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

De-Fogging Your Business (or Career)

{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’ve been doing a lot of Clarity Therapy lately.

What is Clarity Therapy? It’s an intensive one-on-one time where we dig deep to uncover your professional DNA, and come up with your unique direction, story, and message.

Clarity Therapy is like de-fogging the mirror and the windshield. When we see ourselves and our purpose clearly, we move forward with confidence. <—(click to tweet this).

Clarity Therapy for businesses – a half-day or full-day session – brings us to a 20/20 view of the following:

ClarityONBiz

Clarity Therapy for careers - a half-day session for individuals in transition – gets us here:

ClarityONCareer

Our goal: defining a you-based business or role. AND – we use M&Ms for props. Because gaining insight should be delicious!

If you’d like to learn more, contact me (steve at stevewoodruff.com). I can forward you all the details, and about as many testimonials as you’d ever like to see (from people just like you who wanted an objective “therapist” to help clear the fog).

And, yes, we can do these sessions over Skype.

You want one huge bonus? Here it is – the clearer your message, the easier it is for people to connect and refer you. Including me, the Connection Agent.

The Business Opportunities of The New Intermediation

{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’ve been consulting with a company that has a tremendous opportunity to grow through the differentiation of its offering. They stand between a huge pool of unstructured “stuff,” and a business need to make that stuff intuitively useful (even beautiful). This type of creativity is a rare gift.

Many companies and people have lost work due to the internet-driven trend of disintermediation (the removal of no-longer necessary “layers” in the business chain – think about what Amazon has done to entire swaths of the publishing/book-selling business). But there are whole new business models on the other side of that coin – people and companies who can step in between two parties/needs and provide value.

These are The New Intermediaries. And, for an entrepreneur, this is a model ripe with opportunity.

A new intermediary provides value by creatively translating “stuff” into strategic business value. <<–(click to tweet this)

For example – the client I described above specializes in creating intuitive visual design. Now, if you can look into a vast sea of poorly-structured information and create an information design presentation that advances business goals, you have added tremendous value as a specialized intermediary. How many of us have experienced corporate on-boarding that was slipshod and poorly structured/designed?

This business problem needs a specialized intermediary (apologies, in advance, for the Ugly Graphic!):

IntermediaryDesign

The above is one particular expression of a generalized New Intermediation structure, which we can generically portray this way:

Intermediary1

The new intermediary has enough of a foot into the big pool to understand the possibilities and extract the core value (think of an experienced digital marketer who can talk to programming geeks), but also has a foot in the strategic business world and can see the market application (that same marketer discussing potential applications with the CMO). This intermediary is a filter and a translator and an interpreter between two worlds.

What is an on-line curator of information? Exactly – a new intermediary. The internet (and social media) has created an explosion of “stuff,” but also there are tremendous opportunities that come with the enhanced ability to build and cultivate networks. Social networking can be a mechanism to enable business intermediation.

In fact, I launched my Impactiviti business 6+ years ago based on this concept, though I wasn’t really thinking so much about the generalized potential of the model. I create partnerships with the best outsource vendors for training and marketing development (out of a vast pool of providers), and then I “matchmake” my pharma clients with the optimal providers – helping clients more efficiently choose vendors, while helping vendors more efficiently gain targeted business opportunities.

IntermediaryImpactiviti

A major enabler of this business model, from the get-go, was digital technology for networking and communication.

The intermediary has to have solid domain expertise and a trusted reputation to be effective. Bingo – only the top people and companies can do this. And, hey, isn’t that what we want – business growth opportunities for those who have earned differentiation through competence and trust? When I do Clarity Therapy with professionals looking to gain a clear direction for their future, it’s surprising how often we quickly identify a potential opportunity involving new intermediation.

I’ve scribbled down some other applications of this model somewhere in this vast pool that is my desk – I’ll dig it up this week and post a few other suggested ways people can carve out this role for themselves. I’m thinking that a lot of people in their 30′s, 40′s, and 50′s who have built up a strong base of knowledge and credibility can find themselves a nice niche as new intermediaries and role their own. What do you think?

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: 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

>> De-Fragmenting Your Business

A Tale of Two Welcomes

This past week, my 3 brothers and I took our annual pilgrimage up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire for some bro get-away time. We hike, we play tennis, we joust over the card table, we verbally spar – it’s a fun time to re-connect. And we love upper New England in October.

