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

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

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Twitter: @swoodruff

(image credit)

Caribbean Connections

Ever heard of Digicel? Yeah, me neither – until a few weeks ago. When my eyeballs were saturated with their branding.

Upon landing in Haiti, I was surrounded, not only by a sea of people, but by an ocean of red Digicel signs. They are a company run by an Irish entrepreneur, who targeted Jamaica and other Caribbean islands (and has now expanded outward). You will look in vain to find much reference to AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint in Haiti. But you can hardly look anywhere without seeing Digicel branding. Day or night.

Digicel painted on walls. Digicel T-shirts. Digicel sun-umbrellas lining almost every street. I saw red all week.

While we, here in the first-world, have now turned to on-line/social as the new ubiquitous, Digicel knows its market. Ubiquitous is being on every wall, every sign, every visual. It may seem old-school, but it works. There are a couple of other cell providers in Haiti, but after a week there, only one stands out. Digicel.

One of my reference points for a mission house we went to several times was a couple of Digicel signs painted on a seawall. There was no escaping their presence.

And, even in the poorest of countries, cellphones are becoming common currency. When we ran a generator to power a circular saw, the workers plugged their phones in to recharge. Having money to buy new minutes was a big deal. Clearly, Digicel has latched onto a money-making service, even in the poorest of environments. A lesson for us all, when we think there is a lack of opportunity.

I’m sure there are many other brands operating in Haiti and the surrounding islands. But the major one I’ll always connect with Haiti is Digicel. I don’t know if I’ve seen such saturation before. Not bad for a company I’d never heard of!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Out of my Comfort Zone

>> Not All Business is Good Business

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Twitter: @swoodruff

Not All Business is Good Business

I don’t remember where or when I first heard it, but that phrase has stuck with me like white on rice: Not all business is good business.

Some projects that seem to promise high revenue may (in reality) equal low profit – or a loss. Some work is, if you step back and be objective (closing your ears to the siren song of the dollars), outside your sweet spot, or beyond your current capacity. And some clients aren’t worth the trouble – they create for more chaos than benefit. Been there?

Your company and that piece of business – it’s not always a match. Do you have the courage to say “not all business is good business” – and act on it?

During a recent Brand Therapy session, this truth came home in a big way. While one of the main outputs of Brand Therapy with Steve session is clarity on your Offering, your Message, your go-to-market Analogy, and your company Story, what we’re doing in the process is identifying your professional DNA. Inevitably, what that means is that, in the privacy of the therapy session, we open up the questions that usually cannot be asked publicly – questions about future direction, client successes and failures, aspirations, culture, staff makeup, revenue flow – those things that sometimes require an outside voice and perspective.

In this session, it quickly became clear that there was a certain type of target company – those of a particular size and corporate culture – that were a great fit for this provider’s services (and business approach). But there was this constant pressure to chase all kinds of potential clients, even when there was a grating sense that this business might not be worth the invested effort. You know that pressure, right?

It takes courage to say, “This is who we are, and therefore THAT kind of client/business is a mis-match. Instead, we’re going to pursue THIS.”

Let’s face it – every consultant and company feels the pressure of generating revenue and cash flow, and we are often tempted to take on work that we know, in our gut, isn’t really the best. Over time, our identity and message can become muddled and obscured – instead of bending our efforts to pursue GOOD business with a very clear and compelling identity and message, we become…serial offenders of our own professional DNA.

Not all business is good business. So – who ARE you, and what is good business for you? Let me know if you need a day of Brand Therapy with an expert who knows the right questions to ask!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Social Business is Not Enough

>> Go With What You’ve Got

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Twitter: @swoodruff

Are You Suffering from JAVA?

You’ve labored long and hard to create your offerings. You’ve invested in marketing materials, a website, maybe even a social media footprint. You’ve earned the opportunity to give a presentation in front of a potential client. Hours and hours of work went into the slide deck. When you add up all the personnel costs, opportunity costs, marketing costs….you’ve spent many thousands of dollars to get to this moment.

You pull the trigger – and nothing happens. The prospects’ eyes glaze over. Another opportunity down the drain.

You’ve contracted a case of JAVA (Just Another Vendor Affliction). Meanwhile, someone who has a remarkable message contracted with the client.

