madisonhailey

The ONE story you need to write well

We all know the deep implications storytelling has on our daily lives. The single most popular way of exchange is not a sales transaction on Amazon, but the telling and consuming of stories among friends and tv (or device screens). We are wired for stories. So it’s baffling that business leaders still have not harnessed the potential of it. They limit its use to marketing, forgetting that there is a bigger story that they need to write first before the smaller stories start to work, sustainably and efficiently. I was once a professional storyteller when I worked in advertising. The short-lived nature of campaigns always bothered me because they seemed so limited in their impact and so dishonest. It was only until recently, when I revisited storytelling as the way of creating the foundation for a business with my corporate clients, that I realized that every entrepreneur needs to write her or his core story, first. There is a strategic story that never changes, which defines the tactical stories that come from it. Without it, our storytelling efforts are drops in an ocean, forgotten in the noise of this noisy world.

What is this strategic, core story? It is the narrative that dictates the reason why we believe our business should exist. It is our admission ticket into our market. It is the causal pitch. It says, very clearly and intentionally, “Here is why what I do matters.” Most people are quick to use products, services and experience to tell their story. While these are good things, they are not the reason you exist. The strategic core story is the one that activates a founder’s purpose and makes it visible to the world: “I believe that I can change something for the better, and here is how.” Our core story makes a promise of value. This value then crystalizes into offerings (our products and/or services). But the offerings are never the drivers of a story.

Be very aware: If you limit your core story to the things you offer, you put an expiration date on your mission because it is tied to fleeting things. Our mission, however, should never expire, because it is tied to a problem we promise to solve.

Write your core story first and all the other little stories will follow. Guaranteed.

Purpose in business

I have been saying it for years, but recent worldwide studies conducted by respected advisory firms like Deloitte confirm my findings officially: Purpose led companies do much better. In every sense of the word. There is a very simple reason why today, more than ever, we can see this principle at work all around us. During bad times, when people feel either threatened, insecure or scared, the questions they ask those they buy from change. In good times, businesses are accustomed to dealing with questions like, “how much” and “how soon can I get it.” But in times like the present, if you run a business, you have to answer deeper and more relevant questions based on “Why?”

“Why should I buy from you?” 

“Why do you even exist?” 

“Why do you treat your workers so poorly?” 

“Why don’t you give back to society?” 

“Why don’t you invest in the environment?” 

“Why YOU?”

These are the questions brands get confronted with on the daily in the new normal. But in the world of purpose-driven, value oriented-businesses, these questions have always been normal. A purpose-oriented company does not wait until society starts to ask the big questions. It constantly prepares for it and builds on it. People are now, more than ever, curious about three things:

-Are you a good employer?

-Are you a good member of society?

-Are you good for this planet?

And most companies have zero answers to these questions. Which is understandable because when you only invest in delivering goods and work hard to keep prices attractive (because you think that’s all people want), you are not in the right mindset to think about WHY. You just seek to deliver, to milk the cow, to squeeze the lemon before it dries out. Understandable, but absolutely unforgivable.

As the global study by Deloitte points out, close to 60% of all interviewed consumers are willing to pay 25% more for goods sold by companies who answer these questions in a believable fashion. Which dismantles the old thinking that price beats out competition. 

The fact is, purpose will always beat competition because a well-voiced and applied purpose is so unique that it puts you outside of harm’s way of the competition. Truly purposeful companies have no competition. Those who abide by less purpose-driven strategies and rely on low prices, product inventory and loud marketing are highly exposed and easy to hurt. Purpose as a foundation of a company is not just a driver for forward movement, it is also protection against rolling backwards. 

That being said, a wrong understanding of what purpose is can be just as harmful as having none at all. And we better get clear on what purpose is before it gets hacked into tiny bits by the corporate buzzword machine. Plenty of brands abuse it as a generic umbrella term for corporate social responsibility programs to sum up all of their social engagements. To think that holding a fundraiser or donating money to the local hospital is equal to leading with purpose is not just wrong, it’s misleading and destructive. Purpose runs much deeper. Purpose cannot be left in the charge of a department, or be pinned on a single activity. It is not the discipline of PR. Purpose is everyone’s responsibility. Purpose is always and everywhere. Purpose breeds in every cell of an organization, in everything it believes, thinks and does. As such, purpose is the very definition of how a brand sees its value in this world. The sum of everything that makes a brand a good and valuable member of a local and global society is what its purpose is made up of. Purpose lives within a company’s mission. And its mission is the way it solves problems that are meaningful. 