There’s a lot of tourist activity in this part of the United States, so it’s interesting to see how different states and communities pull it off. Shortly after entering Vermont on I-91, there is a Welcome Center (Guilford exit) that trumps all other welcome centers I’ve ever seen—>

Beautiful post and beam construction. An eye-catching variety of country implements, Vermont memorabilia, information stations, clean restrooms, lovely exterior design and landscaping – and a huge carved-in-granite welcome sign. Plus, as a bonus, there was a pavilion outside inhabited by friendly locals who were serving coffee and selling a nice and diverse selection of baked goods (many of the healthy/organic variety). One of whom went out of her way to take a group picture of us.

A Welcome To Vermont that was truly memorable.

Then, on the way back south after our stay (which was lovely, by the way – the fall colors were just about at their peak), we left Vermont and re-entered Massachusetts. Now, I’ll try to be fair here – the more touristy sections of the great state of Massachusetts are to the east (Boston and shoreline) and to the west (Berkshires). But I-91 is a major corridor, and I’d like to think the powers-that-be would want to leave a good impression of the state. At least a nice welcome.

Instead? After the obligatory Welcome to Massachusetts sign at the border – “Pull-off area, 2 miles.” No Welcome Center. No facilities. Not even – get this – a trash can.

Well, at least there was a nice threat. Does this type of user experience encourage a repeat visit to the state? Is this the memory anyone wants to leave?

Now, not many of us are in charge of state tourism bureaus. But we do run businesses. And first and foremost on our minds should be our Welcome Centers. What is it like when people first encounter us on social platforms, for instance? A barren, sterile, and functional presentation with nothing to offer the user isn’t going to be particularly memorable – except in a negative sense. A vibrant place of beauty and interest and personal interaction, however, can color the impression of an entire entity – all the way up to the level of an entire state, let alone a business.

I’m a New England boy, so I happen to know all the goodness that Massachusetts has to offer. But had this “welcome center” experience been my first impression of the state, it may have also been my last – and my lasting – impression.

How’s your welcome center? Your first impression may be the last. Make it like Vermont!

___________

Related posts on Connection Agent:

>> Creating a Welcoming Climate

>> Sweet Customer Service by Vosges

My Career Fragmentation Story

In a prior post (De-Fragmenting Your Business), I introduced the imagery of fragmentation to describe how, over time, our professional identities can become cloudy and unclear. Ever feel like your career has been full of bits and pieces that don’t entirely make sense together? Yeah – that!

Have I been through this? Indeed! So…let’s use my pinball-like career history as a brief case study to illustrate the process of both fragmentation and (eventual) illumination…

First, I should say that I have held many jobs that had little to do with pursuit of a career direction – like many younger folks, I exchanged time and effort for a paycheck doing things like delivering newspapers, working a McDonald’s grill, cleaning bathrooms, bagging groceries, construction, and waiting on tables. I even worked in a plastics factory one summer. Now THAT was unfulfilling (and malodorous)!

Actually, the second summer I worked at a McDonald’s, so did the woman who would become my wife. So don’t despise any work, OK? :>}

My first real career job was in sales – specifically, high-tech radiation medicine equipment. I took that job for one simple reason – money. Turns out I was smart enough to learn the field and the equipment, and persistent enough to make sales. That job also began to bring out something that was nascent in my makeup – a talent for marketing and messaging. But I was an introvert, I was not highly confident, I was task-oriented more than people-oriented – really, I wasn’t much of a salesperson. I was not driven by numbers, had little of that killer instinct, and I had to learn how to become outgoing. I did earn trust, however, which can partially make up for a multitude of weaknesses. Eventually I started managing a small field force, but that also was not a strong suit. The whole sales/management role thing was like walking in a pair of shoes that never really fit. Been there?

Around the end of my 10 years there, the world wide web showed up. I was hooked. Without any guidance or mandate, I learned basic HTML and created the company’s first website. Instantaneous, global, visual communication? I was all-in! And I wanted to get deeper into that world for my next career step.

So, I learned that I could handle technical stuff, I enjoyed marketing, and I saw the potential for digital communications. Also, years before, I had gotten an initial taste of what personal strength/makeup assessment was all about. That continued to fascinate my analytical makeup.

