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Do’s AND Don’t Do’s

Clare’s accountancy clients tell her she’s like a breath of fresh air.

When she started her company, she took time to onboard her clients— walking them through how she could help them, taking a pile of paperwork and other mental clutter with her as she left. Nothing was too much trouble. Clients valued her approach, and her business thrived.

But as Clare’s business grew, her posture started to shift. She was too busy to serve people in the way that had originally differentiated her company. Small mistakes were made, and apologies overlooked. She stopped picking up the phone. As her business scaled, Clare continued to do her job, but she’d forgotten to show she cared. And that made all the difference.

The day came when her very first client decided they should part ways. Clare understood immediately that she’d lost this client because of the one small thing she could have done, but didn’t do.

It’s worth remembering that it isn’t only what we do that people notice— sometimes it’s what we don’t do that determines our results.

Image by Cowomen.

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Purposeful Connection

Our new neighbour Bob is renovating the old terrace house next door. Well, when I say renovating, what I mean is rebuilding the entire house from the top down. The roof is off, and there’s not much left but a shell of the existing property.

It’s not the first time Bob has taken on a project like this, and it shows—not just in how he organises the team of builders, but in how he communicates with the people who will be affected by the work. Namely us.

Before work began, Bob’s first move was to invite us onsite to walk us through his plans. His second was to show us the common wall that needs to be rebuilt and to explain how he will fix it for our mutual benefit. The third was to give us his phone number, with instructions to call if we’re concerned about anything.

Bob has taken the time to empathise with us, his new neighbours. He’s anticipated our fears and our questions. He’s made us feel like we’re in good hands. And even though we barely know him, we trust him.

It turns out that we don’t have to build connection and trust on the fly.
We can do it on purpose.

Image by David Siglin

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Being Heard Is Overrated

It’s easier to be heard when we shout. But being heard needn’t be our ultimate goal.

What if we aspired to be listened to instead?

To be embraced rather than just noticed.

To be valued rather than used.

To be sought out and remembered.

To be recommended and treasured.

To be loved.

Image by Felix Koutchinski

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Your Brand Is What You Consistently Do


‘There’s nothing remarkable about what we do here,’ my hairstylist Leanne says, as I take a sip of the iced water, flavoured with fresh lime, placed next to a pile of new magazines and the coffee menu, by the receptionist who shows me to my seat.

‘It’s just what we do.’

And that’s the point. It’s what they consistently do—every time, without fail, that differentiates this business from the twenty others in the same suburb, where I could get my hair cut faster and cheaper.

The kind of people they consistently employ.
The type of products they consistently use.
The service they consistently deliver.
The promises they consistently make and keep.

Choices greater than the sum of their parts, that combined create a brand clients are loyal to, and a story they want to tell.

Image by Guilherme Petri

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Earning A Competitive Advantage


The German restaurant in our neighbourhood closed its doors after a year in operation. The chef’s reputation and inventive menu were not enough to draw sufficient numbers of customers to make it viable.

We knew it was only a matter of time before another owner took over the lease. And sure enough, last weekend we saw a new coffee machine installed and the tables and chairs being delivered.

There are six cafes selling great coffee and a decent brunch within a hundred metres of this one. So, what does the owner believe her competitive advantage will be?

Few new businesses have an unassailable advantage—one that makes them the only choice for a prospective customer. Most don’t make measurably superior products or own proprietary software. They haven’t patented a secret formula, and they don’t necessarily have more resources or talent than the next company.

Successful companies don’t expect to start out ahead of the game on day one.  They plan to earn an advantage over time, by knowing who they want to serve, and how—then building on their strengths to tell the story that matches their ideal customer’s worldview.

And when they do, they give their customers a story to tell, compounding their advantage as they go.

Image by Valberg Larusson

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The Unfair Exchange


‘That will be eight dollars,’ the woman, who is carefully weighing and wrapping two serves of freshly made fettuccine for us to take home, says.

As my husband is about to hand her the cash, she takes another handful of the pasta from behind the glass and adds it to our package.

She doesn’t announce that she’s giving us twenty per cent extra for free.
She doesn’t even invite us to notice the gesture at all.
It’s enough for her that she knows she has added value.

We think of value as a hard metric—the anticipated fair exchange of this for that.

But value can be a surprising, generous, unfair exchange.

Something that is given because we can, not because we must.

Image by Maria Molinero

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Better Customers


A young friend of mine who moved to a new city was having trouble making friends.
She lamented about not meeting the right people.
‘How can I make good friends?’ she wondered.

Her question reminded me of something my grandmother used to say.
‘You get good friends by being a good friend.’

What would happen if we applied this advice to business?
What if we doubled down on delivering good service as a strategy to get good customers?

There are two questions we’d need to ask at the outset.

1. What’s our definition of a good customer?
2. What are our customers’ ideals about the companies they want to support?

When we know who we’re building for and what they care about, we get better.

The Story Strategy Course shows you where to begin.

Image by Jenny Marvin

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On Being Valued

A graphic designer works for decades to master the tools of her trade. Not just the design programs and fonts she uses, but her discernment, her eye and her empathy—the intangibles that clients value in the end result. Things the designer doesn’t add as line items on her invoice.

Value creation isn’t only about what’s exchanged in a transaction—the logo, the sandwich or the software. Value is more than the usefulness of things. Value is about utility and desirability.

If we want to be valued for both the skills that differentiate us and the work that brings us joy, then we must find ways to articulate that value to our customers. Better stories create value.

Image by Ionut Coman

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Message Before Medium


One of my favourite activities in art class was poster design. I loved the constraint of having a single medium and limited space, with which to deliver the message.

Today, there have never been more ways to reach an audience.

Just as we master one medium, another channel presents a new opportunity to distribute our message.

It’s tempting to try to master every new medium that could enable us to reach more people.

But since our objective must always be resonance over reach, it isn’t the medium that should dictate our communication strategy—it’s the message.

The more time we spend mastering the message, the clearer we are about what we have to say, who our message is for and why it matters.

Image by Gary Knight

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Competence AND Character


Our family moved to Melbourne almost five years ago. By some happy accident, we ended up finding the perfect home—an 1850’s terrace, one of the first houses to be built in the city.

The house next door has been empty since we moved in. The elderly couple who raised their family in it had hardly updated it in seventy years. We knew it would be sold one day and the new owners would renovate. We looked forward to seeing the old home restored to its former glory. But we were dreading the day the builders arrived with their jackhammers.

The house sold last winter and the builders arrived a few weeks ago. They are still at the demolition phase, and I have no idea about the quality of their workmanship yet. But we’re more at ease about how the building work next door might affect us—not because it won’t, but because of how the builders are going about it.

It turns out that the builders are wonderful. They do everything they can not to disturb us and reassure us that they will make good on things that affect our property. It’s their character, not their competence that makes them stand out.

Character is what we choose to do.

As individuals and brands, we’re judged by our character, not just our competence.

How does your character differentiate you?

Image by Pictr73

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