It wasn’t that you didn’t have enough to say – you hit them with a load of bullet points just like everyone else. And that’s the problem.

You’re just like everyone else – at least, in this client’s eyes. Line up all the coffee cups, and they all look interchangeable. And disposable.

You expected the prospect to sort through all the verbiage, the generalities, the bullet points, and find the remarkable. To see your value clearly. The problem? That’s not their job.

>> That’s your job! <<

The differentiating message about you/your company needs to be front-and-center in the first 90 seconds of a presentation. The remarkable story, the unique value, needs to be woven in right from the starting gun.  Everything needs to orbit around your unique DNA and message, and how you will make a business difference to the client. Otherwise, you’ve just invested thousands of dollars for another cup of JAVA.

We all have business myopia – we’re nearsighted because we’re too close to our own stuff. And we can’t expect our clients to see the message clearly if we don’t have clarity ourselves.

I can help you get freedom from JAVA. That’s my job!

If you need help discovering your differentiating professional DNA and message, Hire Me. It’s worth a Business Identity Therapy session to get true clarity around your DNA and message.

Then, as you interact with clients, you can let your competitors get the JAVA. While you get the business!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> The Unglamorous Need for…Semantics!

>> When Your Branding Zings

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Twitter: @swoodruff | @ConnectionAgent

When Your Branding Zings

It’s been gloomy here of late – grey, rainy, blah – a few days like that and work can become a slog.

Then something brightens your day and makes you want to do a dance. Yesterday, it was a Powerpoint presentation that a client was showing me (I guess I’ve now proven that Powerpoint can make your day!).

A month or so back, I’d enjoyed a very successful Brand Therapy session with this client. We distilled down their identity, their go-to-market message – we all walked out feeling good about the outcomes (which, at that point, was words on paper).

They contracted with a professional to design a slide presentation of the new message, and forwarded me a copy. I was blown away! There, come to life, was the fruit of our labors – beautifully designed and compellingly packaged. I had critiqued previous company presentations (which is how I arrived at doing this assignment) because they were overly-complex, unfocused, and did not have a simple differentiating message. The new presentation? Laser-sharp. Convincing. Memorable. It zinged!

So, here’s the recipe. Get clarity around your identity and message. Get simplicity and a compelling narrative around the showing and telling of it. You’ll be so far ahead of your competitors it won’t even be fair. Very few companies, brands, and even individuals have a clear message. What an opportunity for the rest of us!

I’ve seen so many unfocused marketing approaches, and more bad Powerpoint than I care to remember. Yesterday, I saw what’s possible. Call me a marketing nerd, but the clouds broke and the day seemed much brighter afterward (actually, that did happen). A sweet presentation isn’t everything. But it’s a great step toward opening minds and wallets!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Can You Stop Me from Being a Pimp?

>> LinkedIn Listens, Reconsiders

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Twitter: @swoodruff | @ConnectionAgent

When Techies Do Marketing

One of things that never fails to amuse me is coming across a website which was written by a techie – either an engineer, or buzzword-addicted consultant, or – worst-case scenario – an engineer/programmer/consultant.

Let’s say you’re a potential customer – you’re looking for help with something, and you come across a website (or other marketing collateral) with this kind of copy:

(_____) platform takes enterprise listening to the next – actionable – level. We operate in the Web 3.0 world where every bit of unstructured data gets converted into actionable insights. Our state of the art RDFa enabled architecture brings out the meaning from unstructured data of Social Media, Web and internal data sources ( call center notes, CRM notes, documents etc)…In essense (sp) (_______) creates the 4th dimension to the traditional 360 degree view…

Now, there is a place for this kind of technical explanation. That’s called a white paper. But marketing on the web and elsewhere, you have only a few seconds to get my attention with a straightforward explanation that clearly communicates the What’s In It For Me.

It’s the incredibly rare technical designer who can also create effective marketing. The mindset of the technical person is complexity and details. The mindset of the effective marketer is simplicity and value.

It’s amazing how many tech companies will invest a massive amount of money to come up with a brilliant solution, then assume that they’re communicating to people just like them – people whose pulses race to hear about RDFa enabled architecture. And I’ve seen many potentially valuable consultants who hang out a shingle but don’t have a clear, compelling message on it.

