Getting Your Message ‘Out There’

When I was fifteen it cost fifty pence to go a see U2 play live to a tiny audience in the function room of the Rathfarnham Inn. A group of girls from my school who were die hard fans and too young to get into a pub at night applied three layers of eyeliner, half a can of hairspray and bluffed their way in every week. Of course once the word was ‘out there’ and U2 became the next big thing the fifty pence gigs came to an end before I was old enough to go. They are still my heroes.

‘Out there’ is a place most companies, entrepreneurs and artists want to get to. Getting the word out becomes a preoccupation. Everyone knowing about your thing becomes the goal. This might partly explain why U2 in partnership with Apple tried to give away their new album to 500 million iTunes users who had never asked for it. Sadly the noise from those who resented the interruption and didn’t want the album, drowned out the voices of the people like me who were delighted. It turns out that no matter how big you are permission is not just a nice to have, it’s mandatory for marketers now. Here’s what lead singer Bono had to say in an apology last week:

“There’s a lot of noise out there. I guess we got a little noisy ourselves to get through it.”

It might have been easier thirty ears ago to rise above the noise, but no matter how far we’ve come or who you are the strategy for being successful is still the same.

  • Make something great, which by definition won’t be something for everyone.
  • Speak directly to the people who want to hear from you, which means you have to know who your right customers are.

Ironically this is exactly what U2 were the masters of even when they were just starting out.

What’s more effective than getting your message out to everyone is drawing your right customers in and giving them a story to tell. There is no shortcut to mattering more.

Image by Phil Romans.

The Best Marketing In The World

It’s easy to know why the features you built into your products and services are important, but it takes a particular skill to understand and communicate why they should matter to people.

The best marketing in the world doesn’t remind people how great the company is or how many features have been added to the product. The best marketing reminds people how great they are.

Image by Mikael Wiman.

How Everything Truly Great Is Inspired

This is the story of a trap we all fall into. Every single entrepreneur or creator without exception is thrown off course by following a similar pattern. It doesn’t matter if you are on the board of a Fortune 500 or a designer trying to get her blog off the ground. The same struggle happens at both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between.

You’re about to start a project, set up shop, begin blogging, develop a breakthrough product—what’s the first thing you do? You begin looking for inspiration and the first place you look to is your competitors—the people and companies you believe have everything worked out.

But sometimes you forget to stop looking and start doing. You begin to draw on their experience neglecting to build on it by using your own. You subconsciously focus on how hard it’s going to be to catch up, instead of intentionally learning from what they forgot. Their voice, purpose and way of showing up in the world gets louder and grows bigger, while yours seems quieter and smaller, until eventually it’s so muffled that you can’t find it at all. This is the point where some people stop showing up because they don’t gain the traction they had hoped for as a pale imitation of a competitor, influencer or market leader.

The people who stick with it know that there is a place where truly great ideas, writing, design, products, services, platforms and innovations are born, if only we would allow ourselves to tap into them sooner and more often. Everything truly great is inspired by our own stories and experiences—our unique worldviews.

I know for sure that as soon as I began putting more of my own experiences into my writing it got better. So what? Maybe you couldn’t care less about writing? You might want to be CTO of a global corporation, or CEO of the best company in the world? So this is where I draw out my trump card (and everyone else’s too). If we know anything about how Apple succeeded under Steve Jobs we know that he, as my friend James Victore would say, “had an opinion and put it in the work.” He drew inspiration from what he lived and saw other people living, not from what he saw another company do. The following passage from his Stanford Commencement address is worth revisiting.

“And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.

Of course everyone knows that Apple is the exception to every rule of success. There’s only one Apple after all and perhaps the same conclusions can’t be drawn in the industry you work in? Except that the Airbnb guys experienced the pain of not making rent, so they started a company unintentionally by renting out the extra space in their apartment. And Mark Zuckerberg created a platform for people like him, without quite realising how lonely the rest of the world was too. Then Dave Gilboa, Co Founder of Warby Parker lost a $700 pair of glasses he couldn’t afford to replace and it got him thinking about why glasses cost as much as an iPhone. The same rules applied in the pre-digital world of Adi Dassler—yes, Adidas got its name from the founder who learned how to make shoes by watching his father who was a cobbler. As an athlete Adi also came to realise that the right equipment could enhance human performance. He went on to design football boots that helped Germany to win the 1954 World Cup and athletic shoes that were responsible for enabling the gold medal winning performances of Jesse Owens and Dick Fosbury.

