Personality Matters - Define

Company Of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business - Paul Jarvis 2019

Personality Matters

IN HIGH SCHOOL, I WAS the kid everyone picked on. Day after day I’d get made fun of or someone would lure me into a fight. I figured my personality was the weakest part of who I was and attempted to hide it as much as I could.

It wasn’t until years later—when I sent a survey to more than 10,000 customers asking why they bought my products—that I realized that my personality was the number-one factor in their decision to purchase from my business and not from someone else. As much as they wanted to buy the products I was selling, they wanted to buy them from me in particular, even if similar products were offered elsewhere or at a lower price.

What changed? My personality didn’t. I’m still an awkward and excitable nerd, just like I was in high school. What did change was that I gradually became okay with sharing who I am and using my differences strategically. Once who I am became part of how I marketed and sold, more people started to respond to that. Not everyone, of course, but enough people started paying attention to my work and became customers. They liked that I was an awkward geek. They trusted me because of my personality, since a lot of them were awkward and excitable nerds too.

Personality—the authentic you that traditional business has taught you to suppress under the guise of “professionalism”—can be your biggest edge over the competition when you’re a company of one. What’s even better is that while skills and expertise can be replicated, it’s damn near impossible to replicate someone’s personality and style. Especially in a company of one, where you aren’t the largest player in your niche and probably not the cheapest, using your quirks and standing for something can be exactly how and why you gain customers’ attention.

A personality is required for your company of one, regardless of size. Your human characteristics are the way your brand speaks and behaves. For example, Harley-Davidson is a brand that connotes rebelliousness, while Snapchat is associated with being young and fresh (although calling it “young and fresh” probably means that I’m neither). If you don’t think about the personality of your business, your audience will assign one to you—because people relate to other people, and your audience wants to relate to your brand when they see it.

As a company of one, your brand should very much represent some distinct aspect of yourself, while taking into account whom you’re trying to reach. Marie Forleo, founder of Marie Forleo International, runs an eight-figure business training company with her distinct personality front and center. In the beginning, she worried about being her quirky self in videos and writing because at the time that wasn’t seen as the norm in the business world, or even in the world of other leaders she aspired to connect with, like Oprah. Funnily enough, though, it was specifically her quirky self that her audience related to so strongly, and when her platform grew to reach more than 250,000 subscribers in 193 countries, not only did she appear on Oprah, but Oprah named her a leader for the next generation.

What do you want your brand to exude? Toughness? Sophistication? Excitement? Sincerity? Luxury? Competence?

Rand Fishkin says that newly formed companies tend to inherit the personality of their founders internally, and then externally. So personality even creates and affects company culture.

Charlie Bickford, founder of Excalibur Screwbolts, a small British manufacturer, has found that keeping his business small makes it easier to show both his staff and customers his commitment to quality and personal service. Charlie still answers customer phone lines at age seventy-four. By keeping his company small, he maintains its integrity and also places his own unique personality in front of his brand; meanwhile, his massive competitors are racing to win market share. Excalibur has endured—even after the entire industry copied his bolt-fixing techniques—by focusing on building a brand personality based on personal contact and great service. These key factors have allowed Charlie to do well at a small size and landed him an impressive range of projects, from the Olympic stadium in Atlanta to the Gottard tunnel in Switzerland.

Brand personality needs to foster a two-sided relationship—one focused on not just how your businesses can benefit or gain something from others, but on how others can benefit from having a relationship with your business. And don’t confuse the personality of your brand with “acting the part”—instead, the idea is to showcase those aspects of who you naturally are as they relate to building fascination with your intended audience. Charlie, for example, has always been focused on creating products of true quality, so his company works hard to showcase that aspect of its personality.


Steve Rubel, a public relations expert in New York City, says that attention is the most important currency anyone can give a business, and that attention is worth more than revenue or possessions. In an age of information—almost every piece of knowledge in the world is immediately available on computers we keep in our pockets—the vastness of what’s available to learn, read, listen to, or watch causes a scarcity of attention. Every business everywhere wants a piece of this attention, both online and off.