You have to wonder how much money gets left on the table – the opportunity cost of an unfocused message.

What’s the value? What’s the unique differentiator? What’s your company story? What can you communicate in 10 seconds that should make me want to find out more, and reach out to you?

I have worked with some immensely talented tech folks, and have enormous respect for their work. But when it’s time to go to market, please – get some creative minds to help craft the message. Or you may end up with Blue Spoon Syndrome.

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A Peek Inside a Brand Therapy Session, with M&Ms

What happens when I get together with a client for a Brand Therapy session?

(def: Brand Therapy – concentrated brainstorm to clarify a company or individual’s core professional DNA and message)

Let’s illustrate with a bowl full of M&Ms:

We start with your mind and my plan. You have a ton of information in your brain; a whole bunch of data about what you do, what you really want to do, your customers, competitors, strategies, goals, history…and, because it’s yours, you may have difficulty seeing it all objectively. A lot of it is in fragments. My plan is to draw it out and bring a whole new level of clarity. So…

The first step is a directed mind dump. I ask a bunch of questions, some of which may seem random at the time (but aren’t). My goal in this initial stage is to get all the raw material into the light of day – do a dump of the candy bowl and begin to see the landscape. It’s fun, it’s messy, and while I can’t yet do a Vulcan mind meld, within a couple of hours I can generally help you get the M&M’s out on the table. One or two early epiphanies may occur at this stage. We’re getting to core truths here with focused questions about your identity and message. Then…

The next step is to begin to put the pieces in order. Sorting through the various fragments of thought and information, we start to see how these pieces fit into an optimal business direction. At this stage, we’re defining the unique – finding the key differentiator(s) that will mark your strategy and your message. More epiphanies occur here. This stage is both exhilarating and exhausting. Finally…

We boil it down together to your Core Four. This is the creative wordsmithing stage, where your message takes final shape. This is very challenging and rewarding work – you will walk out with distilled summary statements that encapsulate your identity and message in the smallest number of words. The end result – you now have the foundational document upon which your business direction and message is based. All in about a day’s time. How cool is that?

One recent session with a client started in the afternoon, then finished with a session the next morning. Turns out that was a great format – it gave a mental break and allowed ideas to percolate more casually over dinner. A night’s sleep also brought new perspective and some fresh energy to the final stages.

For lack of a better term, Personal Brand Therapy (for an individual) takes a similar approach, with slightly different end deliverables, in about half the time. To appreciate the epiphanies that can occur for both companies and individuals, read the many comments on this post.

Contact me (steve at connectionagent dot com) if you or your clients need a Brand Therapy session. Bonus: through my vast Connection Agent network, I can help you find the providers that you’ll need to carry out your business and marketing plans, through targeted and trusted referrals. Because my goal is not just to connect you with your identity and message. It’s also to connect you with the other people who can help make your business fly!

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Recently on Connection Agent:

5 Reasons Why Twitter Might Soon Be Dispensable

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Who Are You?

“I’m a Vice-President” | “I’m a Sales Rep” | “I’m a Researcher”

Roles and titles easily slip off our tongue. What we DO is not the same as who we ARE, however.

And that’s true of companies as well.

So, here are the 12 Most Important Questions you can ask about your Identity, published on the popular new site, The 12 Most.

Preview:

As a company, or as a person, you possess a vital stewardship over something unique – your identity. Your DNA. That which sets you apart and gives you something of great value to offer.

Too many people, companies, and brands spend their time and effort on message development, and short-change the process of understanding their identity. Yet message and market positioning must grow out of a clear DNA discovery… (read the entire article)

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Specialize or Generalize?

I was reading a great post by Rohit Bharagava last week on The $1 Million Specialization Question.

If you’re an solopreneur, consultant,or small business, here’s my advice. Specialize. Then sub-specialize.

You cannot stand out, or be memorable as a business, if you employ Bullet-point Branding. “We do this, and this, and this, and this. Oh, and if it means cash flow for the next 3 months, we’ll do that too.”

Your goal should be to create the sense that you are the Go-To person or company for something very specific. Some niche you can define and dominate. Find your unique value and wave that flag.

You don’t merely need business. You need an identity first. Then you can pursue the right business for you.

