It’s possible that I could be saving money on my car insurance. But if I switched companies, I wouldn’t have Victoria. Victoria is an old colleague of mine and someone I’ve used as an insurance agent for over ten years. She could probably secretly gouge my bill and I wouldn’t notice. I don’t want to lose Victoria.
Why do I like working with Victoria so much? Because she’s a three-dimensional human being. I know she’s going to return my calls. I know she’s going to ask how I’m doing and care about the answer. If I get into a car accident, the thought that I could make a phone call and reach her directly instead of navigating a phone tree is extraordinarily appealing. I know this because I’ve done the phone tree with another insurance company, and I had to talk to a new person every time I called. The company, one of the largest carriers in the nation, was not set up in such a way that I could have the direct line of any person I was talking to. It was unreal.
Victoria has my TOMA - my “top of mind awareness.” This term may come to us from the marketing world, but it applies to anyone who works on any level of business. Or anyone who has ever tried to get a job. Improving your personal TOMA is an endeavor worth embarking on.
What is TOMA?
TOMA, or “top of mind awareness” is a term that refers to the specific brand that comes to mind in a particular category. TOMA is how entrepreneurs become not only millionaires, but legends. As consumers, we default to TOMA naturally. When we have a need to fulfill, certain brands have become synonymous with the answer. Glass cleaner? Windex. Tissue? Kleenex. Tires? For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, it’s Les Schwab.
Whether or not you’re trying to build an industry-defining brand, TOMA is relevant to your business. As a personal and executive coach, I don’t need millions to know who I am. But I do need some people - the right ones - to know. The moment they feel like they’re ready to take the plunge, I want to be the first person they think of. And I’m not going to do that if I don’t get in front of them.
Why do you want to be top of mind?
In my other role as the Director of Executive Storytelling for Massive Alliance, we are daily onboarding new clients and assigning them to our ghostwriters. When it comes time to assign projects, the writers with a good dose of TOMA usually get the job. Why? Because we know who they are and what they can do.
Selecting a ghostwriter has a lot to do with that person’s industry-specific experience, but it also has somewhat of an intangible quality. People are different. Some are sassy, some are snarky, some are authoritative, some are warm. When I’m choosing which writer will be a good fit, I’m keeping all of that in mind. A client likely to use sports analogies is likely to be paired with a writer who thinks in that paradigm. But if I don’t know that little tidbit about the writer, it’s much tougher to make that match.
The people that have been more visible in our ghostwriter Slack community — sharing insights, celebrating others’ successes, and giving us a window into their lives, are much more likely to be awarded more work. It isn’t a matter of favoritism, it’s the simple fact that they’re top of mind. We know who they are, we know what they’re capable of, and they’ve demonstrated that they are motivated to work with our company.
All too often, there are minute details that come out in personal conversations that help tremendously with TOMA when it comes time for writer assignments.
Being willing to both initiate and engage in these kinds of conversations is what sets you up for a lovely encounter with planned happenstance, the concept that explains that much of life is left to chance, but anything you’re doing today is increasing the probability that chance will look favorably on you.
Don’t assume it “goes without saying”
But top of mind awareness extends beyond simply being visible. This is not a game where the most extroverted are poised to win. Being visible will get you noticed, but being genuine is what will make people remember you. You have to communicate in a way that resonates with them, instilling a sense of competency and authenticity. More than anything, you have to make a connection that makes them believe in you and what you do. (Attention over-thinkers who are worried about making the “right” connection - just be genuine. Trust your heart.)
Even simple comments like, “I really loved writing for that client,” or “I miss doing assignments with you guys!” contribute positively to TOMA, when they’re genuine, because those comments communicate something to us that we may not have known before. When it comes to building a positive relationship with a current or potential client, don’t assume anything.
Using social media as a tool is indispensable. When a writer provided samples that I really was not impressed with, I crossed her off the list for consideration, but then one of her LinkedIn posts got my attention. One post alone made me rethink my initial perception of her writing and prompted me to reach out and give her a second chance. I likely wouldn’t have thought about her again — not because she’s not thinking about, but because of the volume of people I get to know on a daily basis.
But what about the introverts?
The spotlight comes naturally to some, but all of this might sound horrifying for an introvert. If this is the case, the digital world of communication behind a laptop, on your own schedule, should be a comfort. Don’t feel like vulnerability has to look like sharing your life story in your first meeting — it can be as simple as confessing something that’s making you nervous.
If you’re nervous to put yourself out there, just think about what you’re missing out on. You have a unique gift and there are countless people right now searching high and low for it. You’re absent and they’re waiting on you to show up.
Once you begin to put yourself out there and you realize just how necessary you and your talent are in this world, you will feel a sense of urgency to be present. Soon enough, with that presence will come more confidence as you solidify your voice and carve out a space for yourself to make connections.
Introverts also tend to be better listeners
,. In my coaching work, I find that my best “marketing plan” is listening to others
, regardless of whether it’s my barista or a high-level executive. Six months down the road, either one of those individuals may be looking for coaching support or know someone who is. Ideally, I’ll be top of mind because of the way I “show up” in life. They’ll already have a sense that I’m trustworthy and a good fit for them, if that’s the case.
Practical advice for building awareness
If building relationships is of critical importance, where do you start? There is no right or wrong way to go about it, but you should plan a multi-faceted approach that involves a mix of both direct outreach and passive engagement.
Inviting people to join your virtual network, liking their posts, leaving comments, and tagging them in content you think is relevant are some of the easiest ways to spark the beginning of a new relationship. From there, think about personalized outreach that’s focused on getting to know them instead of selling something to them.
Your attempts won’t always be met with open arms and sometimes will go altogether unanswered. That’s when you need to stand tall and be persistent. People get busy, and you can’t always expect them to have the time to engage with you. Kindly nudging them can actually be helpful, assuming they genuinely forgot to respond to you in the midst of other priorities. Learning how to nudge politely (and when to stop entirely) is an invaluable skill that will vastly improve your overall reach and the number of responses you get out of your efforts.
Success comes when people know who you are and what you can do for them. Overwhelming success comes when you achieve TOMA in someone’s mind.