Perception is reality, right? If everyone has the same thought or belief in their heads at the same time, does it make it real?
Back in the 80’s my Flock of Seagulls haircut and Don Johnson jacket were a hit. I know this because everyone told me. But these days, the same look gets an entirely different reaction.
How can this be?
It certainly felt real at the time, but at some point, the collective reality changed. So, far from being robust and absolute like something that is physically, tangibly real, shared beliefs and wisdom are more fragile, fluid and more vulnerable to changes in the accepted general view of what is and isn’t good or on-trend.
But this is not a phenomenon restricted only to fashion and popular culture. There are often times when I observe a similar fragility in the accepted wisdom that surrounds marketing and business growth.
Take marketing trends, PR and ‘social buzz’ for example. They’re funny things. They are real in the sense that there are whole industries built around them, but much of the shared wisdom and advice is less so. Instead it’s about perception, what people think, feel and imagine.
If everyone is told their website is lame without video, or that CONTENT IS EVERYTHING!!! or, that print is over, or that any medium or industry is dead or dying; does it make it true?
I’m not convinced.
Video is just a medium. A dull or irrelevant message is still that, even on video. For it to have any influence, the message must have value and engagement. Otherwise it’s simply noise.
Likewise, content without some outcome or call to action is no more than altruism. It’s very kind you’ve produced this useful material, but why do you keep doing it? Don’t you have a business to run?
And there are so many exciting examples of supposed anachronisms, which have in fact re-found their audience and come back stronger than ever with massive followings – think: cinemas, home brew, LPs, cycling, cardigans (or is that just me?), and of course the powerful personal impact you can create by taking the time to send a quality piece of print or even hand-write a note to a key contact.
Maybe collective wisdom isn’t quite what’s it’s cracked up to be?
In fact, on that track, let’s consider something else: If you talk hard enough about your passion and mission and how you really, really care about all your clients, will business automatically flood in?
Again, I’m not convinced. Yes, passion and mission are great, but is anyone going to hand over their hard-earned cash just because you’re really passionate about your field or industry, or because you care about the uniqueness of each customer?
No, it takes more than that.
How do these Collective Hallucinations arise?
Sometimes hallucinations result from misinformation like the whole ‘build it and they will come’ myth around websites, content, mobile apps… Other times they are the product of commercial agendas – you remember the Google Plus profiles we were all encouraged to have, which were supposedly vital to be an authority in our fields, and then Google changed their minds and dropped them like they’re hot?
And as much as we don’t want to admit it, occasionally it’s down to our own lack of due diligence, even laziness – the times when we didn’t question the advice of so-called experts, or conduct our own research; we just accepted their truths.
The authentic, no BS approach
So what do you need to do?
Well, people may read and enjoy what you do, they may love your mission and relate to your passion. But unless you can offer them something real in return, unless you can get to the tangible real-world outcome you’re delivering, and why it’s of use to them – even though they might buy into what you do – they aren’t actually going to buy what you do. (And that by the way is the real-world outcome that you’re looking for).
What’s been your experience of collective wisdom turning out to be Collective Hallucination? Let me know in the comments below.
The first thing he said. The very first words that came out of his mouth were an out-and-out, deliberate lie…
It’s a regular Tuesday afternoon. The phone rings. Unknown number. I answer.
“Hi Kevin, I was just speaking with one of your colleagues, and they said you’d be the best person to speak with.”
Which was interesting - I was the only one there.
I think: “Why are you lying to me?”. I say: “How exciting, go on.”
Cue sales pitch...
I guess his logic isn’t entirely warped. It’s always preferable to have some kind of warm introduction to a new prospect. And if there isn’t one, perhaps it is tempting to fabricate one?
But as a ruse, it’s hardly robust is it? “So which colleague did you speak to?” - “Erm…” “Which number did you catch them on?” – “Ah, well..”
And it’s a shame. I’d formerly had some knowledge, even respect, for the company. They have a smart product. One day, I may even have become a customer. Not now though. Hell no!
Any organisation that regards its customers, and its own integrity, with such disdain, is not one with whom you want a relationship.