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Brand Therapy

I have a confession. I love every aspect of the work I do, but there is one thing that gives me the most immediate gratification and sense of accomplishment – sitting down with entrepreneurs and doing a brand therapy session. Distilling down a small business brand to the Core Four – its differentiating offering, its one-sentence summary, its compelling brand story, and its key marketplace analogy – is one of my favorite exercises. There’s a certain magic that occurs when you can help re-define a company in a few hours.

Recently I was in the midst of this process with a talented and successful digital agency in the Northeast. As I queried them about their core strengths, they kept coming back with nice-sounding (and true) phrases, none of which really distinguished them. So I scribbled J.A.D.A. on a piece of paper and pushed it across the table.

They sounded like Just Another Digital Agency. A commodity.

Now, in fact, they weren’t, and I knew it, but they hadn’t boiled their message down to a unique, differentiating identity. It was there, but it took some more pointed questions to finally bring it to the surface. They had revenue, they pleased their varied customers, but they were on a treadmill. Commodity brand positioning does that to you.

Why do companies need a brand therapist? It’s simple, really – we’re all too close to our own work. We get so immersed in our companies and offerings, that we can no longer see clearly who we really are. I serve as a brand therapist for others – but, I realize that I also need an outside voice for my own company. Because I’m too caught up in my own work to be objective!

I see this brand identity murkiness all the time – and the lack of definition even leads to taking on the wrong kind of work. It seems to be  unavoidable – ironically, even marketing/branding companies regularly suffer from the syndrome – but it’s certainly curable.

You may be coming across as J.A.S.P. (Just Another Service Provider), or J.A.T.C.  (Just Another Training Company) – or, fill in the blank for your offering. Sometimes an outside perspective – a therapist who can ask the right questions and guide you to a clearer vision – is just what you need when you’re at that point of doing a lot of work, but suffering from a lack of focus and direction.

Lots of big-time companies will suck you dry of time and dollars for a branding exercise, but my brand therapy sessions typically take about a day of focused time. We get to the Core Four, and if you need help in execution and campaigns beyond that, I have some wonderful resources in my network (yes, including digital agencies, marketing consultants, and loads of other talented providers!) Give me a call at 973-947-7429 and let’s set aside a day for some brand therapy. If, like me, you have eyesight that needs correction, you can look forward to that feeling you get when you put on a brand new pair of prescription glasses!

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Playing 20 Questions

While walking my dog in town yesterday, I strode up Main Street (Boonton, NJ) and, glancing right, saw that a new business was occupying one of the storefront retail spots.

I saw chairs. I saw desks. And a small sign, identifying the occupant as PMD.

That’s it. If I was a potential customer, I didn’t know it – nor was I going to stop and ask.

Now, I make so secret of the fact that I despise meaningless names, especially when they are a jumble of letters. But even if this company was open for just one week, or about to open next week, shouldn’t there be something to tell me what it is about?

PMD could mean Plaster Mask Designers. It could stand for Plutonium Manufacturers and Distributors. Or Paul, Mike, & Darryl. By itself, without any other explanation, it’s just a Potentially Meaningless Description.

Besides coming up with a real name, all it would take would be one eye-level sign: New Jersey’s Only Nutella Bakery (or whatever) – and now I know why you’re there. Without having to ask questions.

You have 3 seconds while I’m walking past your retail store. Or driving past your billboard. Or browsing by your tradeshow booth. Or visiting your website. And I don’t have time for 20 questions.

Give me the one message that matters, at eye-level, in 3 seconds. Your Purpose that Makes a Difference (PMD). Or you’ll just be another acronym in memory’s dustbin.

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That Personal Brand Thing – it’s Baaack!!!!

Every few months, we get to revisit an old chestnut here on the intewebz, the personal brand question. Is there such a thing? Is it any different from reputation? How does one’s personal brand interact with a corporate (employer) brand?

This time, the discussion was renewed by the hack piece in Fortune written about Scott Monty and Ford – in which Josh Hyatt, the author, takes a well-deserved beating in the comments. Here’s a good follow-up piece on the broader topic by Rohit Bhargava.

People get all bent out of shape by two things, primarily, when “personal branding” comes up:

> 1. “It’s just wrong to build a personal brand that might detract from an employer’s brand.”