The next position, with a software company servicing the pharmaceutical industry, allowed me to continue to get my geek on, and to grow more in the marketing arena. But my primary responsibility was still sales, and I did my best to create new business. However, partway into my 10-year tenure there, we hired a REAL salesperson, and as I watched her in action, I finally realized something – I’m not wired as a classic sales person at all. Hello, mis-matched role! Actually, turns out that I’m a problem-solver. I’m consultative. I like designing new solutions. And, in this job, I got to also taste software design, project management, corporate leadership, strategic alliance development, enterprise IT collaboration – all of which helped me to clarify what was, and wasn’t, in my DNA.

Social media began to dawn during the latter half of my time there, and once again, I saw the future. In some way not yet definable, I knew that a large shift was underway, and I needed to be part of it. And I was beginning to understand more of what my sweet spot truly was. I compulsively saw holes in the marketplace, and couldn’t stop thinking of creative new ways to solve business challenges.

I was a consultant-communicator-builder – who loved digital.

What was happening during these years was both a fragmentation (trying to perform in a variety of differing roles and titles) and a refinement (this I can do; that I cannot do; this I can do really well). My conclusion since then is that many of us can do 8-10 things adequately, but there are typically 1-2 (maybe 3) things that we truly love, and do exceptionally well. It took a long time to figure that out – in all the fragments of ore, our main job is to find our unique nuggets of gold and run with them.

It was my intention 6 years ago to build a company around my specific strengths and long-term vision, and to put aside the fragments that weren’t core. So, my current solopreneur job is designed around me. I consult, I build opportunity networks, and I’m a vendor/client matchmaker. And, in the process of working with a variety of vendors, I discovered something else that had been slowly simmering over my entire career – I am an intuitive identity analyst who can help people and companies discover their DNA and brand themselves. Now my sweet spot has become clear: assess purpose; distill message; define opportunities; connect with targeted others. Or, to put it another way – helping individuals and businesses de-fragment and gain clarity about their sweet spot!

It took a looooong time for that train to arrive at the station.

Lots of trial-and-error over many years got me to those four verbs (assess, distill, define, connect). Various roles and titles  brought certain strengths to the surface, while also creating the discomfort of mis-matched capabilities. And many good friends along the way gave objective input to help gain a 20/20 view. I believe that some level of pinball-like experience is likely for most of us, but many individuals and businesses never seem to get to the point of sorting through the fragments and refining down to a clear roadmap. And addressing that problem is the passion that burns in my soul.

Why should any of us – individuals or businesses – settle for working at 30%, or 40%, or 50% of our true capacity? What is stopping us from finding our sweet spot and prospering there, instead of floundering elsewhere? I really don’t think it’s an exaggeration to view the fog of fragmentation as one of the biggest threats to productivity in our entire economy. Too many great people are adrift in mis-matched roles, and too many companies are doing the wrong kinds of work. Maybe we can get that right first, then worry about six sigma and team-building exercises later!

So, that’s my story of fragmentation and gradual illumination. There’s a massive relief when you can distill down to the key verbs that reflect your strength, and also plug in the right coordinates into your professional GPS.

Do your career shoes fit yet? Do yourself a favor – get there quicker than I did!

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

___________

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

Four Reasons Why I Bought a Ford This Weekend

This weekend, I did something I don’t believe I’ve ever done before.

I went to a Ford dealer and bought a Ford automobile.

We tried getting by with our two cars but, with 2 high-school age kids and the ever-growing list of places-to-go and people-to-see, we finally had to make an addition. The odd fact is, that I never even bothered seriously considering another make of car this time around. This, from someone whose last few business cars were all Mazdas and whose family van is currently a Toyota.

Why? Let me give you four simple reasons:

1. Quality. I don’t care what the item is, or what the argument for domestic production is, if you’re not high-quality, you don’t earn my business. Ford has been making great strides in this area, enough that they slowly but surely edged back onto my radar screen. When my 18-year old and I took a test drive in a gently used 2010 Fusion, we were quite impressed (at the top of his list: the sound system, and the cool blue vanity lighting in the cupholders!)

2. Scott Monty. Scott is Ford’s social media guru, though I became acquainted with him back in 2007 or 2008, before his tenure with Ford. Scott has done a great job putting a more human face on a venerable American institution, and that goodwill (earned over time) translated into, not only consideration, but strong leaning, when it was time to make a purchase. It pays to hire good people. If you’re keeping score, President and CEO Alan Mulally: +1, Scott Monty.