This isn’t just true in the world of product innovation. Great works or art, design, graffiti and literature from Banksy to Brontë are all inspired by lived experiences or drawn from within.

Your inspiration is all around you in your day to day. Your advantage probably already exists.
You’re just not looking there. Yet.

Image by carnagenyc.

The Meaning Business

In the past most businesses gained competitive advantage from size, scale or dominance. Whoever the biggest marketing budget and could sell the most stuff won. Success was more about what you did and much less about the way that you did it. But today it’s the way that you go about your business and how you enable people to attach meaning to your brand (soloist or Fortune 100 included) that matters.

It’s a lot easier of course to say that you’re an author, photographer or investment advisor. It’s much simpler to describe your company as being in user experience, the technology business or the transportation industry—the ‘this is what we do’ part. But what you make probably isn’t enough to create an advantage for you in today’s marketplace. Products and services without meaning are just replaceable commodities.

When you think of beloved brands like the most popular cafe in your area, what one word immediately springs to mind? Perhaps it’s consistency or community? It’s probably not coffee. Apple is immediately design. Samsung.…er, let me get back to you on that. PayPal is convenience. Your bank is.…probably something that you don’t want me to repeat here. Nancy Duarte is resonate, Simon Sinek, why. This word association seems even more powerful when you flip it the other way. Which market leader comes to mind when you think of tribes, the blue box, a tick?

If you asked the same question of your customers would they be able to shoot a word back at you without hesitation? What word would that be? If the answer is ‘no’ and it’s not the word you were hoping for then go change something. You get to choose what your work stands for and the meaning it creates.

It turns out that there isn’t room for more than one blue box in a category.
’The way’ matters far more than we realise.

Image by Mairwen.

How To Communicate Your Difference

There is a place where many entrepreneurs, (maybe you) and even global corporations who look like they have got it all together, (maybe yours), get stuck when trying to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. They hit a wall when they begin to articulate what’s unique about what they do and why it should matter to their customers. The reason they get stuck is because they’re starting in the wrong place—by trying to find the words before they work on the understanding.

Difference doesn’t manifest in well-crafted descriptions, value propositions and vision statements that live in A4 files or posters in the sales department. Differentiation isn’t just described or articulated, it’s perceived and felt.

Re-arranging the words that describe you isn’t going to get you to where you want to go.
You need to dig deeper.

And sometimes even when we do know what makes us different we are afraid to own and communicate it. We’re afraid to stand out for being good at that thing that we’re good at, in the precise way that we are good, just in case that’s not enough for everyone. We get scared about putting hearts on business book covers or we worry that choosing to be small on purpose makes us less, when it probably makes us more (maybe even the best driving school in Perth).

The irony is that not being enough for everyone means you’re exactly right for the people who matter. Separating yourself from the pack starts by knowing what you’re proud to stand for and owning it. Once you do that the words will come.

Image by oddharmonic.

Showing Up For Humans, Not Just For Google

I want to send some flowers to a friend a few suburbs away, of course I could deliver them myself, but there is something magical about the unexpected arrival of flowers that means I want to have them delivered. And so I turn to Google.

After 20 minutes I find myself on page ten feeling like I have viewed 56,000 of the 57,000 results. Who gets to page ten without finding what they are looking for? I never get to page ten! But all of the florists are the same—at least that’s how they look and sound on Google—see. The formulaic bouquets look like they were assembled in a factory to spec. The frustrating thing is that I know every florist is not the same and I’m trying to find the one that’s had the courage to say we’re not like everyone else.

I want to believe that someone who cared got up before dawn, so he could reach the flower market in time to get his pick of the best blooms on sale today. I imagine him back in his workroom carefully trimming each stem and examining each petal. I conjure up an image of how he assembles every bouquet, choosing each flower on purpose so that no two bunches look alike. And it matters that he cares enough to know that he’s not just delivering flowers today, but that he’s enabling connections between friends or soothing quarrels between lovers.

Whatever you sell or serve if you go to the trouble and expense to be found then don’t make yourself invisible to the person who matters.

Image by Robin Giese.