> 2. “All attempts at branding oneself are false.”

I “get” where these concerns are coming from – but we can also argue that all business is bad because some of it is done unscrupulously.

Instead, let’s just look at what personal branding is. Two words, really:

You – Projected.

That’s it. The real you, accurately projected outward for others to see. Your brand is authentic when your expressed message and person reflect who you really are. Not sure I see a problem here.

What’s my brand? I’m a Connection Agent. That reflects who I am and what I do. I am also a husband, a father, a healthcare/pharma guy, a social networking person, a wine drinker, a griller, a dog owner, a photographer – and all of that gets projected in my various platforms of expression (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, etc.)

I happen to work on my own, but like Scott Monty and many others, that personal brand could be harnessed to do good for an employer, and an employer’s brand can reflect well on an individual. Strong, authentic brands working together can be mutually beneficial.

When Scott Monty or anyone else projects their personality, interests, reputation, and skills out into the marketplace, that’s not some cause for suspicion. It’s actually part of the new economy. Let’s get used to it…and find creative ways to succeed with it!

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Blog-worthy Boothies

I enjoy creative booth giveaways. The run-of-the-mill tchotchke is typically forgettable, but sometimes, you run into something outstanding – something worthy of a blog post.

This week, at two different conferences, I picked up three. Here they are:

1. The Epocrates leather-covered notebook is simply delightful. I’d been looking for something in which I could more systematically order my written thoughts (yes, though I do now use Evernote on-line, I’m still a bit old-fashioned) – and this high-quality personal notebook is gorgeous. You don’t have to go high-tech to achieve an “enduring” remembrance – this paper-based goodie won’t get thrown away anytime soon.

2. Also from Epocrates, the Lego-ish USB memory stick. You’ve picked up three dozen memory sticks in the last few years, right? But this is just plain cute. Too cute not to share. Yes, I popped the doctor’s head off so you can see that it’s a memory stick…

3. Eagle Productivity had these pens that didn’t look all that different – until I pulled out the rolled-up sell sheet, which unrolls and retracts from the barrel. Brilliant. I won’t use it for writing. I’ll just show it off. And that’s kinda the point, isn’t it?

I have a hundred other boothies banging around that I’ll never show you. They’re not blog-worthy. But these are. It’s worth the investment to be outstanding, to be remarkable.

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Woodruff: The Caricature

When I started my business almost 4 years ago, the best 50 bucks I spent was getting a quick little digital caricature made, which I included in the signature area of e-mails. You cannot believe how many comments I got over that – and the ease of recognition that came.

However, all things change – I now wear glasses full-time instead of contacts, my hair is shorter, and (frankly) I grew tired of the old cartoon – so it was time to upgrade. I have been connected on Twitter for a while with Victor in Connecticut (@MyCaricature), and liked his work, so I gave decided to give him a whirl.

Here’s the prelim result. For those of you who know me – what do you think? Any suggestions for improvement? For comparison, a recent picture that is my current Twitter avatar. I have a window of opportunity for tweaks; I think Vic hit it pretty darned well, but if you think anything needs tweaking to be more true-to-life, fire away in the comments!

Oh – I really do appreciate the sudden weight loss that Vic pulled off for me – far easier than all the painful efforts at dieting!

(by the way, if you’re looking for a way to amp up your recognition level, and get people to become engaged in something as simple as your e-mails, I highly recommend a caricature included in your signature. Oh – and this is an unsponsored post. I am paying full freight for my new caricature)

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Mystic Speaks

I was quite surprised to discover this week that my dog, Mystic, is actually considered to be quite the successful marketer in her circle of influence. In fact, she has quite a social network, and, as I discovered when I sat down to interview her (between doggie treats and luxurious naps), dogs can teach us a lot about influence and branding.

Me: Mystic, you seem to be pretty popular in the neighborhood after one year. What would you say is the essence of your Personal Brand?

Mystic: Well, for me it’s all about what we call canine benchmarking. It was clear in our walks around town that best practices in the area of impression management meant a head held high, a glossy coat, and turn-key approach to adding value by sniffing backsides. The rest just takes care of itself.

Me: Did you approach this challenge by trying to define your own niche, or did you seek synergistic partnerships with other leading canines?