The new “attention-as-currency” may stem from how the world has changed since the industrial revolution, which had led to sellers making all the rules. Now buyers dictate what they want, how they want it, and when. And if they aren’t happy with one seller, they simply take to the internet and post their dissatisfaction, sometimes with reach greater than the seller’s. For example, when blogger Amber Karnes tweeted that Urban Outfitters stole a design of an independent visual artist, her comment was quickly retweeted by other accounts with a total reach of 1.3 million followers, and then subsequently picked up by the Huffington Post, causing Urban Outfitters to lose 17,000 followers within hours (and no doubt having a lasting negative impact on its brand). As we’ll also see in Chapter 10, attention can be instantly lost when trust is broken.

Our own minds are not always focused on our current tasks and can wander 46.9 percent of the time, according to research from Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth, who studied 5,000 participants across eighty-three countries of ranging ages and socioeconomic status. If we ourselves rarely pay full attention to what we do, how can a business hope to gain attention long enough to convert a person into a customer? Or even have that person simply notice their business?

In other words, how can companies of one, operating with the idea that less can be better, grab the attention required to profit and thrive?

According to best-selling business author Sally Hogshead, the answer lies in developing fascination—an intense captivation and focus on a person or business. Her research on this subject, published in fourteen languages, involved more than 125,000 participants over ten years. What Sally has looked at is how businesses and people can leverage attention over others. By measuring how the world sees us, she’s been able to determine how we can be fascinating to our ideal customers.

Sally contends that the key is to unlearn being boring. That is, you need to learn how to elicit a strong emotional response to your business, and the personality of your brand, because while it’s easy to forget or lose interest in information, it’s much harder to forget strong emotion. You can do this by allowing your business to have some aspect of your own innate personality or quirks. Fascination in a product or service builds an emotional connection, and emotional connections hold attention.

As a result of her research, Sally has compiled a twenty-eight-question personality test that, instead of explaining how you see yourself, explains how the world sees you. When I took the test, for academic curiosity’s sake, the results showed that I’m a “Provocateur.” This seems correct and in line with how I showcase my own brand’s personality: I dislike authority and the status quo and enjoy trying new contrarian business ideas. This personality bleeds through in my writing, my sales pages for products, and even when I’m interviewed for podcasts. So I build fascination in my own audience by leaning on provoking others with ideas.

In an interview Sally did with Marie Forleo, she spoke about the tendency of large companies to be the vanilla ice cream of their market—they project a personality that’s universally acceptable, but bland. For a company of one, being vanilla isn’t going to allow you or your work to stand out. Companies of one have to be the pistachio ice cream of their market. For better or worse, people either absolutely love pistachio or can’t stand its flavor and weird green color. For its loyal fans, pistachio ice cream stands out, demands attention, and charges a premium. Just like Excalibur Screwbolts does with its products. Just like Marie using her personality to captivate audiences in her videos with lots of chair dancing and funny stories. These are all examples of gaining attention by using and featuring personality, not by shying away from it.

Fascination is the response when you take what makes you interesting, unique, quirky, and different and communicate it. When you start to understand how the world sees your business, you can amplify that understanding by featuring the specific traits that make you, you. When you own and harness aspects of your personality strategically, you can use them as a competitive advantage in a crowded marketplace—like an artisanal bucket of pistachio ice cream that people will gladly pay $25 for (instead of going with the $4 tub of vanilla).

Don’t just ask consumers to pay attention to your business. Instead, start doing the kinds of unique and unusual things that attract attention in order to make your business distinct.


It can be scary to draw that line in the sand—especially when it’s your business and livelihood. Doing so immediately alienates certain people or entire groups. But taking a stand is important because you become a beacon for those individuals who are your people, your tribe, and your audience. When you hoist your viewpoint up like a flag, people know where to find you; it becomes a rallying point. Displaying your perspective lets prospective (and current) customers know that you don’t just sell your products or services. You do it for a specific reason.

