Be F*#king Great: Professional Doesn’t Need To Mean Boring

Are you a professional?

Sure you are.

But in many businesses, if you try to do something creative, innovative or off-the-wall you will get shot down with a withering, ‘That’s not professional.”

That’s a curious phrase. When did it become the rule that professional meant boring?

That’s usually the calculation. With all the happy talk about taking risks and “failing faster” in business, everyone seems to want to play it safe when it comes to showcasing personality as part of their brand. Better to avoid a risk and fail slowly than take the plunge and succeed quickly. More people want to focus on the design of a logo rather than what it stands for, which is what really matters.

Differentiation from competitors is one of the keys to business success. So why would you want to be boring?

Many people connected the recent billion-dollar acquisition of Dollar Shave Club by Unilever to the memorable video that the startup produced for its launch. It was a great piece of content – clever, funny, even provocative. No surprise it racked up over 23 million views and helped the company disrupt the staid men’s shaving business.

But Dollar Shave Club didn’t become a billion dollar company because of a single video. It earned that eyebrow raising valuation in large part because it had a personality.

It was a real company that wasn’t afraid to say “Our blades are f*#king great.”

It carried that quirky personality through all its touch points with customers, from ads to viral content to social media to packaging and even to the “Bathroom Minutes” mini-newspaper it sent customers. That personality, coupled with its innovative distribution model, made it work.

Its personality was also vital to the idea of the service as a club. It made it something people would want to join. After all who wouldn’t want to be part of this fun club? That helped it sharply differentiate from the traditional razor manufacturers and their expensive yet forgettable marketing.

Dollar Shave Club also attached a new sense of meaning to a product that was a necessity for most men, but who were unimpressed by the arms race of silly features being offered by the big guys – I mean, how many blades do we really need to shave?

Still, not every company can go with the goofy and lovable personality of Dollar Shave Club.

Consider Apple.

Steve Jobs was obsessive about the Apple brand. Every detail, including the ones you couldn’t see, was meant to evoke a clear personality. For Jobs it was about the “cool” factor – making a previously utilitarian product like a laptop become an object of consumer lust. Think about those “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” ads – they never talked about product features. Instead they were about nothing more than positioning Macs as cool and PCs as lame.

While Dollar Shave Club was fun and accessible, the Apple brand was always more about the aspirational. We want to align ourselves with the brand not just because its products were better – but also because they were cool. And we want to be cool too.

Cool, of course, is hard. Staying cool requires a commitment and focus. The discipline that marked Apple’s marketing during the second Jobs’ era at the company has disappeared. Today the Apple brand is adrift and unfocused.

Think about the recent Cookie Monster TV spot the company released. Compared to much of the company’s recent advertising, it was funny and well received.

Steve Jobs would have hated it.

Loathed it. Seethed with rage if someone pitched him the concept. He probably would have thrown them out of the room.

Cookie Monster is funny, but he’s not cool. Jobs would have been livid at the idea of an Apple TV commercial with a Muppet using his product. It’s more than off-brand – it erodes the foundation that Jobs built.

So what’s the lesson here?

Professional as a synonym for boring is a mistake.

Don’t hide behind the false sense of security that comes with workplace professionalism. Funny videos and swearing won’t work for every company (unfortunately.) But there is always a way to showcase a personality that helps advance your business and make you stand out from the competition.

People are pretty quick to spot bullshit, so your personality needs to be grounded in reality. Focus on what makes your team and product different – things like innovation, friendliness, social mission or customer service.

Showcase that personality at every point you can.

Make it real to your customers and maybe someone will show up at your door with a billion dollar offer.

Allan Gates

Allan Gates is the president of Bonfire.