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!)

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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

A Vital Lesson from the Grateful Dead

Bill Graham said of the Grateful Dead, They’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones that do what they do.”

Do you want the ultimate job security? Role Your Own.

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Discovering Your Professional DNA

>> De-Fragmenting Your Business

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!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> BE CLEAR: Narrowing Your Focus

A Creative Visual Resume

In response to this recent blog post, a friend forwarded me a copy of a resume he recently worked up (and, yes, it helped him get a new position!) – I thought it was quite creative and visually appealing, so I’m sharing it with you.

Identifying information about specific companies has been greyed out, but underneath the grey boxes are corporate logos. It was a nice touch.

My friend used wordle.net to generate the word cloud, and Google docs to create graphs and charts. Nice and simple.

Click to biggify—->

(Page 1 of the resume has a nice pic of the candidate with contact info and the word cloud; page 2 has the other info. I’ve joined the elements into one graphic).

So, what do you think of this approach? Would you use it, as a job candidate? Would it get your attention, as a hiring manager? Also – if you’ve seen other examples on-line of creative resumes, please add links to them in the comments!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Discovering Your Professional DNA

>> Don’t Do These Three Things on LinkedIn

Does Your Resume Have A Missing Narrative?

I’m reviewing a resume for a friend, and it’s got a lot of great stuff. Solid and multi-faceted experience, a diversity of roles, evidence of solid talent.

But it’s missing something – something crucial that most resumes and LinkedIn profiles seem to lack.

An overall narrative.

A conversation this week with a solo consultant also brought this issue to the surface. He’s been doing a lot of different projects since being out on his own, but there’s really no storyline to tie it together. Current work, past roles, future direction – they don’t paint a clear picture.

We humans are hard-wired for stories. We want things to fit into an overall progression, showing steps toward a destination and the evolution of the main character. Other people relate to us through our narratives.

Our careers – our lives – have a narrative. Our challenge is to tie it all together and trace the story.

For most of us, the story is not all fairy-tale and unicorns. That’s OK. No-one can relate to that kind of faux narrative anyway. But your many experiences as a professional always have an interesting story to tell (hint: the plot is always progress, through finding your core strengths and progressively succeeding).

Resumes with lists and bullet points are forgettable commodities. Your story, however, is unique. And no-one can tell it better than you!

Discovering Your Professional DNA

Wouldn’t it be nice if each of us, at age 20, got a personalized report and one-on-one counseling session detailing exactly what our professional capabilities and strengths are? What a time- and trouble-saver! “We’ve sequenced your professional DNA, Jacqueline, and here is the career arc you should pursue…”

Dream on.

The reality is, we tend to discover our professional DNA by a trial-and-error process. We move from job to job, finding out what types of roles and work environments seem to bring out the best (or worst) in us.

Some people stumble into their life’s work early on, but for most of us, the process looks something like this:

(horizontal axis equals time; vertical axis represents nearness to DNA sweet spot; blocks represent different job roles)

We often focus on climbing the ladder of bigger titles and higher salaries, when our first priority should be discovering our true purpose and identity. You’ve seen people who absolutely flourish in their roles, right? They’ve hit their sweet spot. Yet many others feel that they’re trapped, working at maybe 50% capacity, and spending far too much time in the grey than the blue (referencing my Ugly Graphic above).

Sadly, some never come to understand what their true potential is, or become stuck in a mis-matched job role with diminishing chances of escape. This happened to my Dad and it set me on a determined quest not to end up in that same position. Hence my passion for Clarity Therapy.

Apple will announce its new iPhone 5 today. What if you rushed out to buy it, with maximum memory and a 2-year data plan, all for the sole use of making one 5-minute phone call a day to check on your daughter in college. Would that be best use of its real potential? That’s what happens when we settle for less than discovering our unique professional DNA, and designing our career around it.

We often need assessments (<–great story!), and outside expertise, to help us figure ourselves out. Take the time to do it. It’s your future. No-one else should be designing it. That’s your role!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Finding Your Sweet Spot

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

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!

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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

Connection Pinball

Scanning my usual set of columns in Hootsuite this morning, I wondered, “Is there a blog post here – just looking  at these people?”

In my DM column I saw Liz Marshall and Terry Starbucker. Yep, there was a story.

You see, I met Terry in our early days of blogging – probably 2008, at the famous Blogger Social ’08. Our friendship had little to do with my business at the time (which was and still is focused on pharma), but we were both blogging on marketing and business topics, and we hit it off.