The best marketing is never just about selling a product or service, but about taking a stand—showing an audience why they should believe in what you’re marketing enough to want it at any cost, simply because they agree with what you’re doing. Products can be changed or adjusted if they aren’t functioning, but rallying points align with the values and meaning behind what you do. These bold statements are impossible to ignore and make clear that your work is more than the work, that you have a serious reason for doing it in the first place.

Derek Sivers, the former CEO of CDBaby, says that we should proudly exclude people, because we can’t please everyone. That way, when someone hears our message directed specifically at them and no one else, they’ll be drawn toward our message (and will pay attention). It’s like creating messaging for pistachio ice cream lovers while poking fun at boring vanilla.

Tom Fishburne, from Chapter 1, says that there’s power in polarization. If we try to appeal to everyone, we won’t appeal to anyone in particular, muddying our message. Creating indifference or simply being another boring small company in a crowded marketplace just won’t serve you well as a company of one.

The “poster child” for polarization is Marmite, the classic yeast food spread from the United Kingdom. Marmite’s tagline is “You either love it or hate it,” a message it’s been tapping successfully for twenty years.

Guy Kawasaki, the well-known marketing specialist and venture capitalist, also thinks that we shouldn’t be afraid of polarization. Large companies search for the “Holy Grail” of products that appeal to every demographic, socioeconomic background, and geographical location, but this “one size fits all” approach rarely works and often leads to mediocrity (and vanilla ice cream). Instead, Kawasaki believes, we should create products that make specifically identified groups of people very happy and ignore everyone else. The worst-case scenario is inciting no passionate reactions from anyone—no one caring enough about a product to talk about it at all, either positively or negatively.

The idea that we should be able to infinitely scale attention for what we create to everyone can quickly become our downfall—the same kind of downfall waiting for those startups that attempt to infinitely scale customers and staff much too quickly. Expanding too quickly and for too large an audience often spells doom.

Being unique, different, and unusual can have a polarizing effect on your potential audience. But that isn’t always bad.

Just Mayo, a product from the company Hampton Creek, is very polarizing, even though it’s “just” mayonnaise. It’s been getting a swath of media attention from lawsuits, SEC investigations, lobbying efforts, and even CEO death threats—making it even more popular to both fans and investors alike.

Just Mayo is mayonnaise without eggs. Its egglessness was why big-food behemoth Unilever, makers of Hellmann’s Mayo, sued Hampton Creek, alleging false advertising because its product didn’t contain eggs, an ingredient “required” for mayonnaise according to the Food and Drug Administration legal definition. (The fact that there’s a government agency that defines legal ingredients for condiments is also baffling.) Unilever sued because it was losing a sizable market share to this much smaller and nimbler startup. There were also unsigned and fraudulent letters to major retailers that carried Just Mayo, alleging that the product contained salmonella and listeria; in response, Target pulled Just Mayo from its shelves. The FDA cleared the company and said that those claims were unsubstantiated. But the controversy didn’t end with lawsuits and letters: the American Egg Board and the U.S. Department of Agriculture began conspiring to hire journalists to denigrate Just Mayo and its CEO, Joshua Tetrick. This campaign climaxed with this statement from a now-public-record email exchange: “Can we pool our money to put a hit on him?”

By being polarizing with its eggless mayonnaise, Hampton Creek disrupted the entire mayonnaise industry. The ensuing controversy and legal battle only made its brand more desirable to its audience. In the end, Unilever not only dropped the lawsuit but, in a huge about-face, launched its own certified vegan, eggless “mayo” a few years later.