Mystic: I took a both-and approach. Obviously, when you’re a startup, you’ve got to achieve some sort of critical mass, so I made sure to relieve myself in the sight of some of the bark-leaders in the neighborhood. Eventually, once I had some best-of-breed backers, I had to recontextualize in order to unleash my own brand positioning. Which usually involves lying on my side and drooling.

Me: What metrics do you use to ensure that your brand is top-of-mind, and not mired in the long tail?

Mystic: Just remember two words. No, not “Down, Girl!” Trend Analysis. All the canines in this vertical maximize insights from these data points.

Me: Final question: I’ve been told that you – and perhaps some other influencers in your sub-group – roll around in your own…you know, doo-doo. What’s up with that?

Mystic: Every dog quickly learns about leveraging recurring assets. When the input/output ratio is unbalanced in the supply chain, you have to morph past deliverables into current value-added resources.

Me: In other words, you just harness back-end action items to produce a fresh brand presentation.

Mystic: Exactly. Can I go out and pee now??

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Vermont: The Pleasant Throwback

I’m a New Englander at heart. Grew up in Connecticut; still root for the Red Sox; like 4 seasons; enjoy moving from state to state within an hour or two.

But for all that, I never really spent much time in Vermont. So, on a recent R&R family swing through 7 states (hey, you can do that in a day in New England!), we spent a good chunk of time in Vermont.

And I learned something about how Vermont promotes Vermont.

A while back, there was a big brouhaha about Vermont trying to keep Wal-Mart out if its borders, for fear that the big-box chain would ruin the small business economic setup in the state. I didn’t quite “get it” (overly used to NJ, I guess, where big boxes are ubiquitous), but hey, it’s kind of nice to see a group of people giving a kick in the teeth to mega-business conformity.

But, after spending several days in the state, visiting various towns and businesses, it began to dawn on me. Vermonters like to rely on Vermonters. Small business inter-dependence is a way of life in the small and scattered state, not an option.

I first grasped it when we went on the Ben & Jerry’s tour, and they talked about only using milk (non-bovine growth hormone produced milk) from local Vermont farms. Local community support was (is) a big deal for that company. And, as we visited various shops, we noted that so many of the products being offered were made locally. Cheeses, salsas, wines, beers, meats, maple-stuff, crafts – Vermont sells Vermont.

Vermont_goods

Now when I go to my local Wal-Mart here in NJ, I just see a bunch of products that, to me and to everyone else, are “root-less.” These are commodities sourced in bulk to obtain and offer low prices. And, as a customer, I appreciate that – up to a point. But as I far more eagerly opened my wallet in Vermont, I realized that the business climate had this “local support” backdrop and feel to it. That ice cream, that syrup, that cider, that chocolate, was made a by a local citizen-craftsman-company. That little store was run by a townsperson. It began to dawn on me why they didn’t want a Wal-Mart invasion. I find that I didn’t want that for Vermont either all of a sudden. It’s a way-of-life/quality-of-life issue.

Oh, and they don’t have billboards either. Do you realize how nice that is?

So, Vermont, my hat’s off to you. Keep up the resistance. Keep being a pleasant and distinctive destination. Maybe I’ll pay more for your stuff, but you know what? You’re worth it.

[Vermonters - do I have this right?]

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Creating a Welcoming Climate

Over my 23+ years of business travel, I’ve seen a lot of airports. Most of them are quite forgettable (at best).

CLTAirportBut yesterday I was once again passing through the Charlotte, NC hub. And once again, I was struck by what a mood difference a nice “climate” can make.

Somebody paid serious attention to the user experience when that terminal was designed. From the wide hallways, to the airy ceilings, to the coordinated color schemes, and even down to the strategically placed rocking chairs, the place exudes – if not homeiness – then at least pleasantness.

The (numerous!) restaurants and shops are well-placed, in a central area as well as in the various terminal “arms.” There are plenty of moving walkways, but lots of space for traditional walking, with good use of plants and other visual diversions. The color blue is tied in everywhere, from lighting to signage, in a nicely-coordinated design.

When I fly through O’Hare, I just want to get through and get out. When I go to my home airport of Newark, my stomach roils in anticipation of the hassle. But in Charlotte, I don’t mind just sitting down for a spell and watching the world go by. It’s peaceful instead of janglingly claustrophobic.

