The Analogy That Makes People “Get” You

“Impactiviti is the eHarmony of pharmaceutical vendor selection.”

It took me 18 months to come up with the key analogy to explain my pharma consulting practice, but I’ve gotten more mileage out of that one statement than anything else I’ve used for marketing Impactiviti (my client-vendor “matchmaking” consultancy for pharmaceutical sales/training/marketing).

Why is an analogy so important? Because we all need a shortcut into the understanding and memory of our attention-overloaded prospective customers. And the analogy – appealing to something already understood in order to bridge a gap to something new – is the most powerful mechanism imaginable to spark recognition and recall.

You’re at a cocktail party, and someone asks what you do. “I’m a corporate content development specialist for a healthcare company.” STOP!!! See those eyes glaze over? Has comprehension occurred in that person’s mind? No – because you’ve not bridged the gap. And, perhaps, just as important – will that person be able to refer someone they meet the next day to you?

Rewind. Your answer this time? “My company helps people with rare diseases. I’m like an internal reporter – I get to tell people how we do it!” Boom!

Note the following:

1. Your company is now a lot more interesting, and probably will provoke a follow-up question or three.

2. Your role is now clear – you’re a reporter (but on the inside).

3. YOU are more interesting, because your role has an aspirational and positive element, not merely a technical description. And the listener gets it, immediately.

See how powerful a simple and vivid analogy is? And, the next day, when this person bumps into the CEO of another company that they know from the gym, who happens to be complaining about how ineffective their internal marketing is…guess who comes to mind?

eBay caught on very quickly, in part, because it was just like one big virtual yard sale. People could “get” that. If you attach your company and offering to something pre-existing, common, and positive, you save yourself a ton of grief trying to force comprehension through a blizzard of terms and bullet points.

This is the most challenging deliverable in a Clarity Therapy session. First, we map out your professional DNA by digging into your (personal or company) history, competencies, and aspirations. Then we settle on the core offering, the key message, and the compelling story. Finally, we cap it off with a memorable analogy, and you’re ready with a clear and unforgettable go-to-market approach. In a world swirling with information and noise, only the crystal clear will stand out. That should be you!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Clarity, part 1: Your Distinguishing Offering

>> Clarity, part 2: Your Go-To Market Message (in 10 words or less)

>> Clarity, part 3: People Buy Your Story

People Buy Your Story

Recently, I was sitting through a capabilities overview from an agency in my pharma network, and it was filled with all the usual elements – we do this, we do that, customer logos, etc., etc. There was actually one potentially distinguishing message buried in there, which was encouraging; but then, toward the end, mention was made that the company has been in business for 20+ years.

And…and…nothing. The ball was teed up, but the 3-wood remained in the golf bag. There was the chance to tell a story – the company story – and it was missed. Any company in business that long has a lot of success, a interesting pathway of evolution, and a great way to build a bridge with the listener by using corporate history to be memorable.

Some years ago, I was evaluating a training company’s marketing and website, and was seeing all the typical verbiage and bullet points – just like everyone else, we do this and this and this. But buried in the web copy was a key point – one of the principals of the company had long experience on the pharma client side of the fence. I told them that their story was the distinguishing message: “We’ve walked in your shoes.” Most of the competitor companies did not have that same story.

When people are evaluating potential providers, one of the distinguishing elements that they subconsciously want to know is the story – why you exist, how you got to where you are now, how you’ve succeeded and evolved. This isn’t just customer case studies – it’s your profile, neatly wrapped with a bow of purpose and progress. People forget bullet points. They remember compelling stories.

There is a story behind my business practice of Clarity Therapy: it is an “accidental” business. I was helping partner companies figure out their professional DNA and message for years as part of my pharma client-vendor matchmaking service (Impactiviti), and I finally came to realize that this analytical ability was a unique skill that met a vast market need. To lead people and companies to an epiphany of their identity in a few hours time? How valuable is that? Yet it came about organically, not as part of pre-planned strategy.

Three entrepreneurs whom I deeply respect (Anthony Iannarino, Lisa Petrilli, Greg Hartle) all have great business stories that happen to be woven in to remarkable medical histories. Carrie Wilkerson (The Barefoot Executive) masterfully weaves her life story into her constant “you can do it, too!” entrepreneurial message. This past weekend’s winner of the Master’s golf tournament, Bubba Watson (pictured above – emotion is a powerful element, no?) has a wonderful story – he’s never taken a golf lesson, but just does what he does as a self-taught athlete.