To be a polarizing company of one, you can look to three strategies. The first is placation: trying to change the minds of the so-called haters, those individuals who don’t like your product. General Mills did this in 2008 by creating low-carb and gluten-free cake mixes, amid rising concerns over obesity and gluten sensitivities. Within three years, the number of customers who vocally disliked their mixes had dropped significantly. The second strategy is prodding: by intentionally antagonizing haters, you may sway neutral customers into becoming supporters if they agree with your polarizing stance. Finally, the third strategy is amplification: singling out a characteristic and leaning heavily on it. Marmite, already polarizing in its “love it or hate it” stance, released Marmite XO, an extra-strength version of the flavor. The company invited thirty of its best customers (found through social media) to a tasting and set up a Facebook group for the event. The promotion gleaned over 50,000 visits to the company website and over 300,000 Facebook page views. Marmite XO sold out quickly after reaching shelves.

WestJet, a highly successful Canadian airline, has taken direct aim at United Airlines’ troubles with overbooking, which were highlighted when a video of a United passenger being dragged off a flight went viral. WestJet’s latest marketing campaign is simply “We don’t overbook,” complete with the hashtag #OwnersCare. (WestJet brags that its passengers are all technically owners of the airline.) Memorable stories are often driven by a protagonist fighting against an antagonist, giving the audience someone to root for and to root against. After all, there’s no Star Wars without Darth Vader. The same can occur in business: since our brains are wired for relating to and remembering good stories and epic struggles, a company that isn’t telling a compelling story can devolve into boring and forgettable vanilla ice cream.

As a small business or one that isn’t aiming to grow rapidly, you can use polarization to provide an avenue for reaching your potential audience—without massive advertising spends or paid user acquisition—by getting people talking. Think back to before Apple was a monolith in the tech industry, when it was a tiny company going up against the giant IBM. In a now-famous Apple television advertisement—an homage to George Orwell’s classic book 1984—a hero battles against conformity and “Big Brother.” The ad was so controversial and different from all the other ads at the time that all the cable news outlets picked it up after it first aired and re-aired it for free as a news story. By being different, Apple ended up selling $3.5 million worth of its new Macintoshes just after the ad first ran.

In my own business, the stance I take on business and even social issues puts some people off. For every email I send to my weekly newsletter, I get a handful of critical replies, ranging from the standard internet vitriol to comments such as “I don’t want to buy anything from you because you believe in [fill in the blank].” This is actually a good thing, as I don’t want to have customers who are so angry or who complain so readily; if they paid for one of my products, I’d have to offer them technical or customer support. Their opting out of what I have to say and never buying anything from me is a win-win. When I get an email along those lines, I always check to see if the person who wrote it has ever been a paying customer of mine; the answer is always no. The bottom line is that I’m happy that my audience, in effect, vets itself. That way I can focus more time and energy on my paying and vetted potential customers.

These days consumers buy and make choices often based on alignment with their own values. By not focusing on infinite growth or assuming that more is better, a company of one can focus on making its products better align with the values of a smaller, more specific group of people, and then market directly to their needs and viewpoints. That way, if others outside that group hate what you do or what you stand for, it doesn’t matter—you’re not going after them as customers in the first place. Instead, you’re drawing your own niche market closer by showing them your understanding and sympathy for how they see the world.

People can copy skills, expertise, and knowledge, which are all replicable with enough time and effort. What’s not replicable is who you truly are—your style, your personality, your sense of activism, and your unique way of finding creative solutions to complicated problems. So lean on that in your work. Sell your way of thinking as much as you would a commodity. Polarization can shorten a sales cycle because it forces customers into a quicker binary choice, to decided yes or no. After all, it’s hard to make money from maybes.

To build and maintain your company of one, the sooner you learn how to distinguish your company’s profile in a positive way, the sooner you will be able to find your precise audience and sustain your business. You need to be more aware of who you are and then strategically highlight the innate and unique aspects of your personality to ensure that your business keeps and holds the attention of your customers.


· How you could infuse your own distinct and unique personality into your products and company image

· Where you could lean on what makes your business or product quirky or different to garner attention in the market