One-Sentence Marketing Advice from a Physics Genius

Einstein Clarity

It takes clarity of thought and expression to be a brilliant physicist. No less so to be an effective marketer (and/or business owner).

If Einstein were a marketer, I think he’d advise you to De-Fog Your Business!

(image source)

Meaningless Marketing

{Note: I am now blogging at my brand-spanking-new site, SteveWoodruff.com. Just click here to subscribe to the new feed. Bonus - you can also sign up at the same time for my astonishingly brief  yet brilliant e-newsletter, Clarity Blend (see sample), and when you sign up, you’ll get a free download of my helpful new e-book, Make Yourself Clear: Six Steps to De-fogging Your Direction and Your Message.}

If your company name and tagline could mean a whole bunch of different things to a whole bunch of different people, it’s meaningless.

  • Global Technical Solutions - Where Technology Drives Customer Value. Meaningless.
  • Dwilgoq - It’s on!! Meaningless.
  • The Robert Higgins Group - We mean business. Meaningless.

In the FogTake a stand! You can’t do everything for everyone, so define your niche and project a clear message. Get out of the fog.

I do realize that it is a challenge in this URL-crowded era to find a unique name. But at least try to have a descriptor – a verbal business card – that tells us what you’re about.

I interacted this week with Marc Pitman. His title: The Fundraising Coach. The summary he gives of himself on Google+: Committed to making it ridiculously easy for people to find fundraising training.

Bingo. I know EXACTLY where to put Marc in the universe of suppliers. But if, instead, his title was: The Business Coach - well, then I’d be unable to place him in memory. If his verbal business card was: I help people find what they need to succeed - despite the cute rhyme, he’d be another MBE (meaningless business entity).

It may help you in business to have your MBA. But if you’re working on your MBE, you’re making life far more difficult than it should be – for your customers, and ultimately, for you. You need to Claim Your Market[place].

If you think you’ve got a case of MBE, let’s talk. Maybe a dose of Clarity Therapy is just what you need to get more meaningful.

Ping me at: steve at stevewoodruff dot com.

photo credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc

Don’t Be JAGA

Read this series of tweets from the bottom up.

JAGA2

Take a look at your website. Are you using commodity generalizations that sound just like the next company?

Do you want to compete in a noisy marketplace? Here’s job one – Don’t be JAGA! Lift the fog!!!

Be a Fog-Lifter (part 3) – Distill

{Note: I am now blogging at my brand-spanking-new site, SteveWoodruff.com. Just click here to subscribe to the new feed. Bonus - you can also sign up at the same time for my astonishingly brief  yet brilliant e-newsletter, Clarity Blend (see sample), and when you sign up, you’ll get a free download of my helpful new e-book, Make Yourself Clear: Six Steps to De-fogging Your Direction and Your Message.}

I’m fascinated by the process of fermentation and distillation. I’ll watch documentaries on the process, and find myself longing to spend an entire year traveling the world just to see more closely how wine, beer, whiskey, and other spirits are made.

{I’m guessing a lot of us would enjoy that tour…any sponsors out there?? :>}

MoonshineAlso, when it comes to ideas and words, distillation fascinates me. How do we boil down a plethora of concepts and messages into a distilled, compact, light-giving phrase? Can we take our business and boil it down to a clear summary?

You may not be able to offer your customers moonshine, but you can serve them a 100-proof message. <<–(click to tweet this).

Here’s how: Aim for 10 words. Craft a summary message that can be given out in 10 words of less. Aim for clarity, not comprehensiveness.

How did FedEx do this? The World on Time. Allstate’s striking and unforgettable message? You’re in good hands. How about blogger Dan Rockwell (Helping leaders reach higher in 300 words or less)? Can you grab one word and build your message around it, like Mark Schaefer (Grow)?

Brief. Punchy. Memorable. Non-technical.

Your <10 word message may be a quick tagline, or it may be a brief sentence, but either way, it’s compressed, like a verbal business card.

So, let’s get practical:

Start by creating this factual summary statement: I do (this) for (customers) in order to (end result) with (my particular differentiating quality). Excellent – you’re already at 40 proof.

Now, try to come up with an illustration or analogy that short-cuts right to the point in a vivid fashion. You’ve just jumped to 80 proof!

Finally, create a compact phrase that you can give to someone before the elevator door even closes. Think of this final product as a memory dart, not an elevator speech. You’re now at 100 proof!

