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!

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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!

___________

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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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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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