Whether through explicit direction, or insufficient controls (for which read ‘lack of interest’), their willingness to let their frontline staff lie and trick customers says all you need to know about how any future relationship would work out.
And it’s all so unnecessary. In fact, it’s lazy. And reckless.
It would be no trouble at all to have sent a warm-up email in advance, to have asked if I minded them calling. I may have declined, but it wouldn’t have yielded any worse results than the lazy lie.
Besides the rant (thank you, I feel much better now) there’s an inevitable moral to this tale. Beyond the obvious ‘first impressions count’ and ‘10 ways to warm up a cold lead’ clickbait, the subtler message is about the risks and responsibilities of scale and outsourcing.
You can’t make every call yourself. You can’t sit in on every conversation. So, assuming that, unlike our case study here, you do have values and a moral code, then make sure these aspects are as much a part of your employee and contractor onboarding, as everything else. You’d never dream of leaving a new sales person to their own instincts about the benefits or technical capabilities of your products, so why on earth would you skip the core part of every sales dialogue – building rapport and trust?!
Some of the fundamentals to consider:
Delegation is an essential part of growing, but…
Define clear parameters
Build a cohesive team
While some of this may seem intuitive, it is easy to let things slip, especially when attention is diverted away from micro-level events like everyday operations, to macro issues like the scaling of your budding enterprise.
Finally remember that however fantastic your product or service is, it cannot make up for underhand and short-sighted sales practices. Irrespective of whether you operate in the B2B or B2C marketplace, people buy from those they trust. When you become complacent and reckless with people’s trust, it’s near-impossible to win them over again.
Have you been on the receiving end of similarly dubious sales tactics? How do you ensure your own team remain true to your original vision and values? Share your own experiences in the comments below.
In anticipation of our next Breakfast Board on the role of social media in personal branding, we asked Clare Groombridge, Founder and Director of South Coast Social, to write us a special guest blog...
If you’re a business owner, you’ve probably often considered how to portray the best possible image of your brand through the company social media accounts. However, many business owners I speak to are so focused on the way their company is perceived online that they often neglect a key factor - their own personal branding.
A quick Google search of your name and company will confirm that social media is one of the strongest ways for someone to FIND information about you and your business – and it’s also the best way to help DEVELOP this information into the online personal brand you wish to portray.
So why is developing your personal branding so important? Well firstly, by having a strong personal brand you will also help to boost your company profile. Research from Neilson shows that 77% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company when they hear about it from someone they trust. By ensuring your presence on social media is consistent, you can have a real influence on your company’s sales and reputation. 84% of people start their buying process with a referral (Source: SalesBenchIndex) - and Google is the very first place people look.
By creating a strong personal brand, you’re also effectively marketing yourself as an expert in your industry and demonstrating WHY people should trust you and your opinions. The same Neilson research also showed that 92% of people trust recommendations from individuals (even if they don’t know them) over brands!
Customers researching your business will also be looking at you and every social media profile you own is promoting your personal brand - and they WILL be evaluated and checked! It’s an old cliché but it’s very true - you only get one chance to make a first impression and how your personal brand is perceived could be the difference between someone choosing your business over a competitor.
However, as a business owner it’s key to ensure that you carefully research which social media networks are right for you and your audience – you should also consider each profile set up, tone of voice, content (what do you want to share), who you are looking to target and how you will engage with influencers and potential new business contacts as well as the feasibility of how often you will be able to post.
What’s been your experience of developing your personal brand, and balancing this with that of your business, on and offline? Let me know in the comments below.
Clare Groombridge, Founder and Director of South Coast Social
South Coast Social are a Bournemouth based social media agency exclusively for small to medium sized businesses that are focused on growth and expansion.
With a prestigious client list spanning a wide range of sectors, South Coast Social work with brands to develop an effective social media presence based on their unique industry knowledge and years of experience.
“If you would like some guidance on crafting YOUR unique online brand through social media, we are excited to launch our first ever bespoke Personal Branding Social Media Package – affordable and tailored to YOU, whatever your niche or experience. We’ll guide you through every step of the process, reviewing your current social media (if appropriate), evaluating your individual requirements and creating a personal branding strategy to set you apart in your industry. We can also create a package for your business partners or employees – after all 53% of decision makers have eliminated a vendor from consideration based on information they did or did not find about an employee online (Source: HubSpot).”
