Differentiated Messaging

Thank You Steve Jobs: Why Join the Navy When You Can be a Pirate?

Posted on October 6, 2011. Filed under: Differentiated Messaging, Management Concepts | Tags: , , , , |

“Thank you Steve Jobs.”  This content with this hashtag froze Twitter today.  I daresay, since the launch of Twitter, nothing has prompted so many millions of people to tweet, to retweet, to have the need to talk about an event, as has the passing of Steve Jobs. In my own opinion, the world lost a brilliant individual yesterday. His passion for innovation, excellence, and development of the “coolest” products is felt by me everyone (yes, I’m a Mac) and will be felt for many generations to come. But what about him inspired so many people?  I’m bringing back a post that I first wrote about a year ago.  It, to me, sums up what I’ll take from Steve Jobs…to be proud of being different.  Read on and, in honor of Mr. Jobs, find what makes you or your company different and go for it!


“Why join the Navy if you can be a pirate?” It’s a quote from Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. Jobs is universally recognized for his brilliant planning, bold statements, and charismatic keynotes unveiling the latest and greatest Apple has. (If you’ve never seen one of his keynotes, Google them; they are pretty entertaining.)

But Jobs is best known for leading Apple from market flunky status to market icon status. His willingness to be a pirate in the marketplace, versus joining the Navy, has led to Apple’s reputation of innovation. What would Apple be if it had gone the path of the PC world…if it had given up and said, “‘Me too’ is a high-enough goal for us?” I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have had the raving advocacy, the market growth, or the investor return we’ve all witnessed. It would have become one in the masses or, worse yet, gone into extinction. Instead, it’s a household name.

What is the key to Apple’s success? In my opinion, there are several:

1. Apple wasn’t afraid to be different; in fact, it embraced its uniqueness and staked a claim in its market for that uniqueness.

2. The company looked for what made it different – innovation – and used that to its advantage as a differentiator.

3. Apple made a decision to live and breathe its differentiator in every part of its company and customer experience, from its products to its advertising to its stores and employees. Have you ever bought something at the Apple store? You don’t go to a cash register…your card is swiped on a handheld device! You don’t get a mandatory paper receipt…you get an email receipt! Even the normally-mundane purchase process is innovative.

Find out what makes you or your company different. Then determine how it helps your customers. Does your speed to market give your clients a competitive advantage? Does the insight you bring to the table put your customers in a better place to foresee market changes and proactively prepare for them? Whatever your differentiator, find it, determine how it benefits your clients, then use it to your advantage…in your communications, your sales conversations, your customer experience.

Arrgh! Go on, be a pirate!


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A Day in the Life…

Posted on April 5, 2011. Filed under: Customer Experience, Customer Focus, Differentiated Messaging |

We see it on TV, in magazines, even on the web. “A Day in the Life…” Whether the focus in on the president, business executives, celebrities, teachers, Olympic hopefuls, Miss America, or some other interesting character…you name it, we seem to be obsessed with a day in the life of those we don’t know.

But are we obsessed with knowing what a day in the life of our customer looks like? I’d venture a guess to say few of us are. I find it interesting that we care so much about the lives of people we’ll never touch and yet ignore the lives of our customers who we may touch every single day. Instead, we tend to assume what that day looks like. And you know the risk with the tendency to assume.

So if you want to improve your ability to be relevant to your customers, what are you to do about it? Here’s a thought: find out what a day in the life of your customer looks like. You can shadow them, much like reporters do with those people whose lives we read about…but that might get kind of weird in some situations. For instance, if you’re a dentist, your patients may not get all excited about having you follow them around, watching what they eat, how often they brush their teeth, how often they “forget” to floss.  A viable alternative might be to ask them. Focus groups and traditional customer research are great for this, as are intentional conversations. Ask your customers what a day in their lives are like. Actively listen, ask questions, be present in the conversation, and you’ll be amazed at how much insight you gain.

Having these conversations will help you understand the critical objectives of your customers and the challenges that keep them from reaching their objectives. That allows you to develop and position solutions that address the pain points and message in the sweet spot – that area where your customers have needs that you can address with differentiated solutions.

You can assume all you want, create personas until your brain bursts, and dream the loftiest dreams, but until you are obsessed with a day in the life of your customers, you will be guessing at the solutions and messaging that are relevant to them. But once you get a picture of a day in their life, you’ll be able to focus on them with pinpoint accuracy. And though “a day in the life” of your customers may not be TV-ready, what you find will be pretty interesting and exciting for your business.