3. Principle. Ford had the guts to refuse the government bailout years ago. While Chrysler and General Motors decided to become state-run institutions (or facsimiles thereof), Ford held to free-market principles. Thousands of us Americans never forgot that, and when it was time to make a purchase this weekend, guess which two companies were not even in the running? Granted, Ford is not some perfect company filled with angelic beings, nor are the employees of GM and Chrysler the spawn of evil. I reserve the right to re-consider GM products in the future, of course – but only if and when they are no longer a ward of the federal government. It’s not personal – it’s principle.

4. Referral. My entire solopreneur business model is based on trusted referrals. When I reached out on Facebook about my upcoming decision, a good friend (thanks, Janice!) recommended that I deal with Tommy Garcia over at Wayne (NJ) Ford. They also said that the General Manager (Troy Mol) was great. I reached out on-line and got an immediate and friendly response from Milca Irizarry, and meeting each of them over at the dealership was a pleasure. Purchasing cars can be a dreadful experience. My time at Wayne Ford has, without a doubt, helped advance my view of the Ford brand. If you’re keeping score, Mr. Mulally: +3, Wayne Ford.

I am not going to change the world of business by one little car purchase, or through any of my social media rants about it (e.g., here and here). But this entire experience simply reinforces the power of what should be obvious, in any business. Make great stuff. Do the right thing. Hire the right people. Treat customers right. And the end result will be the vein of gold that every business seeks – enthusiastic referrals. And sometimes, very public commendations…

(lest there be fuel for cynics, so let me say up-front that I have received no financial or other consideration for writing this post. I just believe in telling it like it is – and that includes the good stuff when it is earned!)

___________

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

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

>> How I Manage My Introversion

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!

___________

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!

___________

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!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

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

>> Want to Be Memorable? Use Word Pictures!

50 Shades of Grey Marketing: No Audience for That!

That’s the theme of my guest post today on Carol Roth‘s blog: There Is No Audience for 50 Shades of Grey Marketing.

Excerpt:

The land of grey is where commodities dwell. It’s where businesses walk in circles, broadcasting noise into the void with the hope that a clear echo will return. Healthy business development begins by coming out into the sunshine and leaving all those indefinite shades of grey behind… (read the entire post)

Related – my recent guest post on Marketing Profs Daily Fix blog: How to Fight Fog and Overcome Clarity Deficit Disorder.

Excerpt:

Often, our marketing resembles a storefront with a streaky window and a jumbled display. It’s too much effort to try to understand what’s being offered. It’s not your customer’s job to figure you out. It’s YOUR job to cut through all the fog in less than half a minute with vivid, memorable language…(read the entire post)

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Is your business hard to spot in the fog? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

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

>> Want to Be Memorable? Use Word Pictures!

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

I’m afraid I am a heretic of business communication. I don’t buy into the one-minute elevator pitch.

Actually, I’m totally into the idea of a compact presentation of one’s self and one’s business. I just have three issues with the one-minute elevator pitch:

  1. The one-minute
  2. The elevator ride
  3. The pitch

It’s too many words, for too long, and it’s trying to accomplish too much.

For your opener, I believe in the the Fifteen-Second Memory Dart – a single phrase with a vivid image that can be delivered before the elevator door closes.

Here’s an example:

Q: “Good to meet you, Michele Price. What is it you do?”

A: “I’m the Digital Media Splash Agent – I employ my on-line platform to amplify my clients’ promotional efforts during product launches and trade shows, so they can impact a much larger audience.”

BOOM! Vivid imagery. Concise explanation. Clear offering. One sentence summary; no forgettable monologue. Dart, meet bullseye. And, it certainly helps to have a reinforcing visual.

This opening verbal dart accomplishes three things:

  • It makes you immediately memorable. You’re leaving an image behind via an effective word picture.
  • It very quickly establishes if there is a potential area of need (not only with that individual, but with someone they might know).
  • It opens the door to say more by invitation, at which time you can take 30-60 seconds to tell a condensed story.

I have a lot of common perspectives with Chris Westfall, who is positioned as the (NEW) elevator pitch guy. But I think introduction-by-pitch is one step premature. In the first 15 seconds, we need to capture attention, be memorable, and provoke an invitation to tell the story. That’s what a memory dart does.

I will warn you – it sounds easy, but creating your memory dart one of the hardest communications challenges you’ll ever face. Distilling purpose/offering/message to one sentence and wrapping it into an image or analogy takes tremendous creativity and hard work. But since this is your first foot forward in every professional introduction, where your goal is to cut through the fog and be remembered – nothing else is more important.