Want to know more? Simply email email@example.com / call 01202 985022 to book your package and start investing in YOUR online reputation!
So this is your chance to impress. Your ‘elevator pitch’ - A 60-second window to capture the interest of a potential new connection, sparking a few thoughts, planting a few seeds, deepening the engagement and hopefully encouraging them to take some sort of action.
You’ll need to speak clearly and make sure your counterpart/s understand the fundamentals (your name, position and company name), plus what your business does (some form of punchy description of the business, its products and typical clients).
And of course to make that essential good impression you’ll also need to drop in:
And, that’s all within the moment of a brief handshake or introduction.
So how can you possibly do it? Well, the answer of course is that you can’t possibly.
It’s impossible to cram all that information into any kind of civilised two-way conversation. Believe me, I’ve seen people try and what results is a desperate, rushed stream of garbled words and mixed messages.
The smarter alternative, that avoids overwhelming your prospect, is – the art of inference!
Rather than awkwardly rattling off a list of points, instead focus on planting key facts that will project a story about yourself. Give just enough information to allow the person you’re talking with, to infer the rest without the need for a lengthy explanation.
Think about it - Your goal is merely to pique interest. Your pitch is an invitation to talk more, rather than a full audition. You want your prospect to choose to take things further.
So, with so many opportunities to network over the coming weeks (dare I mention the Christmas season looming upon us?), now is the time to perfect your powers of inference.
Here are ten thought prompts for developing an introduction that is distinctive and memorable (for all the right reasons):
The key to the perfect pitch is simplicity and brevity. Keep it succinct, people don’t like to be over-sold to. No one will retain the detail if you go on too long. They’ll just remember how you made them feel – probably like they wanted to escape.
How do you introduce yourself? What’s your ‘elevator pitch’? Let me know in the comments below.
For more networking survival tips also check out our 'Survival Guide To Networking' free e-book.
Ronseal introduced its infamous ‘Does exactly what it says on the tin’ slogan in 1994. Dubbed the anti-line, it was an enormous success, rocketing sales and making Ronseal brand leaders. Such was its power; it even entered the national lexicon and is still popular today – including our nation's our nation's esteemed leaders.
The 90’s may be long gone, but this fuss-free marketing approach seems here to stay as it continues to grow in popularity amongst advertisers, marketers and their audiences.
But, why is this? If marketing is about differentiation, the ‘it is, what it is’ approach should fall flat.
Conventional wisdom suggests that to stand out from your competitors in a market where commodity products are interchangeable, you should add extra value, emphasize an X-factor and sell a lifestyle, not just a product or service. You should talk about how your products make customers feel.
Yet, Ronseal does the opposite and is a success regardless. It focuses almost exclusively on the process (what it does) at the expensive of the outcome (what you get) and neglects the features of benefits that would set it apart from its more upmarket competitors.
So, why does this work?
Ronseal avoids directly differentiating itself from competitors and in doing so, successfully manages to differentiate itself.
While competitors are busy listing all the ways in which their product is better than any other, Ronseal has already won over their market with three words: ‘quick-drying woodstain’. This alternative approach works because:
In short, Ronseal gives its target market exactly what they want –something that does what it says it will do – and that is why their approach is successful.
So, contrary to best practice, success in a competitive marketplace might not necessarily be rooted in giving something extra, but in getting the basics right:
Could your business strategy benefit from a ‘Ronseal’ approach? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.
Who are you looking to meet? It’s a very simple question, but rarely gets a straightforward answer.
More often than not we come up with something vague and generic, probably along the lines of “anyone who wants my services” or basically ‘whoever’s willing to pay me’, and this kind of response misses the point, and also an opportunity.
For example, me, I’m looking to meet:
There. Its transparent, and specific, and gets people thinking ‘who do I know who fits this profile?’
And that of course is what you want. An unashamed to-the-point answer generates a very clear call to action, where previously there might have been little more than a vague planting of information.