In 2009, I made my only appearance at SXSW, mainly to chaperone my oldest son, who was interested in film (and, hey, what’s not to like about a father-son adventure to Austin?). Being disillusioned with a lot of the panels, I spent a fair amount of time in the Blogger Lounge, where, serendipitously, I ended up at the same table with Liz Strauss. We hit it off, too.

Terry and Liz insisted that I come to this rather small conference in Chicago called SOBCon the next year. It wasn’t in my pharma sweet spot, but I was still trying to find my place in the marketing/social media/entrepreneur world as well, and I liked the idea of a more intimate gathering of status-quo-breakers. So I went.

There I met Lisa Petrilli, also visible in my HootSuite columns today. And, Anthony Iannarino, Danielle Smith, Sean McGinnis, Angela Maiers – all visible front-and-center this morning on Twtiter, all met for the first time at a SOBCon event (2010 or 2011). Because LeadershipChat was born out of a collaboration between Lisa Petrilli and me that started at SOBCon, a whole other fleet of close connections has also been developed. And as I expand out of pharma into a new endeavor, it’s people like Carol Roth and Greg Hartle and Lou Imbriano and Jeannie Waters and Liz Marshall and Sara Goodman and Jesse Petersen and Becky McCray and Alli Worthington and Fred McClimans and Brandie McCallum and Sam Fiorella and Meghan Biro and Patty Azarello and Jeff Shuey and Phil Gerbyshak and many others who are my supporters, and cheerleaders, and brain trust.

All of this grew out of LeadershipChat and SOBCon.

Which grew out of becoming friends with Liz and Terry.

Which leads to the moral of the story. Make great quality connections, cultivate those relationships, and be ready.

It may seem a bit like a pinball game at times, but you cannot and will not lose when you make friends with great people!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Be Narrow-Minded

>> Seeing 20/20 in 3-D

People Buy Your Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Part 1: Your Distinguishing Offering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming in part 3: People Buy Your Story

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Customers Walking Past You

>> Four Questions for your Future

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

My Business Vision

My LeadershipChat co-host, Lisa Petrilli, has written a stirring and helpful blog post about gaining a vision for our personal and business lives (Three Steps to Create a Vision for 2012). And, this is our theme for the final #LeadershipChat of 2011 – Vision. Not goals, not resolution – but the inspiring picture of “what could be” that fuels purpose and feeds action.

I liked what Lisa wrote so much about the three steps that I decided, for my pre-chat blog post, to simply apply her principles and see if I could articulate my vision. Here goes:

I strive toward a future where talent and creativity are unleashed to produce remarkable lives and results. I see a workforce driven, not by time clocks and paychecks, but by the internal fires of desire and unique ability channeled into creating value for others.

I see a day dawning where trust networks of real people outstrip the legacy efficiencies of hierarchical corporations; where handshakes and proven character hold more sway than lawyers and regulations.

I long for the day when people choose their career direction because of inherent fit, and where the pathway to success is paved with character, responsibility, diligence, and readiness to provide value.

I look for a time when long-term commitment triumphs over the compromises of short-term thinking.

I am committed to kindling these fires by building networks and business models that are disruptive to the status quo of short-sighted inefficiency, liberating people of talent and ethical character to do their best work and live remarkable lives.

There’s the vision. It has taken shape over decades and is pretty well set in my mind and heart. When you’re in touch with your core beliefs and values (see this excellent post by John Jantsch), your vision begins to take shape.

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How does that look when you step forward to a mission statement? Something like this, I guess:

My mission is to be a Connection Agent.

I am connecting people and businesses with their true identity and message; with creative opportunities to grow and succeed; and with other people and resources to bring about increasing success.

I want to leave behind a network of people who are richer because of these connections, and who will follow that example by enriching others.

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And how does all that flow out into activity?

The manifestation, so far, is the creation of business referral networks; a self/brand awareness consulting practice (Clarity Therapy); and ongoing tribe-building (LeadershipChat is, in a very important respect, tribe-building). The first two are current sources of revenue; the latter is my long-term commitment to bring together people who want to revolutionize business and life through purposeful use of social networks.

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OK, so how about you? Can you take some time this week to go through a similar exercise? Perhaps invest an hour tonight (8 pm ET) on Twitter for #LeadershipChat in order to discuss Vision with some smart, like-minded folks as you look to a new year? Hope to see you there, and to see your vision spelled out in the coming days!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Social Business is Not Enough

>> Go With What You’ve Got

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

Twitter: @swoodruff

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

Getting Off the Elevator (Pitch)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the elevator pitch/speech lately. And I have two major issues with it.