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Are You Buzzword Bingo Worthy?

Posted on March 28, 2011. Filed under: Differentiated Messaging | Tags: , , |

Have you ever heard of Buzzword Bingo? It’s a game, somewhat prevalent in corporate America, which was conceived to poke fun at the overuse of buzzwords in place of meaningful concepts or information. It’s not a difficult game to replicate in your workplace – simply create bingo cards and fill the boxes with the corporate jargon you hear every day. When you hear the word, block it out – when you block out an entire row, you’ve got a bingo.

Are you Buzzword Bingo worthy? Consider the following questions:

  • Is your product or service real-timescalable, and user-centric?
  • Do you have the bandwidth to take on more and still reach milestones?
  • Is your company uniquely qualified to offer a particular service?
  • Do you provide world-class solutions to mission-critical challenges that result in a win-win-win situation?

If you tend to use the bolded words in your sales and marketing materials and language, you’re pretty Buzzword Bingo worthy – and that’s not good! In essence, you tend to use jargon in place of relevant words. And that means you’re not creating a clear message for your prospects and customers about how you can help them solve their challenges or meet their objectives. Rather, you’re throwing overused buzzwords against the wall to see what sticks…and, by the way, so are most of your competitors.

So if buzzwords are the confusing norm in the market, think how easy it can be to differentiate your company simply by clarifying your message. And you can clarify your message in three steps:

  1. Choose your words carefully and define them.  People define words and phrases differently…make sure you and your prospects are on the same page by defining the buzzword rather than actually using it. For instance, what does real-time mean?  Is it instantaneous, within an hour, perhaps within half a day or even an entire day…or longer? Who’s to know unless you define it?
  2. Rather than using a buzzword, tell what you help your clients do. For instance, what can your clients do because of the instantaneous information you provide them that they couldn’t do before they had it? Can they plan ahead, react faster, save time, or save money?  Say that! Take that next step and tell what getting that instantaneous information means to them and their business.
  3. Tell a story that proves your claim. Nothing sells like a story. What story brings your claim to life? Tell that story – but no buzzwords please!

Are you Buzzword Bingo worthy?  Please, please, please pass on that “honor!” Clarify your message, tell it in simple, descriptive language, and toss a story, rather than a bunch of buzzwords, to your prospects. Let your competitors win the bingo, you focus on wining the sale!



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The Focus is on “You”

Posted on March 24, 2011. Filed under: Differentiated Messaging |

So it’s really all about you…at least in messaging. In my last blog, I asked you to look at your current sales and marketing materials and see if you were “we-ing” too much. Most companies are. So how do you turn your attention from “we” to “you,” to your customers? For starters, do these three things:

  1. Get into your customers’ minds. What are they on they trying to achieve…what are they on the hook to deliver…what keeps them up at night?
  2. Realize that your solution, although a legend in your own mind, is only good in the minds of your prospects if it helps them sleep again at night.
  3. Identify how your solution helps your prospects overcome their challenges.

Once you have these identified, you can start to get your mind – and your words – around your customer. Do this by focusing your words, whether verbal or written, on your customer rather than on your company, products, and services. Instead of “we developed the greatest [insert product] on the planet, ” try something like this:  “you can overcome the challenge of [insert client challenge] and improve your ability to [insert what they can do better now] with [your solution].

See the difference? The first is all about “we;” the second, all about “you.” And I didn’t just change “we” to “you;” I changed the entire positioning of the solution. As a prospect or client, which would entice you the most? That’s a very simple example, but you get the picture. Take a couple shots at this and see if your message resonates a bit differently, and better, than it did in the past.



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Stop We-ing So Much!

Posted on March 22, 2011. Filed under: Differentiated Messaging, Good Habits |

No, this is not a blog about drinking too much soda! It’s about a different kind of we-ing. This blog is about the habit “we” all have of using the word “we” incessantly in marketing materials.

Take a look at your sales proposals, your marketing materials, your presentations.  How many sentences start with the words “We,” “Our,” or the name of your company?  I’d be willing to bet more than 50% of them, perhaps maybe even nearly 90%. And that’s a symptom…a symptom of being egocentric in your customer messaging.

The default of most companies is to talk about “our history, our product offering, our people, our technology, our solutions, our [fill in the blank].” We do this, we do that, we have something unique. Here’s the problem with that…your customers don’t really care what you have, they care about what you can do for them, how you can fix their problems, how you can solve their challenges.