The Misleading Advantage

The little gelato place down the road from us is dying. For three years straight they were the only good enough ice cream place in the boat harbour. The lack of competition meant that they could steadily increase their prices from $3.80 per scoop to $5.80 while continuing to staff the store with young, casual, minimum wage workers. Almost $6 for a single scoop of gelato was an indulgence for families on a hot summer night, but they paid it to eat the product in that location.

Like most businesses in the boat harbour the gelato place ‘gets by’ in winter and makes hay while the sun shines as tourists and bikinis come out during the summer months. They hold their breath for those busy months—waiting. This winter a new, brightly lit, Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop opened two doors down from the gelato place. You hear the music along the boardwalk before you get there. The happy staff (lots of), are friendly, make eye contact and acknowledge every customer. Tasting is offered before it’s asked for. The ice cream may not be any better or even cheaper—especially by the time you’ve convinced yourself that you have to try the coconut dipped waffle cone. The difference is you feel like you’re somewhere, having an experience that was designed by someone who cared. Ben & Jerry’s is a destination. The gelato place is just a place that sells gelato.

The Ben & Jerry’s brand is vibrant, they simply choose to show up in a different way. They’ve worked out that the ice cream is experienced long before it is tasted, that the impression of the first lick happens long before the cone reaches the licker’s lips. Making things people want goes beyond the making of the thing. How we create experiences, tell stories and give our customer’s stories to tell matters. It’s not just what gets scooped into the cone that becomes the advantage.

For three years the gelato place acted as if they would always have the advantage of being ‘the one’. They acted as if their job was simply to mix ingredients, then scoop them from tubs into cones. They had a chance to leverage the loyalty of regulars who they mistakenly treated like tourists who would never be back. So the people who were loyal to them for three years have switched—just like that. It turns out that when we have an option we will always choose how something feels, before we choose how it tastes, looks or works.

Image by Steve Rhodes.

What’s The Reason?

What’s your reason for contacting that prospect?
Why do you call her a prospect anyway?
What’s your reason for sending that email?
Why will everything be okay if you can just get the word out?
What’s your reason for printing those fliers?
Why does the world need your thing?
What’s your reason for starting?
Why should people care?

It’s uncomfortable to answer these questions honestly. It’s not easy to acknowledge that what we might be after is the shortcut. The fact that it might take time to earn our way to where we want to go isn’t always what we want to hear. But if we want people lining up or beating a path to our door, we need to give them a reason.
And the magical flip side is that when we do, all we need to do is whisper. No more fliers required.

My New Book—Marketing: A Love Story

My new book is here. You can buy it now on Amazon in paperback and in Kindle.

I’ve wanted to find a way to juxtapose the concepts of marketing and love in a book for a long time. I like to think that even if you never opened the book, just owning it—seeing it on your bookshelf or in your Kindle library, will remind you that having the courage to take your ideas, products and services into the world to serve people who need them is an act of love.

You owe it to your right customers not just to be found, but to matter.
I hope this book helps you to get there.

Some parts of the book have appeared unedited on the blog and I have added new, previously unpublished bonus material to the manuscript. The book is divided into three main sections; STRATEGY, CONTEXT and STORY, which gives you a framework for thinking about how these ideas relate to your business. And everyone knows that the ideas in a book stick with you in a way a blog post never can.

My hope is that we stop thinking about marketing as a necessary evil and we start using it as a vantage point for seeing the world through the eyes of our customers and the people who need us. Once we start showing up with the right intention we can begin to make great things happen.

Thanks for allowing me to write for you and for supporting these ideas. This book would not exist without you.

The Two Approaches To Marketing

All marketing uses two basic approaches. When I was growing up and maybe when you were too, marketers used ‘The Influence Method’.

1. The Influence Method

Make a product. Create an advertising campaign, jingle or tagline to persuade people to want whatever you are selling. Increase sales. Make more products. Buy more ads. Rinse and repeat.
It’s getting much harder to sell things because they ‘snap, crackle and pop’.

2. The Impact Method

The approach that’s working now for brands and businesses who want to matter to their customers is ‘The Impact Method’. Find a group of people you are interested in serving. Understand their problems. Get their permission to talk to them. Create a solution that delights and impacts them. Serve more people. Do it all over again.
It’s easier than ever to find and create difference for a group of people you care about serving.

It’s not difficult to work out which approach is the more sustainable. Which one are you choosing?

Image by Carlota.

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