Positioning oneself as an Expert

It’s a bold, confident word ‘expert’.

As for its literal definition, an ‘expert’ is someone or a firm with a high level of skill or knowledge in a particular field. For me this raises some questions…

– Is the very definition of the term ‘expert’ somewhat vague and open to interpretation? What actually constitutes having a ‘high level of skill or knowledge in a particular field’?

– Is being an ‘expert’ something that one can authentically declare of oneself?

– And is being an ‘expert’ something that is more appropriately bestowed upon you by others, like an award or privilege granted as a special honour or as an acknowledgement of merit?

So, for example, a client company that discovers whether or not they experience and regard a design firm to be ‘expert’ in their particular field and, if so, maybe referring to them as ‘expert’ in a testimonial? Or maybe it’s the preserve of industry awards or other independent bodies that are better placed to make impartial judgements and hand out such acknowledgements? After all, there are no real set criteria in the vast majority of fields as to what makes an ‘expert’.

Thinking about this in terms of people we would unquestionably regard as ‘expert’ in their field…

The obvious example would be German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, and there’s broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough who has served an industry all his life, has won awards and received a knighthood in 1985 in recognition of his services to television. And then there’s Stephen Hawking who knows a thing or two about science and the universe.

These people have undoubtedly earned their stripes, however, the point I wish to make here is that I doubt they would ever have referred to themselves as ‘experts’ in say a biography or in any promotional capacity. Equally, we don’t see long-established highly experienced firms that we could easily regard as ‘expert’ in their field – for example Apple, Microsoft, EY, Goldman Sachs, etc – describing themselves as such.

Interestingly I recall, when I joined the DBA Experts Register a few years ago, feeling the term ‘experts’ was not the best way for the DBA to be positioning the register. That’s just my opinion about the name, and I hasten to add it’s not a reflection of how I view the people on the register!

Maybe I need to get out more, but this is everyday reflection on the power of words, and the nuances and idiosyncrasies that figure in my work. Part of what I do involves helping companies to position themselves authentically. Blindingly obvious maybe, but the words we choose to describe ourselves speak for us, and must be chosen with due care and understanding of their true meaning and what they actually say about us.

Thinking objectively and contemplating those I see from time to time positioning themselves as ‘experts’, I wonder how this may be perceived by their existing and prospective clients, by stakeholders, staff, associates, etc.

Of course this is a personal thing, and some of you may not agree or particularly care about this either way. However, there are certain do’s and don’ts around positioning, and from experience my instincts prompt me to advise any client of mine against defining themselves as an ‘expert’. Why?

Because generally, those that are truly at the top of their game have a solid reputation and following anyway, and they don’t need to ‘shout’. Others experience their aptitude and speak for them. Qualities such as humility, calm, transparency and restraint combined with evidence of success make for a compelling, trustworthy and believable brand proposition.

You may see this differently, so please share your thoughts and ponder the following questions:

– Is it appropriate to self-proclaim and position oneself as an ‘expert’?
– Is it the role of others to decide or propose whether someone is an ‘expert’ or not in their field?
– How do design firms feel about the idea of engaging the services of an ‘expert’?