Apple, Dell, the 3-M Post-it Note, WD-40 – all have memorable stories behind them. And we like to buy into something bigger than ourselves, something that transcends the ordinary, something that is a non-commodity.

Do you have a personal or corporate story? You do – but you may be so close to it, you may take it so much for granted that you haven’t teased it out. It’s one of the first things I do when I sit down with a client to help them get clear about their message – I pull out the story and help them see it.

Yes, people buy what you’re offering. But they also buy the story behind it. Don’t deprive them (and yourself!) of one of your most powerful marketing tools!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Part 1: Your Distinguishing Offering

>> Part 2: Your Go-To Market Message (in 10 words or less)

Your Go-To-Market Message (in 10 words or less)

In Part 1 of this brief series (We Do This, and this, and this, and this, and…), we looked at the necessity of having a very clear offering. Amazingly, many companies and consultants fail to make a permanent impression on others because they are tempted to offer too much.

Others, who might be potential customers, or valuable sources of referrals.

Once you’re clear on your offering, the next step is to define and distill a core message – in my Clarity Therapy process, I help create something that is 10 words or less. The goal is to be able to impart your key message before the elevator door even closes (think elevator phrase, not elevator speech!)

When I summarize my client-vendor referral business (Impactiviti), I tell people that I have a win-win business: bringing great clients and top vendor-partners together (I often follow that by saying “Impactiviti is the eHarmony of pharma marketing and training” – but that’s the analogy, which we’ll cover in part 4).

People have a very limited memory space, and lots of distractions. That’s why you need a message that is concise, compelling, and sticky. And, critically important: TRANSFERABLE. Every person who hears and absorbs your message is a potential source of referrals.

I recently had a delightful coffee with a successful business professional in Connecticut, George Bradt. I remarked how much I liked the summary message describing what he writes in his Forbes columns:

As we talked about branding and organizational DNA, he proceeded to give a very concise summary of his company‘s well-defined offering, its clear message, the background story (that’s part 3 in this series), and 2 fabulous analogies. I was impressed. Very rarely have I sat down with someone that had such clarity about their business identity (if you plan to on-board a high-level executive and want to increase your chances of success – call George!)

So, picture yourself bumping into a prospective customer at a trade show, just minutes before the next session starts. After introductions, she says, “I recall seeing your name before, but what is it that you do?” Can you, in one sentence, give her the distilled essence, in such a way that she’ll still remember it after the session – and, be able to tell her friend over lunch about you in 10 words or less?

All the time and effort we spend on our marketing materials, websites, pitch decks, and industry events – is it well-spent if we do not have, embedded in all of it, a very clear and memorable message that cuts through all the marketplace noise and clutter?

Try to come up with this message (it’s a lot harder than you think!). We often have trouble seeing our own offerings/message clearly because “You can’t read the label of the jar you’re in.” But once you take the step of getting a clear message, it is immensely liberating, even confidence-building. You, your employees, your customers, and your bottom line will be glad you did!

Coming in part 3: People Buy Your Story

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Customers Walking Past You

>> Four Questions for your Future

We Do This (and this and this and this and…)

Last week, I sat down to enjoy dinner with about 15 people, none of whom I had met face-to-face before (on-line connections with some of them). Which means that you begin to ask the standard get-to-know-you questions.

On this occasion, I did not have the following exchange (thankfully!) – but you’ve been there, right?

“So, what does your company do?”

“Glad you asked! We have a whole suite of enterprise human performance development resource platforms, addressing everything from talent identification, people management, on-line training, payroll obfuscation optimization, restroom supply chain aggregation, Pony Express scheduling, and cupcakes. How about you?”

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, this kind of exchange sheds more darkness than light! Maybe you’re a great person, and maybe you offer something of genuine value, but you’re firing so many bullet points at me that I have to put on a Kevlar vest.

And tomorrow, when someone asks me, “Hey, do you know someone who can help me with such-and-such?” – do you think this new contact is going to be even a blip on my radar screen? No. Because the offering is not clear.

That’s the first thing we uncover during a Clarity Therapy session – What’s your key offering? It’s one of the Core Four elements we uncover in determining your professional DNA and message.

It’s always amazing to me how poorly-defined a company’s offering can be – it’s as if we don’t want to miss out on any potential revenue, so we say we do 10 things, when in fact only one or two of those things are truly aligned with our strengths and our desired goals. Which makes us….forgettable.