We all need to break through the mists in the minds of our customers with a beam of distilled enlightenment. That’s lifting the fog.

(Part 1 – Job Number One is here. Part 2 – Steal! – is here.)

Learn more about Steve’s Clarity Therapy services.

The Clarity of FedEx

FedEx planeThe World On Time.

Those four words summarize the FedEx marketing message. And, it’s brilliant.

What do I care about if I’m going to use a package shipping/delivery service? Reach and speed. Reliability. The heft to get it done fast and consistently. FedEx says they’ll get it anywhere (the world), and I can count on it (on time).

That’s what I care about if I’m an individual, a corporate professional, or a supply chain director.

The World On Time.

Contrast this with UPS’s misguided efforts to sell common people on the concept of “Logistics”, their phrase “Synchronizing the world of commerce” painted on trucks, and the sad effort to personalize a color (“What can Brown do for you?”).

That kind of marketing message is too much effort, trying to educate an entire marketplace with abstractions. Leave logistics to the supply-chain, operations-level people.

The World On Time is all I need to know. That’s the power of a clear, succinct, on-target message.

That’s clarity.

BE CLEAR: Tell Your Story

The Hobbit StoryHumans are hard-wired to tell and remember stories. That’s why smart business people wrap up their message in a narrative.

Master storytellers tap into our need to see a beginning, a progression, and a destination.

What’s your story? As a professional or as a business, you have one – do you tell it? It’s a vital part of having a memorable, clear message.

See what I mean in this one-minute (ish) video:


People will forget a list of facts and offerings. But we’ll remember your story.

(there seems to be a rash of posts about storytelling all of a sudden: here and here and here, for instance!)

___________

Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> BE CLEAR: Narrowing Your Focus

>> BE CLEAR: Drop the Buzzwords

BE CLEAR: Drop the Buzzwords

Do you want your customers to be dazed and confused? All you have to do is cloak your message in a blizzard of buzzwords.

Obviously, I don’t recommend that. We all want to reside in the memory box of our (potential) clients. More words = more fog.

Instead, use simple, clear words.

See what I mean in this one-minute video:


It’s always tempting to adopt the impressive-sounding biz language that buzzes around us like a pack of mosquitoes. Swat them away and use clarity of speech if you want to have a memorable impact!

___________

Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> BE CLEAR: Narrowing Your Focus

BE CLEAR: Narrowing Your Focus

We live in a world of information overload and 24/7 distraction. How will you break through and be memorable with all of that competition (let alone your business competition!)?

With clarity. Specifically, by having a narrow focus and avoiding the temptation of 50-shades-of-grey marketing.

See what I mean in this one-minute video:

Maybe you do two or three different things to generate revenue? That’s fine – but go to market with your lead message. Don’t position yourself as a forgettable jack of all trades. Be clear and memorable, get in front of potential clients who value your primary offering, then mention b., c., and d. Buy the way into your client’s mind and presence with a narrowly-focused message, then “by the way…” your other capabilities afterward.

___________

Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Find Your Two Things

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Live-Reviewing The Impact Equation (book review)

(I didn’t get all the way through on day 1, so I’m continuing for a second day. Simply scroll down to see the review unfold chapter by chapter)

It’s been sitting here for a few weeks, neglected. Chris Brogan and Julien Smith‘s new book, The Impact Equation. I have a pre-release copy and I’ve put off reading and reviewing it.

Until now. You see, this is the public release week for the book (you can use this link to order it). And I know the authors want as much exposure as possible – hey, who wouldn’t?

So I’m going to do something I’ve never attempted before. No, it’s not going over Niagara Falls in a parafoil made of recycled Diet Dr. Pepper cans. Something far more daring. Something with immense and incalculable risk.

I’m going to live-review the book. This morning. On this blog and on Twitter.

You thought jumping out of a capsule from 128,000 feet and breaking the sound barrier was daring?? Pffffft.

You might say that this is a link-baiting publicity stunt. You’d be partially correct. You might say that the Niagara Falls idea is actually more risky. Well, for me, maybe; but this chapter-by-chapter live-reviewing stuff is far more risky for Chris and Julien. And that’s the kind of risk I prefer!

So, here we go. It’s 7:30 am ET. I’m going to relieve my guilt over not reading this volume sooner by diving right in, and telling you what I think, hourly-ish. For better or for worse. Twitter hashtag: @impacteq.

Woodruff/Mystic. Brogan/Smith. It’s on!

(Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in this book, nor are any links affiliate links)

Part 1: Goals

This chapter has a few main themes:

- We live in a time when we can (and should) build our own channels

- This is not primarily about tech – it’s always about people

- Success comes from the long haul

The acronym CREATE* is used to explain how impact comes about. As it is presented, I see the word “equation” as a misnomer here – it’s more of a recipe.

Good content overall, but too many thoughts are presented – this chapter feels like a pinata of ideas. Like most business books, it feels verbose. Writing style is more informal; idea flow not particularly tight.

* Contrast / Reach / Exposure / Articulation / Trust / Echo  (the first and last terms feel a bit forced)

- (posted at 8:20 am) -

Part 2: Ideas (Contrast)

These section is all about differentiation. In the grab bag of ideas presented, we see the concepts of screening good ideas (out of the pool of bad/mediocre ones); the role of emotion in making an idea interesting/spreadable; the need for bravery to publish ideas that differ; and the role of extrapolation and metaphor (note: I am a huge advocate of using metaphor/analogy in the messaging process).

As a writer/creator, I find myself on familiar ground here – but I wonder if someone who is not a social media content-generator might not find this chapter overwhelming. Most people don’t, I suspect, have a flowing fountain of ideas (or an impetus to crowd-share them as a sifting mechanism). For the ones that are seeking to break new ground in the idea-realm, however, the principles are solid. The writing style, again, is very informal and breezy, with (lots of) (parenthetical) (statements) sprinkled throughout.

The concept of breaking through the human pattern-recognition screen is one of the more valuable take-away images of the chapter.

- (posted at 9:45 am) -

Part 2: Ideas (Articulation)

“Part of learning Articulation is learning which words to choose. Another is learning which words to lose.” That pretty much sums up what you need to know (and it’s great advice).

This chapter starts out well, but then wanders quite a bit about ideas, e-mail marketing, business viability, mind-mapping, and more. Good advice all, but themes are scattered around like disparate blog posts in a RSS feed. Some fierce editing was needed here. Loose links, productivity ideas, etc. – some nice stuff, solid thought-gems, but not finding a real clear flow here.

The snapshot below, however, is great advice:

- (posted at 10:35 am) -

Part 3: Platforms (Reach)

First you need ideas. Then you need a transmitter. That’s Platform. “Platform multiplies power. The vaster and more effective it is, the stronger you become.”

This chapter is  more tightly written. It focuses on the need to continuously build a growing audience (over time), and how on-line tools have enabled this in a unique way. Some good case studies are included, including TED and Dollar Shave Club. Some good stuff on how/when to extract value (e.g., sell stuff and/or gain access) as you grow your Reach. Good emphasis on adding value. Anyone serious about writing a book, or growing an audience for any other purpose (including business networking), should read this. It’s not an exhaustive chapter full of steps, but it is suggestive and contains important perspectives.

- (posted at 12:55 pm) -

OK, I was too optimistic about getting this all done today. Will continue tomorrow…!

It’s tomorrow! —>

Part 3: Platforms (Exposure)

This chapter is very much about using social media for exposure. Don’t expect to see much about other avenues. And, at first, I found myself slightly annoyed that there were a whole lot more questions than answers – lots of generalities. Then I woke up and realized that that’s the point – gaining exposure through social channels is one big experiment, and there is no one-size-fits-all (as there is no one audience, and no single set of expectations). I’ve had to wrestle over the years with all of the same issues – frequency, media/channel types, formatting, length – and, if you’re seriously reaching out to a growing audience, it evolves.

Again, however – this chapter is for people serious about making content and building an audience. And it’s about long-term commitment. I’m completely down with that but it will seem difficult to reach for many people who have a different make-up or professional role. And that’s the challenge that must be addressed – individuals and companies are all becoming broadcast channels, like it or not. It’s time to embrace it and take the right steps.

- (posted at 8:30 am) -

Part 4: Network (Trust)

“Your idea may be genius, and it may be caught immediately imprinted on people’s brains. You may be differentiated from your industry and highly visible. But if you are not trusted, if you are not credible, you are nothing.”

Pulling on the (excellent) work of Maister, Green, and Galford (book: The Trusted Advisor) – this section discusses the Trust Equation. Four elements: Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy, Self-Interest.

This chapter started off with the sound of rockets on the launch pad, then ended with a whimper. It was supposed to be the clarification and capstone of the prior book by this pair, Trust Agents (which I read and recommend). It wasn’t. It was mainly self-evident principles and recycled bromides. Disappointing work. Vuvzelas, Pokemon, and blogging calendars didn’t cut it for me.