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Are you Memorable? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Make Your Life a Story, not a List

>> Are You Standing Out in the Field?

Want to be Memorable? Use Word Pictures!

I was reading one of the typical articles about crafting your elevator speech – you know the one-minute summary of who you are, what you do, the features and benefits, etc.

I get the idea, but that’s about 50 seconds and 35 floors too long. People don’t have the headspace to absorb, process, and remember all that. And if they can’t remember it simply, how can they pass a referral along?

The answer: word pictures.

I remember talking to Shannon Whitley last year about the various creative programming projects he’s worked on, including all kinds of interfaces to other platforms. I blurted out, “Oh – so you’re the API Guy!”

That’s a very short compass of words, which can be uttered before the elevator door even closes. If you need help with anything to do with APIs, Shannon is THE go-to expert. Period. Memorable. Refer-able.

Let’s take a glance over at my tweetstream. There’s…C.C. Chapman. Now C.C. is a challenge, because he does so many different things well – all having to do with the use of media (all forms) in marketing. To my mind, he’s like a one-man marketing prism, a stained-glass window of media. But that doesn’t quite capture the consulting and expertise factor. The pushing-the-envelope stuff that’s always been part of his approach. Maybe he’s more of a Media Navigator. Have to think about that one more…

Then there’s my friend Sarah Morgan, who works in the pharma sphere (we were among the first pharma social media troublemakers), but that’s not what her blogging is about. Her Twitter bio states, “Bascially, I write.” – but that’s not really descriptive enough of Sarah. She writes heart-words.

Dan Rockwell (@LeadershipFreak) and I just exchanged messages. I could see him getting into an elevator with someone, and respond to the inevitable “What do you do?” question with three words: “I speak leader.”

These short, memorable expressions create images in the minds of others. They are meant to convey, not just information, but word pictures. You can spend thousands on advertising, but there is nothing as powerful as a well-chosen word picture.

That’s what will make you stick, when everyone else is forgotten.

___________

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Make Your Life a Story, not a List

>> Are You Standing Out in the Field?

Make Your Life a Story, Not A List

I was on LinkedIn again yesterday, in preparation for a call with someone who had been downsized, and found myself sighing, for the umpteenth time, over the format of an on-line resume.

Another list.

This job title. That company. This short list of tasks. Even some undefined insider acronyms. Just swap out the particulars and you could be any one of a billion commodity people.

Don’t undersell yourself. You’re not a list!

When people hire me to help re-write their LinkedIn profiles, I employ some of my Clarity Therapy process to extract three things from them:

  • What they’re really good at and want to do more of;
  • The story of how they got to where they are;
  • The key point of brilliance they want to “sell” to their next employer.

Then, we go back through the profile and turn it into a story. The main themes leading to the new desired role are woven into the past job responsibilities, highlighting the individual’s greatest strength and accomplishments, and showing how they lead in the direction being pursued.

Bullet points and biz-speak words don’t paint a clear picture. They leave you undifferentiated. A resume should not merely be a summary of facts; it needs to tell a story. Your story. And it needs to strongly suggest what your next chapter should be.

Your next employer doesn’t have the time to help you figure out who you are and where you’re going. That’s YOUR next job, before you seek your next job!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Transcendent Communications

>> Are You Standing Out in the Field?

Re-Thinking Re-Branding?

Today over at my Clarity Therapy blog, I’m asking some questions about how the speed of the marketplace affects our approach to (re-)branding.

Re-Branding: Get Used To It?

Please come on over and join the discussion!

Are You Standing Out in the Field?

Like it or not, you are one of many, many companies or service providers competing for a limited slice of attention in a marketplace overflowing with noise and information.

For consultants and small businesses – actually, for any size business – the cacophony of billboards, radio spots, TV advertisements, and the flood tide of digital noise from the social web makes it increasingly challenging to be noticed, let alone remembered. Your main competition isn’t your competitors. It’s distraction.

Which means that if you simply blend into the background noise, you’ve lost your advantage.

Let’s assume that you actually have some magic. You do have something unique to offer. How do you stand out in the field?

Some will say it takes a hugely expensive campaign; others will gladly take your limited funds to try generate something “viral.” These are not particularly effective or sustainable strategies. One fundamental trait, however, can make any business stand out: Clarity.

By clarity, I mean you’re clear on your offering, clear on your differentiation, clear on your message, and clear on your vision. It is the opposite of throwing 10 bullet points of possible work you might do up against the virtual wall and seeing which one sticks. That’s the quickest route to becoming a faceless commodity.