If you do everything, then in the mind of potential customers and network-referrers, you do….nothing. You have no memory hook, nothing distinguishing. You disappear into the mist.

What does Starbucks do? Coffee. Everything else they offer is secondary, planets revolving around the caffeinated sun. What does a small company like Vosges Chocolate do? Chocolate! What do they not do? Everything else.

So, before coming up with a marketing message or an advertising campaign, I urge my clients to take a deep breath and walk with me through the process of clearing the fog and getting a clear view of their DNA. Once we know what you really do well, what your greatest value is to potential customers, then we can proceed to your go-to-market message. Marketing without a clear identity is like attempting target practice with a shotgun – lots of noise, but nothing hitting the bulls-eye.

Coming in Part 2: Your Go-To-Market Message

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Clarity Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Customers Walking Past You

>> Fearing Obsolescence? Four Questions for your Future

Customers Walking Past You

I live in a small-ish town in northern NJ. We have a Main Street with a bunch of small shops, most of which don’t work very hard to pull me in.

And sometimes, I have no clue why I should care. The message or the offering aren’t clear, or perhaps the face of the store is just a confusing jumble.

I, and my wallet, keep on walking past.

While your business may not be in a retail zone, you surely have a “storefront” in the minds of customers. They look and they see…what? Something very clear, that they could turn or explain to a friend in 15 seconds? Or a jumble?

As my friend Carrie Wilkerson says, focus on just one thing.

Own a differentiating quality. Own a market niche. Own a word. Make your real or virtual storefront so clear that any passerby who needs what you have to offer knows exactly where to turn in.

Once upon a time, a General Store could thrive. Those days are over. If your brand is a general list of everything from A to Z, you lose.

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Role Your Own

>> Networking on Purpose

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

(image credit)

Networking on Purpose (usually)

If you’re going to be successful, from a business perspective, you need to have purpose in your networking.

Simple but silly example: if you’re seeking to use the power of networks to grow your retail flower business in Missouri, it’s not likely that an investment of time building up a network of car mechanics in Sydney, Australia is going to be productive.

Network purposefully. Usually (caveat below!).

How can you use social networks to purposefully build business opportunities? Here are my “secrets”:

1. Show up. Strategically be present, at conferences and events and meetups and on-line, so that people can understand who you are and what you have to offer.

2. Connect with influential connectors in your domain. Not merely in the “we’re connected on LinkedIn” way, but build relationships over time. Don’t be shy about this. They’re connectors because they like to connect!

3. Bring potential clients, partners and other influencers along on your journey. Create a Linkedin group or a private Facebook group. Forward news articles and other resources. Connect people with other valuable people. Become the go-to person.

4. Occupy an empty space. There are countless market opportunities, in every conceivable domain, for curators, commentators, collaborators, connectors. You can build an entire career (I have) around finding something no-one else is doing, and filling that need.

5. Go deep with a handful. You can connect with 100,000 people on digital networks, but typically, the lion’s share of your business is going to flow from 5-10 key people with whom you have shared affinity and purpose. Concentrate on that handful, even as you build a broader network.

Don’t just network to accumulate follower numbers, or views, or ephemeral “influence” that comes from mass reach. A few people will make money from that. Most of us will grow business by having a focused purpose.

On the other hand, I freely and gladly admit that some of my networking is time is spent getting to know people with whom I don’t have some immediate or clear business purpose. Why? Because they are quality people, and when quality people band together, unexpected and unanticipated opportunities arise. I’ve seen this happen so many times that I now make significant investments of time in certain people and communities because I just know that in the long run, something great is going to come of it, for others and for myself. Call if faith, call it existentialism – I call it a fun adventure. We cannot predict what connections and open doors may happen indirectly through befriending and supporting people who may not be directly in our current business strike zone.

Even here, you’re networking with purpose. The purpose is discovery of new opportunities you can’t yet see or define.

So network with clear purpose, but also network with not-yet-clear purposes. If you purpose to be a helpful connector, you and others will surely benefit. And new purposes will become clear over time!

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Role Your Own

>> Is Your Sky Blue?

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Role Your Own

Manager. Associate Director. Senior Director. Vice President. The business world is full of titles, all nicely arranged for you in various hierarchies.

All waiting for you – compelling you – to fit in.

Architect. Engineer. Doctor. Writer. Teacher. Pre-packaged job descriptions, with pre-ordained responsibilities.

Pick one. That becomes your identity.

The legacy business world waits for you, with already-defined boxes and labels and roles. The structures are all there, if you want to sell your soul to fit into someone else’s plan for your life. Just step right up, into the machine.