Just read the first few pages and skip the rest.

- (posted at 9:50 am) -

Part 4: Network (Echo, Echo)

Be human. Allow people to relate to you. Make a personal connection – reply. Package and own your quirks – you’ll always find a niche of interested sympathizers. Speak their language. Basic stuff. Good reminders, but nothing new here. And it seems to come too much from a place of outsized influence – how someone already influential should try to relate. This chapter seems to float a little bit above everyday life and business. And the section at the end about relating to critics seems out of place.

(end of book) – (posted at 10:30 am) -

My conclusion:

Here’s a great quote from the last chapter: “Distill your message. Whittle it down to the tightest, sharpest thing possible.”

I wholeheartedly agree with the principle, though I did not see it well-embodied in this book!

Make no mistake, there are a lot of good things said here. But instead of a crisp, expertly-guided tour (some authors are masterful at this, moving your mind sequentially and building a step-by-step case), this book felt like a meander in the field with a couple of smart guys. The authors are pointing out a nice vista here, picking up some rock samples there, naming the trees and birds, crossing back over the same areas a few times – a pleasant enough stroll, but not real tight. If you’re looking for research-driven content, this book won’t satisfy; and if you’re brand new to social media, it might be overwhelming. I think for those who are seeing the value of building a platform for influence, and who need a bunch of tips and perspectives based on experience – there’s value here.

Stylistically, the writing is casual and uneven – a given style isn’t necessarily good or bad, but just understand that if you’re into flights of new revelation through tightly-argued logic, this book won’t appeal. On the other hand, those who value the thought-snippets that come from blogging, and want to see them gathered under some type of more ordered framework, may well find this volume to be inspiring and enlightening.

Mystic, it turns out, was more interested in The Milk Bone Equation!

___________

Related posts on Connection Agent:

>> My Career Fragmentation Story

>> The Seven Shortcuts to Creating Trust

Don’t Do These Three Things on LinkedIn

You have only a few seconds to grab someone’s attention and get across a clear message. That’s true whether you’re selling a product or service, or if you’re selling yourself in the job market.

That’s why you want your LinkedIn profile to be a help, not a hindrance. Here is an example of three things you should NOT do when describing yourself to potential suppliers (note: all identifiers have been removed):

1. DON’T position yourself as a jack-of-all-trades. It’s your responsibility to be decisive about who you are and what you’re seeking. Have a definite headline!

2. DON’T just talk about yourself – tell us what you can do. Save the “I am such-and-such…” for dating sites. Potential employers and customers are looking through one lens only: WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?).

3. DON’T pretend to have a baker’s dozen (actually, 15) specialties. Bullet-point lists like this give one message: “Will work for food!” If you have a bunch of competencies, then package them into one or two directions that someone can more easily digest.

Those three points above? The very same things apply for company positioning also.

LinkedIn can be a great friend to your career development, if you use it to tell your story. Seek to make an immediate impression in the first few seconds. Use word pictures. Say something – clearly. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do when you grow up!

___________

Do you have a clear story and direction? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

>> Please Drop the Jargon

Please Drop the Jargon

I came across one of those About pages on the website for a solutions provider that was unfamiliar to me. However, it sounded suspiciously like a hundred other About pages I’ve seen!

It was a jargon-load of biz-speak phraseology. Here are some samples:

________ was created … in early 2005 to build and deliver world-class online … solutions.  We specialize in delivering highly customized solutions and insight for our clients by utilizing a consultative approach to fully understand their … needs, building processes to support those requirements, and consistently delivering to their exact specifications.

Our people are our most valuable resource (please don’t say this. Please. It’s so cliche…)

Our leading edge platform by which we create and deliver our solutions offers the ability for us to focus on highly customized solutions while creating a foundation for our partners to depend on.

The resulting value in combining (our) strong heritage, a strong core of professionals and an adaptable yet robust infrastructure gives our clients the assurance they need to continually depend on _______ for their critical business needs.

Now I’ll give them credit for not using “leverage” once on the entire page! But when a company name and specific offering can easily be swapped out with a hundred other company names and offerings, employing the same-old biz-jargon (world-class solution…customized solutions…leading edge platform…robust infrastructure, etc.), then any unique messaging is impossible. It’s lost in the fog.

