08 May “Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means.”
The Intentional Focus of Happenstance
I found myself in a very loud room full of people excitedly networking recently. Frustrated, trying to get across what I do for a living, I found myself saying simply—or almost shouting over the ambient noise— “I’m a storyteller!”
It felt odd at first. Surprised. Even though I’ve used the word to describe myself in the past. The act of shouting it into the white noise of a barroom networking event broke something in my thinking. In a good way.
For the first time, I’d distilled who I am and what I do into a single word that everyone understood.
And fortunately for me, the word carries a certain level of audaciousness that was received with some enthusiasm.
A new colleague I’d met just a few minutes before watched this, what I thought was surely an oddball scene from a short distance away and told me a few minutes later that he thought it was an awesome way to introduce myself.
Collegial support can be helpful.
The Short Story
We in the marketing world spend an inordinate amount of time discussing, hashing out, drafting and polishing things like elevator speeches, tag lines, introductory copy and the like all in an effort to communicate simply not what we do or who we are, but… WHAT IS OUR VALUE?
That’s the one thing we must communicate. It is essential.
And it’s the one thing we lose track of all the time. All of us. Clients. Businesses. Consultants. Agencies. All. Of. Us.
Humans are naturally self-centered creatures. We tend to see the world through our own lens first and clearest. To step back, separate out and see things through someone else’s eyes – your customers’ eyes, for example – is not a natural state. It takes time, patience, understanding and discipline.
The Leadership Perspective
Disclaimer: If any of my clients, former or current, read this… this story is not specifically about you. I could swap out any number of names to tell the tale. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count.
Sometimes, it was my fault for not being able to impress upon you the importance of seeing things through your customers’s eyes. And sometimes, it was more a condition of the leadership mindset that kept you from seeing anything through any other lens than your own.
We can’t blame you for it. That’s what made your product, service and business valuable in the first place. That single-minded focus on creating something good and helpful. Something that solved a single core problem for your customers.
The problem is… especially if you’re a naturally technological person, your focus is on the problem and the solution and the features of what this thing does, or can do. The technology that makes it possible. The potential disruptive nature of what you’ve invented or perfected.
But your customer just wants to know how it will make his or her life better, easier or simpler.
Save me 10 minutes and I’m yours! Keep me from having to pick up the phone and I’m in!
Never Bury the Lede
So… I was writing a press release for a new client the other day. I don’t normally do that sort of work, but they wanted to start with something small and see what was possible. So I wrote a 450 word press release. And the problem was the same problem we always have with press releases. There wasn’t any news.
They thought there was.
But there was none.
So I worked at the story and took an angle that would communicate what the true benefit was to the customer. I identified the customer perspective. Described the pain points. Crafted the argument of how this new technology was the solution to all of their issues. It was perfect.
They hated it.
Because it didn’t tell the story they thought was important.
It told the story that was important to the customer. The story that was intriguing to the technology reporters in their sector who would want to write about it.
But it didn’t tell the story they had in their heads. They wanted to tell the story from the company perspective. They needed to. It was how they understood the problem.
The trouble was, no one outside the company cared about that perspective.
All they wanted to know was “why is this valuable to me?” or more directly… “what does this mean to my life?”
They put their own rewritten version of the press release out and, unsurprisingly, it didn’t get picked up by anyone.
The Direct Method
So… when I was in that vast room downtown last week, the room virtually vibrating with networking energy, and someone asked me what I did, I was forced to find a brief, direct way to capture a bit of interest and get a conversation started in an environment where I couldn’t hear myself.
“I’m a storyteller,” I shouted.
“Really? How does that work?”
And it opened an opportunity to describe how I help my clients benefit from my expertise. And it worked over and over again that evening.
I had my elevator speech. I had my magic words – two sentences to change the world. I knew them cold. I’ve used them all a million times before to great result. But by the sheer dynamic of the room I was forced to distill my message that I’d spent so much time crafting into a single word that meant something to my audience that night. It was the only way to command a bit of attention.
The Moral of the Story
When you’re telling the story of your business, be aware of who really needs to understand it. And why. And take the time to step back and see the forest you’ve planted and nurtured – for the trees. Don’t get caught up in what’s exciting to you. It’s probably not the same thing that’s exciting to them.
If you can get the conversation started with one word, then one word is enough.
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