforms like Google try to encourage high quality content by disproportionately promoting and rewarding content that acts as an authoritative attitude towards a given topic. For example, a history professor’s 50-page dissertation should rank higher than a high school student’s blog post of 50 words, despite their similar topic. It is therefore development of column content is so important for SEO and other marketing strategies. In addition, consumers tend to prefer to work with experienced and knowledgeable professionals in all matters: this is common sense.

But these “push” factors have led to an abundance of self-proclaimed experts in circulation for a handful of simple reasons:

  • It is very rewarding to be an expert. First, it is extremely rewarding to be seen as an expert. If you can establish yourself as a knowledgeable and respected professional in a given industry, you will enjoy more leads, a higher retention rate and even more satisfied customers (as long as your performance is not terrible).
  • Anyone can call themselves an expert. What is an “expert” at all? Does anyone get a degree or have a certain number of years in the subject? Or is it someone who reaches an appropriate threshold for knowledge in a given area? On one level or another, it does not matter – for anyone can call themselves an expert in the digital age. A person can claim to be a PhD-holding serial entrepreneur, despite being a 19-year-old who is still going to college and trying to start a freelance business.
  • Visibility strengthens expertise. Thanks to the mere exposure effect and a handful of other cognitive imbalances, it is natural that repeated exposure to a person (or a brand) makes us think more highly about them. If we see a collection of different ads from an individual marketing guru over the course of a few months, we will start to think of them as being a more prominent and well-respected expert than they actually are – even if the effect is subconscious.
  • Experts force experts to show up. If you only have one year of experience, you may not exactly find success in marketing yourself honestly. How does this ad sound: “I’m not very experienced, but I want to do my best – and I’m probably cheaper than my competitors!” The mere existence of competitors who all bill themselves as experts means that you have to bill yourself as an expert if you want to keep up.
  • The nature of the Internet encourages echo chambers and misinformation. The Internet provides virtually unlimited access to information and connection potential with everyone in the developed world. While this can be a huge strength, it also makes people develop their own echo chambers – and makes it easy to find misinformation. Whatever your opinion, you’re just a quick search away from finding a so-called “expert” who agrees with you and a full community of people (along with intelligent bots) who will give up your own opinions back to you.

Declining confidence and other tailwind factors

The prominence and abundance of experts has led to a number of implications for marketers:

  • Consumer confidence is declining. It’s not the fault of all marketers, but in general consumer confidence is declining. After years of uncertain coverage from the mainstream media, lies from politicians across the political spectrum and the overwhelming prevalence of misleading marketing and advertising, average consumers are taking everything they hear with a grain of salt. If you call yourself an expert with many years of experience and tell them that you can help them improve their business, your work is cut out for you – you have to go to great lengths to prove this.
  • Concepts like “expert” and “guru” lose meaning. If you want to use terms like “expert” or “guru” in your marketing as a way of describing yourself, you will need to revisit this strategy. These terms are so popular and so widely misused that they are beginning to lose their meaning. These words, once characteristic of authority markers, have become cheap and easy to exchange.
  • Competitive differentiation is getting harder. Most of your competitors are probably heavily invested in content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, and other strategies intended to establish them as popularly perceived experts. They also push themselves as experts in your specific industry, making it harder for you to make the same claim. As a result, competitive differentiation is getting harder and harder.

Thrives in a world where expertise is dead

But let us not lose hope. It is more than possible to thrive in a world where expertise is “dead” – as long as you take this fact into account and build it into your strategy. These tips and strategies can help you do just that:

  • Understand and review your competitors. If you want to stand out from the competition, you need to understand your competitors. This means that you take the time on a regular basis to read your competitors’ core content, review their lead generation strategies and possibly even evaluate their customers. The more you understand about them, the more you will be able to develop your own strategies; you can find several ways you can creatively differentiate your business from theirs and get ideas on how to promote yourself innovatively.
  • Focus on a narrow niche. Some brands try to market themselves as broadly as possible and try to reach the largest possible target audience to win more sales. But this is not the best idea when the market is flooded with competitors. Instead, it is better that focus on a narrow target niche. Instead of describing yourself as a general “marketing expert”, you can become an expert in a very specific strategy or become an expert in serving a particular industry or type of business. This way, you do not have to contend with all the big agencies trying to make more general claims – and your claims to be experts will be much more credible. On top of that, if your niche is specific enough, you may have a legitimate claim as one of the only experts in your category, even given the almost universal reach of the internet.
  • Show, do not tell. In a world of fiction writing, a common advice is to “show, not tell.” In other words, you want to demonstrate something to your audience instead of explaining it explicitly. Instead of saying, “Bob was nervous,” you might say, “Bob exhaled sweat from his forehead and began to tumble.” Similarly, instead of calling yourself an expert, you can simply show your audience how much of an expert you are. The best way to do this is to consistently develop good content over time and then publish and syndicate it. Also try to showcase your work with well-known publishers in the industry.
  • Prove your claims. In line with this, be sure to prove your claims. You’re an expert – but why? How much experience have you had? What miracles have you been able to perform?

Expertise is “dead” in the sense that pretty much everyone is a self-described expert. But you still need to show your expertise that you will continue to compete in this landscape. Find a way to differentiate yourself – and still show your authority – if you want to thrive.

Nate Nead

Nate Nead

Nate Nead is the CEO and Executive Member of Nead, LLC, a consulting firm that provides strategic consulting across multiple disciplines, including finance, marketing and software development. For over a decade, Nate had provided strategic guidance on M&A, capital procurement, technology and marketing solutions for some of the most well-known online brands. He and his team advise both Fortune 500 and SMB customers. The team is based in Seattle, Washington; El Paso, Texas and West Palm Beach, Florida.

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