It’s commodity language. This reference may date me a bit, but I’m tempted to publish a Mad Libs book for About pages. Just fill in the blanks to complete the pre-packaged phrases!

How about this instead:

While everyone else is looking, you’re finding. Call us.

Nobody wants your blah-blah – except maybe Dilbert. Customers want an answer. Simply put.

___________

Does your message need to be simply put? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

>> Using Words to Say Nothing

In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

I don’t remember who said it to me first, many years ago, but the advice has always stuck with me:

Not all business is good business.

What does this mean? Simply this: there is business you can take on that will likely hurt, not help you.

We are all tempted to take on certain clients and projects because of one overriding factor: Revenue. I’d like to suggest that you make each of those decisions based on a different factor: Purpose.

Here are examples of business that may NOT be good business:

  • Taking on a project with a client who is hard-nosed, and/or cheap, and/or indecisive. There is such a thing as a bad client. Avoid – let some less wise competitor suffer.
  • Taking on a project that has very poor definition, and in which you cannot seem to get more information. This will become a moving target of scope creep that will frustrate you for months on end – guaranteed.
  • Taking on a project that is a good bit out of your sweet spot, with an existing client. Don’t endanger the relationship with a high-risk-of-failure attempt to keep all the client’s dollars to yourself. Short-term gain often equals long-term loss.
  • Taking on a project or client that moves your company and its resources into a direction that you really don’t need to pursue. Rabbit trails waylay any kind of focused growth and dilute your message.
  • Taking on a project or client despite warning bells of good judgment and conscience. Don’t let dollars delude you into ignoring your better instincts.
  • Trying to compete in an area where you are just one of many potential suppliers, and your offering cannot rise above a commodity level. Find a more narrow niche that you can dominate.

Over and over again, as I’ve counseled small business owners and consultants, I’ve heard the tales of woe that result from pursuing or taking on not-good business. The best way to avoid this trap: have a clearly-defined purpose and highly-focused offering (including the clients you wish to pursue) so that you have a solid basis on which to say no. Otherwise, you’ll dilute your efforts by chasing (ultimately) unprofitable revenue. And that’s a game at which nobody can win.

What would you add to the list? Put your lessons in the comments!

___________

Do you need a clearer purpose and message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Following Your Passion: A Story

>> Using Words to Say Nothing

Using Words to Say Nothing

In a recent guest post (There is No Audience for 50 Shades of Grey Marketing) on Carol Roth‘s Business Unplugged blog, I discussed how a foggy and vague marketing message makes you eminently…forgettable.

If you can’t express who you are and what you offer clearly and succinctly, there is no hope of being memorable in the marketplace.

I thought it might be fun to bring forward a couple of website examples of Grey Marketing, to illustrate what I mean. The names of the guilty companies will be withheld to spare public humiliation:

Exhibit A:

Ummmm…you do what, exactly?

Spouting off platitudes about change and transition does not equal a marketing message. And, offering to help you achieve the results you desire, whatever your needs, sounds more like the message of some mystical self-help book than a clear business model.

Why would I give you a call if I have no idea what you do? I can’t imagine the phone is ringing off the hook here.

Exhibit B:

Huh????

You know, as a business person, I just walk around yearning to find an ecosystem design solution. It’s top of mind, and all of my fellow business people have been asking about how to link adjacent industry landscapes. Every morning I wake up and, with my first cup of coffee, ponder how to catalyze and scale new economic systems. You know, because everyone is competent with the same pieces.

This is a prime example of marketing by obfuscation. It is committing the sin of Fogging the marketplace with impressive-sounding jargon that means nothing to the audience.

At least, in one sense, this guilty party is taking his own advice and “doing things competitors can’t.” He’s effectively destroying any hope of communicating with a potential customer. Who needs competitors when you can drive away business all by yourself?

We’re not going to get our message out without words – spoken, written, and (especially) remembered and passed on. Crafting words that actually say something, and say it well, is not optional if you want to grow a business. It’s foundational.

Anybody can say nothing with words. Time to upgrade your vocabulary if your marketing message resembles one of these exhibits!

___________

Do you need help saying something well? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

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>> Why I Don’t Buy the One-Minute Elevator Speech

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Re-Imagination

I was totally impressed yesterday afternoon at the Apple store when replacing a damaged iPhone with a new one.

I’ve been through the experience several times over the years to upgrade to new models, and each time, it’s abundantly clear that Apple is continuing to re-make the retail experience.