Try rephrasing your language to focus on your customers. It’s not as easy as it sounds. You can’t simply replace the word “we” with “you.” Rather, you really have to change your mindset. You have to get into your customers’ shoes and understand what they need and want. Your have to realize that your solutions are a means to an end for them. Once you get your brain around these things, you’re off to a good start, but you can’t stop there. Use words your customers use, develop a rapport with them, write to them as if you’re talking to them.

I’ll write more about this in my next blog…until then, take a look at your customer-facing materials. Are you we-ing too much?



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Why Did Groupon Do It?

Posted on March 16, 2011. Filed under: Customer Experience, Differentiated Messaging | Tags: , , , |

Two months after the Super Bowl, people are still talking about the Groupon commercials. If you happen to be one of the few people in this country that didn’t see them, the most controversial ad featured Timothy Hutton highlighting the plight of the Tibetan people – and then suddenly noting that they “still whip up an amazing fish curry,” which Groupon users can get for a great price.

The commercials unleashed immediate backlash on social media websites. People called the commercials “disgusting,” “tacky,” and “vulgar.” What’s really odd about this whole thing is that Groupon actually intended the ads to tell viewers about their “Save the Money,” website, a philanthropic campaign to raise money for a group of organizations, including The Tibetan Fund. But no one, including me, ever got that message. Why was it missing?

Groupon’s CEO wrote on the company website that the intent was to “poke fun at themselves,” not to trivialize the causes. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Groupon blew millions of dollars creating the ads, hiring celebrities, and buying airtime to, in the opinion of millions of viewers, poke fun at the problems of others.

So what did it do for their brand?  The jury is still out.  Some say the ads were a complete gaffe and put a huge dent in the brand, evidenced by untold throngs of people opting out of their email marketing (including the person to whom I was talking two days ago).  Others say the fact that people want to save money these days supersedes bad taste.  And still others say that Groupon got exactly what they wanted – brand recognition for months, whether positive or negative.

The opinions vary, but what doesn’t vary is the fact that Groupon’s Super Bowl ads were not consistent with the brand it had built over the past two years. The company grew out of a collective action and philanthropy site, ThePoint.com, which is focused on doing good.  Groupon had built its reputation through word of mouth and limited online advertising. It was, in essence, “grass roots grown.” Focused on doing good and grass roots grown – not exactly what the commercials relayed, do you think?

Customer experience is a compilation of what your prospects and customers see, what they hear, what they touch, and how they interact with you.  In this case, what Groupon’s prospects and customers saw and heard were in direct opposition to what the supposed “intent,” according to Groupon’s CEO, was. Who missed that dichotomy while the ads were being created? Where was the testing that would have quickly told them the ads were off-brand?

Messages, whether they are communicated verbally, in writing, or in interactions, are important – they can support or devalue your brand. They are worth paying attention to because although a brand takes hundreds of right moves to build, it can be damaged – or destroyed – by one bad move.

Time will tell what Groupon learned from their first foray into the big time. Don’t wait to learn the hard way – take the time and action to ensure your brand is strengthened by what you say and do.



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Stories that Capture your Audience

Posted on November 10, 2010. Filed under: Differentiated Messaging, Stories |

Last time, I wrote about telling your value story and how to create a consistent story…one that can be repeated by your entire sales force or, better yet, by everyone in your company.

And maybe you remember me saying, “Telling a consistent story about your company is critical. Telling the right story is equally important. Weaving the elements of your story together is an art, but it has to be a process as well.”

In the case of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, everyone knows the story because someone by the name of Charles Perrault took the time to weave the elements of the story together in a particular way. And if you take the time to weave the elements (aka products and services) of your story together you, too, create a consistent story that can be retold by anyone in your company.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a “one size fits all” approach in customer messaging. You’re not done once you’ve written the story. Your next step is to tailor the story to your audience.

Let’s go back to Little Red Riding Hood. Think about how you might tailor that story when telling it to a 2-year old versus an 8-year old. The 2-year-olds will keep you up all night if you spend too much time on the wolf, so you downplay how awful he is and spend time on the sweet little grandmother. But 8-year-olds live for scary stuff, so you go into great detail about the wolf’s long, yellow fangs, sharp, nasty claws, and dark, evil eyes. In both instances, you’re telling the same basic story, but you’re tailoring it to your audience. Your business value story is no different. Tell a consistent baseline story, but tailor it to be relevant to your audience.

