Saying “Hey, your marketing materials could use some help” is like saying “That outfit looks terrible on you.” Honest critique can be really useful, but it’s hard to be the giver or the receiver of such feedback—especially when discussing something as personal as the image that someone has created for their company.
Giving and accepting constructive criticism is an important part of having a reliable business network. It’s easier to say “I see you need a business card” or “You should really have a website” (like saying, “I notice you forgot to put on pants”) than to offer criticism on an existing piece. But we all need people who know and care about us and our businesses to serve as an ongoing focus group, helping us refine our messages and their vehicles. The question is: how do you do give that feedback without being pushy or feeling like a jerk?
When someone is telling you about their business, listen for key differentiators and other tidbits that might influence a potential customer. Identify important points to the way you thought about them (or the company or service) and suggest that they weave it into their leave-behind messaging. Or you can point out that what they are saying is incongruous to their marketing materials, which might confuse potential customers.
Practice your constructive criticism in the mirror: look at your own marketing materials first. As time goes on, clothes wear out and go out of style. Our marketing messages wear out much faster, as we refine our services, products, and target audiences. What once fit well might be a poor fit now—and then we sit around and wonder why we are attracting the wrong customers. Business cards, flyers, brochures, websites, etc. should be extensions of and reminders of your message, so make sure they are updated as your messaging changes.
Go forth and be critical! You can count on the fact that others are judging you before they choose to spend. So let’s first take a spin in the mirror, and ask our besties: “How do I look?” And if you need help updating your corporate identity “wardrobe”, let us know.