I’m always glad to get home. But if I have to wander around the Charlotte Airport for an extra hour some day, I really won’t mind all that much. I feel…at ease there. They even have a decent BBQ place!

Most of us don’t have entire airports to design. But in ways large and small, we do create a climate, through our words, our tone of voice, our cheer, maybe even our physical surroundings. Do people want to come back after interacting with you or your business?

Where are places, and who are people, that create that kind of welcoming climate for you?? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Product: Winner. Name: Loser.

(fade in to Toshiba’s boardroom, where a product management meeting is taking place)

“Looks like we’ve just come up with the best netbook out there! Power, features, great user design – now all we have to do is name it and sell it!”

“I know! – let’s call it the PU-875-0988b!”

“Nah, I’ve always been inclined toward the UmmWillatriBBle 876. It just rolls off the tongue!”

“Wait – let’s call in our engineers! They always come up with the most imaginative names…”

NetbookAnd now, introducing the Toshiba NB205-N310. As reviewed here by the WSJ, a nice entry into the Netbook marketplace. Yet once again, horribly named by the What, me Worry? school of product branding. Sexy. Memorable. Gotta go out and tell all my friends about the NB205-N… NB2o M16… AB365… never mind.

When will these people learn???

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R.I.P. iPhone

The music played on. The purveyor of said music, however, was mortally wounded.

My iPhone was a regular companion on trips to the gym. Not that I’d do much surfing or calling when working out, but the iPod music aspect was a nice-to-have. On rare occasions, the iPhone would slip out of the gym shorts pocket and clatter onto the floor, but no harm done – it’s a tough little device.

Not tough enough, however, to withstand a 60-lb. dumbbell. Today, unbeknownst to me, it happened to glide silently to the floor while I was bench-pressing. The music did not skip a beat when the fatal blow was struck – in fact, I didn’t even know the iPhone was damaged until I picked it up and saw a strange separation on the side, and a spiderweb-like pattern across the front screen.

Now I’m a practical kinda guy, and don’t get too attached to things. But that was MY iPHONE! Which goes to show that the depth of brand attachment is sometimes shown in the grief of loss.

No tears were shed, and I don’t plan to buy a smartphone coffin and conduct a burial service. But I do plan to replace this thing pronto. Because now I can’t imagine being without it. You won, Apple. I’m addicted.

[Update - managed to transfer the SIM card to a cheap GOphone, so now I can use my cell # and wait until the new iPhone model is launched in July. But will I suffer the "bends" of iPhone withdrawal? Stay tuned!]

Five in the Morning – Finale

swbeard1Yes, it’s true. Today, after nearly 100 Five in the Morning posts (including guest posts by other bloggers), I’m bringing the series to a close.

Why? Well, mainly it’s a matter of time – there are some other priorities that now require more of my attention. Creating Five in the Morning posts, as fun and fulfilling as it is, can be quite time-consuming. Plus, there is that existential sense that “it’s time” – major goals have been met of exposing people to a variety of great bloggers and resources, and other creative ideas are striving for attention.

Of course, the StickyFigure blog will continue on, as it did before Five in the Morning, so you can expect my usual brilliant insights and world-changing ideas right here – just not daily, perhaps.

A big part of the fun of Five in the Morning has been the interaction with you, the audience, and the participation of other bloggers who have guest-hosted. We’ve enjoyed guest entries from Cam Beck, Mike Sansone, CB Whittemore, Olivier Blanchard, Tom Clifford, Connie Reece, Chris Wilson, Lisa Hoffmann, Arun Rajagopal, Amber Naslund, Mack Collier, Becky Carroll, Matt J McDonald, Ken Burbary, Beth Harte, Karen Swim, and Doug Meacham.

And while we’ve pointed to plenty of posts from “name-brand” bloggers like Seth Godin, Jason Falls, Geoff Livingston, Chris Brogan, John Jantsch, Jeremiah Owyang, Doug Karr, David Armano, Liz Strauss, Charlene Li, Ann Handley, Valeria Maltoni, Shannon Paul, and other luminaries, I hope you’ve subscribed to some of the very smart, but lesser-known lights after seeing their posts featured.