Or, you can call a timeout. Who says this is your destiny? Do you HAVE to run someone else’s race? Can you define your own role?

Yes, you can.

We often operate under the false assumption that the work world, as historically understood, and as presented to us, is some immutable and fixed rule. Nobody consulted you when all these structures were built. And it’s likely they won’t ask for your input to change them. Organizations exist for themselves and their own goals, not for yours.

It may well be that, for a time, as your skills develop and your business acumen grows, you will find your career path inside a pre-existing organization with its titles and hierarchies and roles. I certainly did, and most of us do. But after a while, you realize that you’re a cog in a machine. If your work is to be built around you, then only one person can make that happen.

You.

Here’s the first step: stand back and question what you see. Realize that every organization, every role, was created and defined for some past need. It may not be appropriate for present (let alone future) needs, and it may not be designed to fulfill you and maximize your effectiveness.

Disengage your mind from every assumed work structure around you and say, “Maybe this or that is good. Or maybe it’s not. For me.”

Don’t start with the past. Don’t start with someone else’s present boxes. All of those assumed structures, titles, hierarchies, definitions, career tracks – they didn’t come from you, did they? They weren’t expressly designed for you, were they?

Start with your own declaration of independence. I’m going to role my own. Even if I have to work in someone else’s company for a season, I’m going to design my professional career around me, what I believe, and what I have to offer. Whatever that means.

Now the adventure can begin…!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Who Are Your Influencers?

>> Is Your Sky Blue?

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Is Your Sky Blue?

Why is the Dilbert comic strip so popular? One reason is because there seems to be a thousand kill switches on awesome in workplace (go ahead, click on the link. I’ll wait…).

It’s very likely that you have some major awesome locked up in your mind and heart and character and abilities – and, if you’re like most people in the workforce, it’s being inhibited more than expressed.

That, and the general economic instability, has forced many more people to look at traditional work within traditional organizations and ask, “Why am I doing this?”

Why, indeed! I came to that crossroads almost 6 years ago and decided to venture out on my dream of creating a business built around my awesome. Which is being the Connection Agent.

When I sit down in counselor mode with other entrepreneurs, small business leaders, or people in the midst of career change, I pretty quickly turn the conversation to my 2 “blue sky” questions. Because they reveal what is really going on in the DNA of the person, regardless of past titles and roles.

“What have you done that made you feel like you were right in your sweet spot?” and, “If you could do absolutely anything for a career, that lined up with your abilities and desires, what would it be?”

Often, there is a long pause – as if we struggle with permission to answer such questions! We’re not supposed to be able to pursue our ideals, right? That’s for the 0.001%. The rest of us need to just settle for what we get and make the best of it.

That’s a crock, people.

You gaze at the blue sky because it’s your mirror. And once you have a clear idea of who you really are and where you want to go, that’s when you make the most important decision of your professional life – to take control and begin moving in that direction. Your direction.

Not having a blue sky in front of you is like driving your car with no destination. The best GPS system in the world can’t get you to a non-existent end point.

Much of my work is with the pharmaceutical industry, where layoffs have been relentless for the past handful of years. While it’s painful to see, I am also convinced that a massive amount of undeveloped talent is being unleashed. I talk to a lot of these folks, and when the corporate shackles begin to fall away, a new freedom arises – the permission to dream. The end point is allowed to shift from the next rung of the corporate ladder, to something much more important.

I’m no naive idealist – I know that it can take years to turn blue sky visions into reality (I’ll tell you my story sometime). But here’s the memo – no-one else is going to do it for you. You can work for someone else’s agenda, or you can pursue your own direction – that direction where you can make your unique contribution to the world. It may be inside a company, it maybe building your own company, it may be on your own – the barriers to entry have never been lower and the tools for business-building have never been greater.

There’s a reason I go to conferences like SOBCon and, this year, Blissdom*. The people that organize these events are blue-sky dreamers and practical builders, who attract other like-minded souls into supportive communities. Entrepreneurs – doers – good people – gather, and blue sky together, and make things happen. If you want to map out your own future, you need to be around others who will inspire and support you along the way.

*(I’m just hoping I can survive the hormonal imbalance at Blissdom – the XY chromosome delegates will apparently be vastly outnumbered!)

Hope to see you soon – maybe with a cup of coffee and a blue sky overhead!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Who Are Your Influencers?

>> Are You Having A Nice Conflict?

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

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