A Clear Offering

What does clarity look like? Actually, you don’t have to look any further than the Duct Tape Marketing blog. Look at these two summary sentences on the site:

Simple, Effective, and Affordable Small Business Marketing

John Jantsch has been called the world’s most practical small business expert for delivering real-world, proven small-business marketing ideas and strategies.

The reader immediately knows whether they are the target audience, and exactly what the Duct Tape promise is. By being that specific, John stands out – while gladly giving up a bunch of other potential business where he couldn’t be outstanding.

A Clear Differentiator

I am fanatically loyal to Amica Insurance. I don’t price shop, and I don’t consider other dance partners. Why? All the geckos and good hands and Flo’s that parade across the TV screen promoting other companies are noisy commodities to me, because Amica has provided stellar and attentive customer service for decades. They completely stand out. And, ever since obtaining the first-generation iPhone, I’ve never considered going back to a non-Apple platform. The user experience is simply too good to give up. These become my home brands.

A Clear Message

We try to say too much, not realizing that our potential customers (and referral partners) can only process and retain one or two main things. Few companies have mastered the art of distillation, which is truly central to effective marketing.

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? In this regard, clarity is also your key to ongoing referrals.

A Clear Vision

Once you have 20/20 vision about your purpose and direction, suddenly a whole host of decisions that have always plagued you becomes much more simple. Clients you spun your wheels chasing now don’t fit into the clearer vision. Non-core work that you were doing is no longer in the long-term plan. When you can look a client in the eye and confidently say, “THIS is what I do – not that, and that, and that” – everyone is far better off. But for many, even those who have been in business for a while, the most difficult step is saying it to the mirror.

I have terrible uncorrected vision. Glasses are mandatory! The fact is, clear vision is not an option. Whatever other investment I may forego, I will always spend the necessary funds to see clearly – because that is foundational to everything I must do! Amazingly, however, few of your competitors will do so. That’s why clarity can become your strategic advantage. Making you the one standing out in the field.

(this post originally published at Duct Tape Marketing blog)

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Crowd-Sourcing Some Clarity

>> The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

Crowd-Sourcing Some Clarity

I’m on a mission – a crowd-sourced mission.

I want to find the companies with the most exquisitely clear positioning and messaging out there. Companies that really nail it with simple, vivid words and imagery (and stories).

I’m not looking for companies that stand out because of great customer service over the long haul, or amazingly efficient supply-chain strategies, etc. Nor am I seeking to highlight mega-organizations that have blanketed the airwaves with their brand.

These elements can be vital to success, of course; but I’m looking for clear and compelling messaging that truly reflects what the company is about. Small or mid-sized companies. Micro-businesses or consultants. People who can’t spend a bazillion dollars on a marketing campaign, and so have to employ the art of focus and clarity.

What do I mean? Here’s an example (PrimeGenesis). Note how precisely they’ve defined their niche, how simple their core messages are, and how practically and clearly it is all reinforced. THAT’s what I’m talking about! There are 9,999,999 things these folks don’t do. There’s one thing they do. It’s their space, their specialty, their message.

Who impresses you? Please “nominate” them in the comments. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the mention; and if I see a company that I think is outstandingly clear, I’ll gladly highlight them in a blog post. We need to congratulate the people that do this well, and learn from their examples!

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

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> The Top 5 Ways to Define Yourself – NOT!

>> The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

Top 5 Ways to Define Yourself – NOT!

Companies and consultants can be remarkably good at vague and unfocused market positioning. Here are five recommended statement-types to help you get a head start on becoming a forgettable commodity:

5. “We are an enterprise-level solutions provider helping customers align their business processes with strategic goals.”

- Ahh, the old high-brow business-speak fog machine. In other words, you charge big companies big money to do something undefined that sounds impressive. But since the snake oil is delivered via a Powerpoint deck (with flowcharts!), that apparently means you leverage industry-wide best practices.

4. “A globally-responsible business partner.”

- And exactly what does this mean, tangibly speaking? And, while we’re at it, how does it affect my bottom line? Maybe you have a recycling bin in the cafeteria and use new-fangled light bulbs, but no WIIFM = no big deal.

3. “Before hanging out my own shingle, I moved from junior associate to VP of my division more quickly than anyone before me.”

- Great yearbook fodder, but that helps me how? The world is full of ambitious ladder-climbers. Enough about you…what about me?