If there is to be a “legacy” to this little series, my hope is that some of you with particular areas of expertise (PR, Design, Writing, Branding, Non-profits, etc.) would become consolidators as well, pulling together great posts (maybe on a weekly basis) for your audiences. Yes, it’s work, but it’s a wonderful way to meet new people, and, done rightly, it can drive more traffic to your blog over time. I will happily link to others who pick up the torch and become info-scouts for the rest of us.

OK, so for your Friday, here’s a Fabulous Final Five. OK, Six. I never was great at math.

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Kiss the next hour good-bye. 2009 ReBrand Winners. Sweet bunch of links showing before/after. Seriously – your day of planned productivity is over. You are GND.

Using Twitter to land a job. Who doesn’t like a success story like this? With a nice passing mention of @prSarahEvans.

How do you keep customers happy? Jay Ehret, @themarketingguy, says to focus on the experience. And at the Brains on Fire blog, here is a fabulous example, with the spotlight on a local Whole Foods store.

[this space reserved for a designated non-mention of Skittles]

How much Money is $1 Trillion? The Anatomy of a Sticky Illustration. Nicely done. Hat tip: Cam Beck.

Give First. Amen. From Mitch Joel‘s Six Pixes of Separation blog.

PLUS: Tabasco advertising. No words needed. Hat Tip: Brand Flakes for Breakfast blog.

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Thanks for tuning in for these 5 months of fun and experimentation. Oh….and I really don’t get up at 5 am most mornings. It’s really 5 (posts) delivered (early) in the morning. But while sipping my first cup of coffee between 5:30-6:00 am, I still get a chuckle out of all of you  thinking I actually get up early…!

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Five in the Morning 030309

5glowShould brands think like start-ups? “Aim…fire…adjust…aim…fire…adjust…” What do you think? From David Knox, via @prblog (Kevin Dugan).

Measuring on-line influence. After you get through all the verbiage, I think a lot of it boils down to…the very last sentence. Micah Baldwin on Mashable.

From the Duct Tape Marketing blog, a podcast interview with Amber Naslund on Monitoring and Measuring Social Media. I’ll FINALLY get to meet Amber IRL at SXSW!

Rachel Happe on her Job Search 2.0. How her network is coming into play as she searches for her next position. Increasingly, what Rachel is talking about will be the new way we all find work…

So, how did Skittles do with their Twitter-fed attention campaign? WSJ has the scoop. Pretty impressive.

PLUS – Jon Stewart shakes his fist at Twitter. Pretty funny.

AND – where I’ll be this spring, if our paths can intersect at various conferences/events.

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Five in the Morning 021609

fivesm

I hope you enjoyed the Five in the Morning guest posts last week! It’s my intent to pass around the Five spotlight (and link love) to two guest-hosts per week, so that we get the benefit of everyone’s interests and reading lists. Thanks to Arun Rajagopal, Lisa Hoffmann, Connie Reece, and Chris Wilson for helping out while I was busy “conferencing” last week!

Alan Wolk kicks us off this morning with a provocative post: Does Creativity Still Matter? Give it a read and add your comments, esp. if you’re an advertising wonk. Good stuff.

Mining the Thought Stream. Some thoughts on TechCrunch about Twitter’s unique capacity to reveal what people are thinking. Interesting.

Mashable‘s Social Media posts, all gathered together. Great idea. Warning: potential time sink!

How to Communicate Everything You Do. Can you condense your personal message into an effective introduction? Some valuable ideas from Dan Schawbel at the Personal Branding Blog.

The Brand New blog has been on a roll this month, with some great commentary on re-branding efforts, good, bad, and awful. Scroll down and enjoy!

PLUS – The Personal ROI of Social Media. A Sunday Muse.

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PLEASE NOTE: There is reason to believe that the Google/Feedburner changeover has created “issues” with RSS feeds for my blogs (and others). Here are the feeds for my three blogs; if you’re a reader, would you please re-subscribe just to make sure? Thanks!

:: Subscribe to the StickyFigure blog (that’s this one!)

:: Subscribe to the Steve’s Leaves blog (that’s my personal blog)

:: Subscribe to the Impactiviti blog (that’s a pharma-specific blog, for my consulting business)

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