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)

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

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

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

“So, what does your company do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Clarity Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Customers Walking Past You

>> Fearing Obsolescence? Four Questions for your Future

Go With What You’ve Got (A 2011 Reflection)

I freely admit that, in some areas, I am denser than an iceberg made of iron. In a few key respects, my mind runs with Olympic sprinter speed and dexterity – but in other ways, I learn at a glacial pace, only after so many crashes against the wall that I look like Rocky’s sparring partner on a very bad day.

But this year, I may have finally begun to turn the corner on one thing that I’ve believed (in my head) for many years, but failed to fully embrace (in heart and practice). When building business, Go With What You’ve Got.

You see, I often tell others that you really want build a small, high-quality, close-knit network – a tribe  in Godin-speak – instead of expending all your energy in amassing numbers. I don’t know how many blog posts I’ve written along these lines, and in many respects, I’ve practiced it – but, when it came to my primary revenue-generating pharma network (Impactiviti), I harbored a secret addiction to going wide instead of deep. There’s nothing inherently wrong with widespread recognition and messaging – but then I kept looking at where the revenue was truly coming from. And lo and behold (no surprise to any of you quicker learners out there), revenue was coming from a handful of long-standing customers/advocates. All the mass reach in the world, while good for the long-term, wasn’t really the driver. It was taking care of the people who already believed in me, and who talked me up to others. I finally started pro-actively investing much more time digging deeper than going wider.

Duh.

This simple insight, finally burrowing its way from mind to heart, re-shaped some of my social networking practice as well in 2011. I’ve always invested in the idea of cultivating a close “inner circle” of quality people, but it was difficult to set aside the broad reach model in practice. Somehow, the only thing that gets the applause lines is big numbers. Yet, I already had a wonderful circle of friends with whom I could cultivate deeper bonds. Did I really need to pour a bunch of energy into Google+, or worry about an influencer score, or be concerned about blog readership statistics? Not that any of those things are bad in themselves (well, maybe Klout…right, Sam Fiorella?), but I don’t really “need” mass numbers. I can barely cultivate deepening relationships with the wonderful people I already know.

Huh.

Finally, this “go with what you’ve got” lesson came home to me in a very unexpected new business direction. As many of you know, I have been building, behind the scenes, toward a grand vision I’ve had for years of a trusted referral network for building new business (Connection Agency). Yet, the very week I made this initiative public, an entirely different avenue of new business potential dropped into my lap – something that I already had been doing but didn’t really understand could be a business in itself. Doing Brand Therapy with individuals and companies has turned out to be the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done – yet it came to the fore only because I had some unanticipated extra time in Chicago pre-SOBCon and decided to do some free “therapy” sessions with people. Now, this practice has become a growing revenue stream in its own right, while Connection Agency has been on the slower development track.

Turns out the keys to success in 2011 were under my nose the whole time. As Thomas Carlyle put it so many years ago, “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”

Great advice for both business and leadership as we look ahead to 2012. What are the opportunities already at hand? What are you already bringing to the table? Who are the customers that make your business fly?

In fact, on Tuesday (Dec. 19th) at 8 pm ET on Twitter during LeadershipChat, we’ll be discussing our most important Leadership Lessons from 2011. Here’s one from my lovely co-host, Lisa Petrilli (My Most Life Opening Leadership Lesson of 2011). What’s yours? Feel free to write a blog post about it before, or after, the chat, and share your wisdom with other members of the community!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Twitter Chats and Cocktail Parties

>> Finding Your DNA

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

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

Why Google+ Could Succeed

Build Your Own Opportunity Network (free e-book)

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

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

Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

Connect with Steve Woodruff

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