So, really, who are you looking to meet?
.. well, you know how it goes. Like it or not, we start hearing, and thinking, about Christmas earlier every year.
For some of us, it’s time for one final push before the shutters go down, to end the year on a high and invest in new momentum for the new year coming. Equally though, it can be a time of frustration as your hottest contacts become distracted, elusive, and internally focused.
So alongside my usual ‘Winding Down For Christmas?’ reminder (download it as a PDF here), I’d like to humbly plant a couple of seeds of… well, let’s call it seasonal empathy… as we move into the final month of 2015.
As we enter the festive lead-up...
…what kind of different issues or opportunities will your clients have?
…what are they going to be doing differently?
…how will their mindset be different?
Think about what your customers and key contacts are focusing on, and looking for, towards the end of the year.
Now, with this insight, what can you do that’s timely, and to-the-point, and supportive, and different?
You know, I think convenience is possibly THE most influential strategy in our New Age of Differentiation. Why? Because, when push comes to shove, convenience will over-ride all other considerations: price, quality, service… everything!
Let’s be clear. Convenience isn’t about laziness, poor decision-making or lack of market intelligence. No, convenience is a conscious buying choice. It’s a recognition of finite time, and greater priorities.
To turn this into your own competitive strategy, you have to be:
* Yes, ‘Easy to exit’. You can’t create a sustainable business by locking your customers in against their wishes. Instead, it’s up to you to keep creating and proving value for your customers, so that there is clear benefit in their wanting to stay with you.
Conversely, INconvenience creates barriers and reasons to defer. We have enough of these coming from the environment around us as it is, without creating more of our own.
Now, put the word ‘Difficult’ in place of ‘Easy’ in the list above and re-consider what that looks like for your customers.
So, which are you?
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You know that competitor of yours, the one who’s always:
Well, that’s leadership that is.
Ok, some of it’s also PR* but mostly it’s leadership.
(*One for another blog - never underestimate the value of a good PR person).
It’s leadership because it requires:
All are classic leadership qualities, and this is why, done well, leadership is one of the most powerful and sustainable competitive strategies.
It’s distinctive, noticeable, and can't be faked... and that's differentiation.
Up next: Part 5 - Convenience.
This is article 4 of 5 in the 'The New Age of Differentiation' series. Keep up with the rest of the series, plus future unique updates from The Boardroom Blog, by joining The Boardroom mailing list here!
In my last blog update I said there was a new competitive strategy in town - ‘The Experience’.
Fact is, there’s a whole posse! The traditional formula for differentiating by price/quality/delivery is no longer enough. Customers expect more, and let’s face it, we really shouldn’t expect a medal for merely delivering what we’ve said we would, at a decent quality, and for a reasonable price. Sure it’s good, but it’s not differentiation. It’s meeting expectations.
So if this is where the bar is now set, what do we have to do to go beyond it? How do we stand out from the mainstream in a new age of differentiation?
I can see five distinct strategies.
The first is my previous point about creating experiences and making emotional connections - Read the Experience post here.
And the second is Trust. In a world of massive commercialisation, consolidation, and impersonal delivery at scale, trust is becoming an increasingly rare commodity. So, on the rare occasions it does materialise, trust is noticeable, and valued.
I’ve talked about trust before, and the argument remains the same - trust is not some fluffy statement about caring and good intentions. In practice trust is only earned, and it comes from both capability and intent. You must want to do the right thing, and be capable of doing so.
Oh, and when push comes to shove, it tends to be capability that we prioritise. Why? Because all the good intentions in the world don’t count for much if they’re just talk. We’re all ultimately looking for outcomes.
And so this is the challenge for small/er businesses: Without the resources, marketing budgets, brand presence... of your bigger rivals, how to you evidence the weight of your capability, the provenance of your claims, the credibility of your networks, and the kudos of your experience and track record?
What are you doing to convince to your network that you not only want to, but can, do the right thing?
Next up: Part 3, 'Collaboration'.
This is article 2 of 5 in the 'The New Age of Differentiation' series. Keep up with the rest of the series, plus future unique updates from The Boardroom Blog, by joining The Boardroom mailing list here!
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