The Label That Enables Your Fable

Have you created a powerful backstory yet? A backstory for your architecture firm positions you as the #1 option (or even the ONLY option) for your ideal client by giving away the story of how you became an expert miracle maker. Today, I am going to give you a little psychology lesson and then an ultra-fast shortcut. 

What you will learn today fits perfectly with a backstory, but can still be highly effective even before you have crafted your magical backstory. Ready?

Imagine that I invite you out to my garden shed because I have something to show you. Against the wall are three painted canvases, all dusty, with a green pot sitting on a shelf just above them and spilling over with dirt. I grab one of the canvasses randomly. This painting has a cardboard frame stapled around the edges. The painting itself is just a black splotch in the middle of a white background. It looks like a 3-year-old’s first attempt at kindergarten art.

Yet I tell you that I painted this masterpiece and that the painting is worth a million dollars.

“In your dreams, Richard,” you think as you squint … because all the evidence suggests otherwise:

  1. Unprotected in a dusty garden shed
  2. Richard Petrie – never before has he mentioned he paints
  3. Cardboard frame stapled on – that is not consistent with a million dollar painting

The context, environment and expectations are all wrong.

Now imagine the same painting in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, MOMA. 

After paying your $25 to see the Black Splotch Exhibition, we walk into a large room and see lights all specifically designed to showcase the work. There, beside two guards and an educational plaque explaining the story, is my same black splotch on a white canvas, enhanced by its exquisite golden frame.

Now that feels like a million dollar painting.

The context, environment and expectations are all right. “Maybe Petrie can paint.”

Neurolinguistic programming would call this preframing. Preframing is a very powerful filter, which completely influences how we see a specific situation.

The same painting can be perceived as junk or a million dollar masterpiece, depending on the preframe (context, environment and expectation) leading up to the content being presented.

‘This Could Work for Projects, Too!’

This got me thinking about easy and fast ways to preframe ourselves. Ideally, we want to preframe for potential clients BEFORE they meet us so they see us as experts, highly-skilled and worthy of a higher fee.

Aren’t you lucky that I think about these things for you? Yes, you are.

Context, environment and expectations need to be addressed, but is there a quick fix?

One simple way is by giving yourself a label. Let me share a little story to explain.

As I swim to the edge of the pool at the Las Palma condominium in Acapulco, I ask Julia, “Do you notice how we don’t see many other non-Mexicans here?”

Julia knows the answer: “It’s because of its reputation.”

“What reputation is that?”

“The world’s third deadliest city.”

“Oh, right, that would be it.”

Brazil gets the gold as home to 17 out of the top 50 deadliest cities. Mexico gets silver with a creditable 12 out of the top 50 cities. And, before you Americans get too smug, Venezuela just beats the U.S. into bronze by two cities.

The U.S. cities in the top 50 are: St. Louis (#13), Baltimore (#21), New Orleans (#41), Detroit (#42).

The problem with being #3, when you are a tourist destination, is that foreign tourists get a little gun shy. Mexico is run by the drug cartel, which ironically keeps Acapulco pretty safe for the tourists, but not for the locals who refuse to play ball. The whole police department was relieved of its duties last month when 137 guns went missing and the police were found to be corrupt.

Not a good rep.

I know this because our condo security guard gave me all the inside runnings of the place. His father was murdered, his uncle is a drug addict, and his mother left him at 4 months old. So he is not a big fan of drugs.

The rules are simple: “Mess with tourists, we kill you. If you run a business and don’t pay your protection money, we kill you. If you don’t pay your drug money, we kill you.” The people behind this keep their message clear and on point. Very good marketing. Everyone knows where they stand, so what can my security guard do?

Continue as the condo security guard.

Regardless of the actual threat to foreign tourists (low), the “3rd most deadly city in the world” reputation precedes Acapulco. In fact, the last thing the drug cartel wants is to mess with the tourists. They are running a very profitable business and petty crime against tourists is a distraction that gets in their way.

So foreign tourists stay away, which is a pity because the weather is great, the beach is sensational, and the prices are very reasonable (bordering on cheap). Julia and I are having a wonderful time in what was a tourist hotspot in the 1950s and ‘60s, when Elvis made his movie, “Fun in Acapulco.” But the 3rd deadliest city stigma is a bit of a mood killer for foreigners (though local tourists don't seem to mind).

The Right Label Changes Everything

Now, we don’t want to be given an unfavorable reputation or label like Acapulco, but we do want you to choose one that works in your favor.

Some people do this all the time and it works like magic. 

I once hired a heating guy because my builder said, “You need Doug, the Duct Doctor.”  

Now, you can’t get more reputable than a doctor, with all that study and the ethics they follow. Instantly, all the connotations of a doctor were attributed to this guy in my mind as being a specialist, the best and highly-trained. None of this was true. The “doctor” ended up putting his feet through our ceiling in three different places. But his label and therefore his attached reputation preceded him.

To create a profile within AMI for the LCC concept, I labeled Brit James Sizer “King of the LCC.” James had turned 39 phone calls out of 42 into paid consults and earned a princely sum in fees.

Another architect was great at understanding the Auckland district plan and coming up with innovative ways for his developer clients to make more money. So I labeled him “The ROI Guy.” All developers think ROI (return on investment) constantly, so this label was perfect.

Mona Quinn (in the video above), a generalist architect, needed to become a specialist in something so we choose to call her “New Zealand’s leading character home architect.” This was true because no one else specialized in character homes that we could see. With that label, others instantly assumed Mona was the best. Mona was invited onto heritage boards and has now written a book on the topic, so this is more than just a pretty label. 

A great label preframes and pre-determines how people perceive you before they know you.

  • Elvis: The King of Rock and Roll
  • Michael Jackson: King of Pop
  • Adele: British Queen of Soul
  • Louis Armstrong: The King Of Jazz
  • Bruce Springsteen: The Boss
  • Muhammad Ali: The Greatest
  • Michael Jordan: Air Jordan
  • Earvin Johnson: Magic Johnson
  • Allen Iverson: The Answer
  • Acapulco: 3rd deadliest city in the world
  • Paris: The City of Love
  • New York:  The City That Never Sleeps

Create Your Own Label, Backstory for Your Architecture Firm.

Doug the Duct Doctor

Mona Quinn: New Zealand’s leading character home architect

Darryl: The ROI Guy

“But, Richard, I cannot call myself these types of labels you are suggesting – that would sound like I’m bragging.” 

Quite right, that would be way too weird, so what you do is get a few friends, past clients, or someone in your Dirty 30 to give you that label. You then use their reference or testimonial mention of your label everywhere – website, proposals, speaking introductions, articles, books. And that will lead to more proposals, speaking engagements, articles, and books.

It’s always better coming from someone else!

These labels imply a powerful backstory about a star without even requiring a story. How people see you before that first phone call or meeting will largely determine your success.

You can and should look to influence context, environment and expectations and one of the fastest ways to start is by giving yourself a label that works.

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