An associate greeted us at the front entrance. Plugged a couple minimum bits of information into the (very slick and well-designed) software on his iPhone, and managed the entire transaction from the palm of his hand. All nearly instantaneous, digital, mobile, seamless.

I even signed the receipt with my finger on his iPhone screen.

The thing is, this is Apple’s secret sauce. They re-imagine an existing experience, then build the new approach.

The software interface. The publishing process. The portable music experience. The on-line method of buying digital assets. The phone. The tablet. Distributed app development. And on and on.

Re-imagination is not enough to create a business – you also need superb execution. But without re-imagination, you’re left with incremental improvements or marginal efficiency gains as a business model.

Perhaps we need to train our next generation of business people to continually ask two questions:

Why this?

And why not that?

Ha! This post by Dan Pallotta just showed up in my tweetstream, published yesterday at Harvard Business Review on-line. Talk about mind-meld!!

___________

How’s your message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

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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!

___________

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

Fearing Obsolescence? Four Questions for Your Future

I was sitting by the outdoor fireplace last night, talking with a long-time friend (who is about my age) regarding his desires to start something new. Like many of us who have worked for others over many years, he’s looking ahead and wondering if there isn’t something he should be building for himself.

He was also facing the dilemma that more seasoned professionals often face as they pass the mid-point of their career and start looking at the late-stage: will my skills become obsolete? Am I expendable? If this current position is eliminated, can I be marketable? These questions can be particularly acute if you’re in the ever-evolving technology field.

He had passion about one very different direction, but during our discussion, it was quite difficult to see a business model there. It was too big a side step, without much established expertise, and it would require changing long-standing business models that would prove extremely resistant. There are things that we often really WANT to do (I have several), but for which there is just not an evident business model. And it’s different looking at that challenge in your fifties, than it is when you’re 24.

So we settled on a few questions, which actually began to tease out a pretty promising direction:

  1. What is core expertise have you deeply developed over the last (20+) years?
  2. What can you do that a young hot-shot just starting out can’t do, with their lesser experience level?
  3. What skills do you possess that transcend a given technology, platform, or market sector?
  4. What existing pain will business money-spenders gladly pay to get rid of (and you know how to solve that problem)?

He mentioned something he was quite good at – a problem that, with his experience bridging both the technology side and the end user/business side, he could solve for just about any company. An “evergreen” problem that would require a smart consultant to solve, irrespective of the particular platforms in use. Suddenly, an experienced professional who was worried about obsolescence began to look like a really smart guy who could help solve a thorny problem that exists everywhere. Not by trying to do something brand new. But by identifying a “hidden” skill that is absolutely not a commodity.

If you’re thinking of being a later-stage-in-life entrepreneur, it’s tempting sometimes to look far afield and make some huge leap into uncharted waters. But the fact is, the channels you’ve been successfully navigating for years probably have the best possible opportunities awaiting you. There are people with lots of money to spend who need a smart, experienced resource to come in and fix problems that a twenty-something can’t possibly understand. Obsolescence? – pfffffft. You may be perfectly suited to take a big leap forward – on the same trails that you know far better than anyone else.

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> How the Exit Door Can Improve Results

>> Cattle Disguised as People

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

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Twitter: @swoodruff

(image credit)

Are You A Go-To?

“I am the go-to person/company/brand for ______________.”

Can you fill in that blank? Right now – off the tip of your tongue?

As a consultant, or brand, or business, this is your most important, distilled message. Because if you can’t state it, how can you expect your clients (actual and potential) to know it?

Define yourself. Own your professional real estate. I mean – you do want customers to go-to you, right?

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Finding Your DNA

>> Choose Your Lane

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

Twitter: @swoodruff

Taylor Swift and Bracelets. Two Good Causes.

I interrupt the normal flow of my ramblings about marketing to introduce you to two good causes. Both have to do with my son David (the Marine).

Cause Number 1

Yep, he’s crazy like his Dad! Dave is heading back to the States this fall after months of deployment in Spain, and he wants to attend the Marine Ball in November (Virginia Beach) with – well, Taylor Swift! So I said I’d help.

Here’s his invite via Twitter. I figure if he gets about 459 bajillion retweets then Taylor won’t be able to resist saying yes (November 4 does appear to be an open tour date, after all…). And who wouldn’t spend an evening with a handsome and talented Marine??