  1. It’s a pitch. You’re selling.
  2. It’s too long.

I get the principle, but I’d like to challenge you to have a clear message that is 10 words or less – the totally distilled, core message of who you are and what value you offer.

The kind of statement you can make before the elevator door even closes.

Can you fill in this blank?  I/we want to be the go-to person/company for ________________. That’s one of the questions that gets you started toward the 10-word summary.

Why is this important?

  • YOU need to be totally clear on your core identity and message. In a way that could fit easily into one tweet.
  • You may not have 2-3 minutes to get to the point.
  • Not every situation is a sales situation. Can you explain what you do to a neighbor in 15 seconds?
  • Your message needs to be packaged so others can transmit it for you. I often (spontaneously) ask clients who know me to introduce me in a group setting, to see if I’ve enabled them to truly grasp my identity.

An elevator pitch is a mug of beer. A 10-word-or-less distilled summary is a fine single malt whiskey, served neat. 100 proof memorable goodness.

Here’s how Ravenswood Winery does it: No Wimpy Wines. Three words of branding perfection!

By all means, have an extended version of your message for when you know you’ll have some time. But, in my opinion, one of our biggest marketing challenges isn’t designing an elevator pitch – it’s gaining clarity first about our market purpose, direction, and message.

I’m regularly astounded at how rarely this is in place – distilled message clarity woven throughout the company and its marketing. And that is why I offer Clarity Therapy sessions for (mostly) small companies who want to program their marketing GPS for clear direction (brazen commercial for my consulting services – because I’m quite good at this!).

What are my summary statements? I have two, depending on if the need is for consulting, or for business referral connections:

- I help clients gain clarity in their direction and message (analogy: clarity therapist)

- I pro-actively make beneficial business referrals via my trust network (analogy: eHarmony)

And, yes, part of the Clarity Therapy outcome is finding that key business analogy that will help clients picture your service in their minds, so they can remember it and explain it to others. This (along with a compelling story and a differentiating offering) is a crucial element to an effective go-to-market message!

If you’re feeling like you need to stand out more clearly in a very noisy marketplace, contact me about a Clarity Therapy session. Don’t waste time and money being just another face in the marketplace.

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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

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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Build Your Own Opportunity Network (free e-book)

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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

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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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

DNA Interview: Shannon Whitley

This week, we’re getting to know my friend and collaborator Shannon Whitley (@swhitley on Twitter) – interviewing him to discover a bit more about his professional DNA.

Shannon could easily be labeled “The API Guy” – if there’s an API for a social or enterprise platform, he’s probably integrated with it! He also develops great social tools, such as Contax.io and ChatTagged (see the video for more on those).

Need to gain understanding of your personal or company DNA? Contact me about Brand Therapy – you’re only a few hours away from a professional epiphany!

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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

Know Your Verbs!

As a professional, here is the view I like. —>

A fallow field.

If it’s already built, if the framework is designed and the system is in place, I don’t belong.

I need to create new things. I used to wonder about serial entrepreneurs, before recognizing that, in fact, I am one. Ooops.

Others would never flourish in the face of the unstructured environment that excites me. And that’s fine, because we need people across the entire range of skills, from pure creativity to repetitive tasks, and everything in between.

That’s why you need to know your verbs. What are those actions that describe you at your peak of effectiveness?

For me: Analyze, Envision, Create, Connect, Communicate. Operational stuff? – ugh. Number-crunching? – umm, no. Toll-taking? – kill me now.

I want to look at what isn’t, and figure out how to create something new. Give me the fallow field.

Now, I’ve done plenty of work in the past that was outside of my ideal verb zone. And I highly value those with a whole different suite of verbs than mine – if we were all like me, there’d always be something new – and nothing else would get done!

So, what are your verbs? Can you narrow it down to, say, 3-5? Feel free to share them in the comments. Those verbs may well provide the clue to your future professional path!

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Your DNA

Sitting down with a friend over lunch recently, I was listening to the frustration in his voice as he outlined the painfully slow process of seeing progress made in his (huge) company. Not an uncommon experience – right?

He’s an innovator. A collaborator. A thinker. A sharer. And, in my opinion, a teacher of others (yes, I can’t help doing a little Brand Therapy, even over lunch!)

That’s his DNA. That’s him. And when a role and a company environment are more driven by risk-aversion, process, and silos – frustration is the inevitable side effect.

Now, sometimes that is exactly what is needed – a person with the will and ability to swim upstream, overcome obstacles, and make progress against inertia. Sometimes, however, it may only be an exercise in futility.

Ideally, you want to find – or create – a role in line with your DNA.