2. “We help you with your marketing, communications, marketing communications, digital media, social media, sales, sales training, train reservations, dinner reservations, recruiting, and global commodities investing.”

- Oh, you’ll work for food. Great niche! Sigh….

1. “Our people are our greatest asset, and it shows in our J.D. Power award-winning customer service scores for the last 3 centuries. We mean business!”

- I’m sorry – what do you do?

You’ve got only a few seconds to make a lasting impression, and to stick in the minds of your customers. People will put you in a bucket, and it is up to you to define that bucket and make it memorable.

You might be exactly what they need – but if you’re shooting low-quality arrows randomly into the air, you’re not likely to hit the target. You either have a clear offering summed up in some high-impact, well-chosen words – or, you’re background noise. And we certainly don’t need any more of that to distract us!

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Sound like your challenge? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Seeing 20/20 in 3-D

>> The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

Seeing 20/20 in 3-D

A little while back, I got new prescription glasses. And there was that moment, putting them on, when I realized what it is like to see 20/20 again. All of us who wear contacts or glasses know that wonderful feeling.

The slow drift toward unclear vision often goes unrecognized until someone fits us with a new pair of lenses.

The fact is, clear vision is not an option. Whatever other investment I may forego, I will always spend the necessary funds to see clearly – because that is foundational to everything I must do! Amazingly, however, few of your competitors will do so. That’s why clarity can become your strategic advantage.

When I work with you on a Clarity Therapy session, we’re looking for a 20/20 vision for you or your company. We’re interested, not merely in creating a tagline, but in discovering your purpose.

If you’re going to differentiate yourself in the marketplace, you need to have a crystal-clear message and identity. This unfolds in a 3-D process:

  • DNA – during the first part of Clarity Therapy, which involves a lot of free-flowing Q&A, we’re digging deep to find your professional DNA – uncovering your drives, your gifts, your strengths, your dreams.
  • Direction – next, we explore options, figuring out ways that your differentiating individual/company qualities could optimally succeed in the marketplace.
  • Distillation – finally, we take all these themes and condense them down to 4 elements of expression to position you in the minds of customers: Offering, Message, Story, Analogy.

In less than a day, you’re seeing 20/20. In 3-D. You’re not throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what sticks (what’s the ROI of that??). You’re taking charge with a roadmap that’s clear.

It’s a great way to win in business!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Be Narrow-Minded

>> You at the Crossroads

Business Mist = Business Missed

We’d fondly like to think that our potential clients – and even we ourselves – have a clear, 20/20 view of our professional offerings and message. However, the case is almost always more like this:

The fog of information overload in the minds of customers, the greyness of unclear positioning, the vaguely familiar sounding competitive bullet points – all of it adds up to being easily forgotten when the opportunity is at hand. Business Mist means Business Missed.

A lot of dollars and time can be spent marketing and advertising, but if the message is unclear, the investment is futile.

Instead, we need to create this for our customers:

Whatever else you do, this should be first. Without clarity, you miss opportunities. Clear enough?

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Be Narrow-Minded

>> You at the Crossroads

Be Narrow-Minded

When building a business, it’s healthy to take something often thought to be a deficit, and turn it into a strength.

I’m talking about narrow-mindedness. Specifically, I mean that you should relentlessly optimize your market definition. Get a clear focus. Aim for the smallest of targets.

To put it in the words of a very helpful article by Tom Searcy in Inc. magazine: Don’t define your competitive advantage by your competitors. Define your distinction by your customers.

(go ahead – click the link and read the article. It’ll be your best read all day.)

Or, #9 in Seth Godin’s very insightful 21 points (blog post: How To Make Money Online): Obsessively specialize. No niche is too small if it’s yours.

(go ahead – click the link and read the article. It’ll be a tie for your best read all day.)

When we start or seek to grow a business, we often try to define ourselves in relation to our competition. Big mistake. One of the cornerstones of the Clarity Therapy approach is that you/your company has something very unique to offer. That needs to be front-and-center. Not everybody’s else’s bullet points.

In business, the broad-minded lose. They are lost in the fog of an unclear identity and message. Don’t be that guy. Get narrow-minded!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts:

>> Clarity, part 1: What’s Your Offering?

>> Clarity, part 2: Make Your Message Clear

>> Clarity, part 3: People Buy Stories

>> Clarity, part 4: Your Clarifying Analogy

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