So, let’s have a little fun and help him out! If you’d like, just cut-and-paste the message below (the bit.ly link is to the tweet shown above):

A U.S. Marine asks:  May we dance, @TaylorSwift13?? bit.ly/MayWeDance @DaveWoodruff1

Cause Number 2

While in Spain, Dave and some of his pals have had the good fortune of working with a visionary Navy guy named Nick Mendoza III, who started a very special company/cause called Bands for Arms (B4A). In short, B4A was created to show support for those in the armed services, and provide tokens of remembrance, by creating custom bracelets made out of actual uniforms (all donated). Since creating the the first one in 2009 in remembrance of a comrade who died, B4A has taken off like a rocket, with much of its growth and grassroots organization being accomplished long-distance via Facebook.

David and some of his pals have not only kept busy creating bracelets, but in some cases are actually modeling as well for the photo shoots (which makes the old man feel a very strange mixture of immense pride and intense jealousy – I mean, what country music star wouldn’t want THAT hunk on her arm at a dance…..ooops, sorry, mixing up our causes here).

My wife and I had the chance to meet Nick in NYC during his recent tour promoting B4A and we’re quite impressed with this young man, his energy and vision. B4A supports many charitable organizations (see below), so if you wish to purchase one of the many hand-made designs it’s all for a good cause. There’s even one design called the Woodruff – yes, it’s my favorite! :>}

You can follow the B4A folks on Twitter at @BandsForArms.

Thanks for any role you can play in today’s “cause marketing” post!

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Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Clearing Clouds: Recovering from Depression (free e-book)

>> Trend Currents in Social Media

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Twitter: @swoodruff | @ConnectionAgent

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

Subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff | @ConnectionAgent

Shake Up YOUR Audience – With Earthquake Marketing!

Yes, that’s a pretty cheesy headline for a blog post. But, there’s a real point to be made about the reaction of yesterday’s earthquake on the East Coast. Read on…

By all measures, yesterday’s earthquake was a whole lotta nothing – a few bricks loose, some cracks in buildings, overturned lawn chairs. Really, a non-event, especially for folks in more earthquake-prone areas, like the West Coast of the United States. A yawner.

Nonetheless, it lit up social media and the news. Why?

Because is was a whole lotta something different for its audience!

I’ve spend most of my life in the eastern US (along with 7 years in Tennessee). Before yesterday, I had felt a total of two very minor earthquakes – pretty local events. And when yesterday’s event occurred, I wasn’t even certain what was happening – I just thought I was momentarily dizzy. Until I went onto Facebook and saw “Was that an earthquake??” popping up all over half the country.

Much to the amusement of other parts of the country and world, we felt a need to share our experience. Because it was something new to most of us.

The earthquake got viral news attention, not because it was all that great a quake, but because it “knew” its audience – “these people haven’t had a good shaking for a long time! Watch this!” A big thunderstorm would not have gotten near the attention. That’s old news here. Moving ground? That’s worth talking about!

I was evaluating a small company’s website this week. It said a whole lot of nothing. I found myself thinking, “all you have to do is swap out the company name, and this site is interchangeable with who knows how many other companies.” Nothing different = forgettable. A list of bullet points is a passing shower, not an earthquake. Nobody’s talking about you.

As a marketer, think about your audience before you make a decision about trying to create impact. What is old for you might be brand new for them – or vice-versa. Is your approach something different? That, in itself, can help break through the clutter.

Now, back to straightening up the lawn chairs…

(Image credit: jmckinley – love this post!)

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> The Unglamorous Need for…Semantics!

>> When Your Branding Zings

Subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

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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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

“People Should Pay Me To…”

Just got done with a Brand Therapy breakfast meeting with a long-standing friend, now looking for new avenues of work. He’s got a ton of talent, but just needed some definition of his professional DNA, and direction on how to create new opportunities.

I love those sessions.

It occurred to me, on the drive home, that we often default to the wrong thought process when looking for new work. Regularly, we think like this:

“I need someone to offer me a job to….”

Ugh. For a moment, put the entire legacy corporate structure out of your mind. No position, no title, no company, no job.

Instead, we should be saying this:

“People should pay me to…”

The first focuses on you, the worker dependent on others. The task-doer and title-holder. The second focuses on you, the giver of value who should be given money in return for services you alone (or best) can render.

Don’t simply look for a job. Identify and promote your unique value that leads to income.

Now that I think about it, adapt the words slightly and this mindset also goes for companies promoting themselves.

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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

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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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

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