How do you do that? Ask questions so you know how to make your story relevant to your prospects. What challenges is the organization facing? What goals need to be achieved this next year – and beyond? How will success be measured? Now think of how your offering can help your prospect achieve those things and tell your story in that manner. This approach changes the entire dynamic of “sales.” Your sales team is more consultative, your proposals are more relevant, and prospects are more receptive. Why? Because your story captures them. And this approach isn’t just for sales…every customer-facing employee should be able to tell and tailor the story.

Create your story. Test it out and make changes as necessary. Then once you get it, let your employees know how to tell it consistently and how to tailor it for their particular audiences. May Little Red Riding Hood be your guide.


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What’s Your Story?

Posted on November 8, 2010. Filed under: Differentiated Messaging, Stories |


We hear them, from The Three Little Pigs to Little Red Riding Hood to Charlotte’s Web to Lord of the Rings.

We watch them in the form of movies. In fact, some movies even remind us that we’re watching a story with the word right smack dab in the title: Love Story, Toy Story, The Story of Us, and Bedtime Stories.

We tell them. “Do you know what happened to me today?” “You’ll never believe me when I tell you this!” “Boy, do I have something to tell you!”

Yep, we’re all about stories. You and me…we like our stories.

So here’s a question for you. What’s the story you tell about your company? Do you have a story? Do your employees all tell the same story?  It is a strong story…is it the story you want told?

Telling a consistent story about your company is critical. Telling the right story is equally important. Weaving the elements of your story together is an art, but it has to be a process as well.

Let’s go back to Little Red Riding Hood. The basic elements of the story are a little girl, a red cape, a wolf, a basket, and a grandmother. We all know how the story goes. But suppose you gave those five elements to ten people who didn’t know the story and asked them to create a story. How many different stories do you think you’d get? I bet you’d get at least ten!  Each person would combine those elements differently according to their imagination, background, and knowledge.

Little Red Riding Hood is a great testimonial of why managing your company story is so important. If you simply provide the elements of your value story – your products, your services – to your sales team, you’re asking them to create their own story. And they’ll do that based on their background, knowledge, and, most likely, their imagination! You’ll end up with each salesperson telling a different story and each prospect hearing a different value proposition.

So take the time to create your story, one that tells the value you bring to your customers. Weave the elements together and end with value…the value they have because of your partnership with them. Test your value statement with the “so what” factor. Pretend you’re the prospect and ask, “So what?” after the value statement. If there’s an answer to that question, you’re not at the bottom line value yet. Keep going. Keep asking “So what?” until you can’t answer the question anymore. Then there’s a good chance you’re at bottom-line value.

I’ll talk more about telling your story in my next blog. Until then, think about what you want to tell.What’s your story?




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Schmeear It On

Posted on November 5, 2010. Filed under: Differentiated Messaging, Uncategorized |

I’m writing this the day after the election.

Are you as tired of the smear – or I prefer to drag it out with the word schmeear – campaigns as I am?  Two senate candidates here in Colorado spent over $30 million bashing each other. Is that something to be proud of…to know you set a spending record and that it was based on painting an ugly picture of your opponent?

Don’t worry, I’m not going into politics here…in fact, I’m not even sure I could articulate what each of those two candidates stood for in their campaigns. And isn’t that sad? All I know is that they focused a lot of time, energy, and money on attacking their competition. And I heard a lot of frustration that most campaigns’ content was of a similar genre.

On the other hand, the Colorado governor’s race was run without one negative ad that I can recall. But oddly enough, what I can indeed recall are those things the candidates stood for. Once the results were announced, here’s what the winner, new Governor Hickenlooper, said in reference to his supporters, “I especially appreciate your commitment to keeping this a clean campaign. You have made history tonight by showing you can win with a message of what you are for, not who you’re against.”

So what can we learn from these two approaches to a campaign?  Maybe, just maybe, it’s better to focus on what differentiates you from your competition rather than resorting to attacking them. Creating a differentiated message, one that articulates your sweet spot in a relevant way to your audience, makes a much bigger impact – not only about what you provide, but also about the integrity with which you conduct business – than schmeear campaigns ever can. It may be easier to just attack your competition, but it’s not nearly as effective.

I encourage you to take the time to determine your sweet spot and create messaging around that sweet spot. Let your prospects and customers know what you stand for and what differentiates you from your competition. You can win without having to schmeear anything or anyone!


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