If Mr. Gunn decided to pursue a second career as a marketing consultant, he would be a natural.
His integrity and lovability aside, Gunn demonstrates the following traits that he shares with effective marketers:
1. Tim Gunn reminds you to put your customer first.
“What will the judges think?”
As he critiques each designer’s work before it’s runway ready, Gunn regularly encourages contestants to think about how the product will be received by the customer—to keep in mind what the judges are looking for, given the parameters of each challenge.
The judges decide who wins and who gets cut, so they represent the customer. Gunn knows it’s important for designers to look at their own work objectively, no matter how in love they are with what they’ve produced so far.
A good marketing consultant reinforces that “you are not your customer.” It’s crucial to strip out any emotional attachment you might have to your product or service and consider how an unattached prospective customer could react to your message and product.
2. Tim Gunn praises authenticity + individuality, discourages mediocrity.
“Who are you?”
Gunn gives the designers the courage to have a point of view. When he sees something unique, he compliments it. When he sees something stale, he pushes the contestant to dig deeper. As a self-described fashion therapist, he helps designers define themselves.
A worthwhile marketing strategist will push you to identify your authentic, unique value proposition. Something that stands out from others in your field and keeps you from blending in among your competitors. A few sessions of brand therapy with a smart marketer will do wonders for moving a marketing plan in the right direction.
3. Tim Gunn encourages action.
“Make it work. / Carry on. / Go, go, go, go!”
Sometimes the designers get stuck. They get “analysis paralysis” or run out of ideas. Most of Gunn’s classic catchphrases on the show simply prod the contestants on toward doing something. By just continuing to try various tracks, going through the motions and playing around to see what happens, more often than not they get unstuck.
Great marketers know that marketing is a verb. It’s all about trying things, putting yourself out there, interacting in the marketplace. Not doing anything is fatal. Doing something is the start of the eternal experiment. See what happens. Go, go, go! And make it work.
4. Tim Gunn is pragmatic.
“I’m worried. / Is it too ambitious?”
On the show, some designers bite off more than they can chew. They have a limited amount of time and materials to make it happen, and when their vision is too big, Gunn provides specific suggestions on how to rein it in, what to prioritize, and where to draw the line.
Some businesses want everything and they want it all now. It’s the opposite of freezing up.
A great marketing planner will tell you when you’re setting yourself up for failure. Given your business goals, available resources and rules of the game, some strategies will be better bets than others, and a strong consultant will help you make those tough decisions.
5. Tim Gunn makes you feel special.
“How are you doing? / This is beautiful. / I love that. / It will be great!”
Gunn knows that in the long run the process is just as important as the product.
Project Runway is a reality show, so it would be easy for Gunn to take a cheap shot or throw someone under the bus for a little catty drama. But he doesn’t. As a result, the show continues to attract talented contestants, win over critics and keep its legs.
During his critiques—which can be rough—Gunn makes a distinction between the person and the product. When someone is struggling with a challenge, he provides perspective. He helps the designer believe there’s always something to be done that could salvage the situation. He gives tough love and empathizes deeply. And when he doesn’t have any criticism, he cheers them on.
Even when designers are voted out, he makes sure to tell each that he values them as an individual and encourages them on beyond the show. Gunn tells the designers he believes in them.
Marketing pros are often hired for their ability to provide executive coaching almost as much as for their experience in their discipline. Business leaders need to be confident, feel good about the process and stick with their decisions for the marketing strategies to work.
Working with a marketing consultant by nature is a temporary state, even if it’s a multi-year engagement. Gunn’s strategy of breaking up gracefully is not only sweet but also sensible. Paths always cross again, and a good reputation as a consultant leads to future business.
Marketers should practice their Tim Gunn impressions and keep these habits in mind, so customers and colleagues will keep tuning in for more.