Are you truly aware of your DNA, as a person and professional? Do you fit in the structure that surrounds you? Does the grass look greener on the other side – only to find that, when you make a change, you’re right back where you started?

As a person – What drives you? What do you dream of doing? Where do you perform best? What’s your core makeup? What are your professional strengths? What drives you crazy, that you wish you never had to do again? What do you want to build?

As a company (or consultant) – What are your true competencies? Where do customers value you most? What kind of work do you do best now, and what do you really want to be doing in 3-5 years? Who are your ideal customers? What bogs down your progress? What is your message? What are you uniquely able to build or accomplish?

Discover your DNA first – nothing matters more. Then you can decide where you belong, what you have to offer, what your message is.

The alternative may well be a lot of time lost spinning your wheels in frustration.

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“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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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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My Declaration of Independence

I’ve been blogging for over 4 years now, and have been increasingly active in many branches of social networking – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, video-blogging, etc., etc. (although, without a doubt, the most rewarding aspect has been meeting people and developing long-standing relationships and collaborations).

However, as with any new venture, especially one where the rules are being written on the fly, it’s very easy to fall into two very common patterns:

  1. Follow the leader(s)
  2. Go big

I’m not making a blanket condemnation of either of these practices – those instincts aren’t all bad. I fully “get” emulating those who are skilled and successful, and as a marketing guy, I appreciate scale. But it can become bondage over time. To the point where you don’t follow your own instincts, your own vision.

That’s why, as we kick off 2011, I’m declaring my independence.

No, I really don’t care about maximizing my RSS subscribers and Twitter followers. No, I really don’t intend to make sure I have a singular blogging/writing focus. No, I actually don’t want a massive audience that will create inordinate demands on time and attention. And, no, I don’t care to align myself with social media “influencer camps” of either popularizers or detractors.

I’m going to do what I’m meant to do – to live out my identity as the Connection Agent.

I’m bending everything to my main goal, my primary mission – to create the highest quality network of honest, competent, pay-it-forward people who want to change the way business gets done. Who are ready to build, together, an organic tribe of folks ready and able to bring back an environment where a handshake and a recommendation are the foundations of business – and, who are fully invested in creating a platform of cooperation/collaboration that will outclass and outperform the legacy structures of corporations.

Where social networking is a means, to a far more important end.

That vision has grown continuously in my mind and heart, and I’ve made a successful test case of it in the pharma/healthcare space over the years since I started my company Impactiviti. But it’s always been my intent to take the model and expand outward, and help provide a format whereby talented entrepreneurs and people with unfulfilled talents can create their own businesses without the inefficiency and compromises that throttle so many who should be succeeding wildly.

Yes, I will remain very active in social media. I might even once in a while write an SEO-friendly headline like The Top Ten Reasons Why Twitter and Facebook Are Like Mashable Beets. But, overboard with all the standard Guidelines to SM Success. There’s something far more important to build.

And I – we – are going to build it.

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Multi Me-dia

There are rules I follow. And, there are rules I break. Sometimes, it’s the very same rules!

For instance, I constantly encourage my partners and clients to narrow their focus and message down to one key differentiator. As a branding guy, I absolutely believe that’s crucial in business.

So you’d be forgiven for scratching your head and asking, “What’s with your multiple personas on-line? Three very different blogs, 4 1/2 Twitter accounts…what’s up with that?” It’s a great question, and one I’ve been wrestling with for quite some time.

Let me explain. No, there is too much…let me sum up (if you understand that movie reference, please indicate so in the comments!)

I have multiple areas of deep professional and personal interest. And they’re all me – all of them make up Brand Woodruff.

Just as I have multiple (5) sons, and seek to nurture and grow them all, so I have multiple areas of knowledge and business and creativity that I try to cultivate. They’re all part of who I am as a human professional (not merely a corporate brand). Common to all of them is network-building. Connecting people. Sharing.

How’s it working? Well, as with so much in social networking, it’s a life-experiment. Lots of on-the-fly adjusting and evolving. I wouldn’t recommend this approach for most people/businesses, but there are specific reasons why I’m doing it this way that I’ll share in the coming week. And I welcome your thoughts and comments about how it seems to work from your perspective.

If you’re on Twitter, here’s the executive summary: interacting together with me occurs primarily on the @swoodruff account. The other accounts (@Impactiviti; @ConnectionAgent; @StevesFree; and @LeadershipChat [shared with Lisa Petrilli] are primarily information-sharing streams right now). I’ll explain more next week what those different personas represent. And, so will I! Me, too!

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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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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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