Today’s consumers have more and more understanding that the promise of value is the relevant driver for loyalty and awareness; not the products or the prices a brand offers. A large percentage of millennials all over the world know about the terrible things corporations have done for decades: to their own people, to the environment and to the world (Exxon, Wells Fargo, Volkswagen, Lehman Brothers to name just a few). And they know how the majority of the planet looked away while bathing in the superfluous abundance these companies awarded them with. And they know that there are people who would let this happen all over again.

Luckily, the paint of greed is chipping faster than Executives can patch up. Clients and customers want more and they deserve more. And we, the owners and founders of the businesses that seek to serve them, must offer them a good reason to buy from us with confidence so we can earn their loyalty and trust.

Do you employ a clear understanding of purpose in your business? Do you use it on the daily when dealing with your staff, suppliers and clients? Are you really transparent about the things that drive your business, more than just your offer and your price? Challenge yourself and admit if your focus currently lies elsewhere, but understand that it is time to shift to that which makes you valuable, relevant and relatable: Purpose.

What’s your Why-Story?

We want to use the life we are given to make a mark, to have an impact. Well, the biggest impact we can ever make, the biggest success we can ever reach is to live according to a purpose that is deeply embedded in us, without looking back, without apologies. That is what we were born to do. This purpose is the reason “WHY” we are alive, “WHY” we are here. 

To want to know our “WHY,” and to question it, is nothing new. In times of uncertainty, many of us feel a strong disconnection from something real, something heartfelt, something that feels right. We are out of touch or unaware of our “WHY,” and our actions are guided by external influences that are not in line with our “WHY.” So, the question of “WHY” becomes louder than ever. 

You don’t want to wait until it is too late to discover and embrace your “WHY” because there is no greater fear than to die with regrets. And regrets come from missed opportunities, and what appear as “wrong” choices. Perhaps, the biggest missed opportunity is to pursue a life outside of your “WHY.” 

If you were on your deathbed and asked yourself, “Why was I on this planet?”, and you answered “To bring my true nature into the world, and by having done so, I found the success and fulfillment I was born to have,” then you are free of regret and your mark has been made. You are good to go. A person that owns their “WHY” does not feel regret – whether they spend their life in a hut or a palace, whether they served 2 people or 2 million people, whether they made 100 dollars or 1 billion dollars, if they owned their “WHY,” there are no regrets. 

But those that find themselves in a fog of uncertainty about their “WHY,” with only material proof to look back on, will feel irrelevance weighing down on them, heavy as a mountain, and regret will close over them like a veil of darkness. Acceptance and forgiveness will be the only way to make amends for a life lived outside their true nature. I firmly believe that living with joy and fulfillment are better than futile attempts at accepting and forgiving yourself for not living life according to your true nature when the show is almost over…

How will your obituary read? Will it embrace the obsessive, unapologetic and wild nature of your actions, will it tell stories of risk and faith and the unique human value you added to the world by bringing betterment? Or will it read like a polished job application that lands on a stack of other applications soon to be discarded, never to be read again? 

But how do you discover your “WHY?” How do you find the instructions for a purposeful life? How do you find the clarity and the focus to align your actions with your true nature? By going on a journey. The journey is the story of finding your “WHY” and writing your “WHY-STORY” – the story that tells the world how you intend to live out your unique “WHY.”

You are a beautiful human being with the potential to change your world (however large or small that world might be). But to grow from who you are today into an incredible hero, you have to engage in deep discovery. You are born with superpowers, some of us forget all about them- they are waiting to be discovered, earned, embraced and developed.  

For that to happen, you will have to leave the place of comfort that the world has sold you; you will have to shed noise and false beliefs. You will have to look deep within and embrace the perils that come with uncovering your uniqueness. Yes, the journey towards your “WHY” is full of dangers, tricksters, attention grabbers, distractions, false promises and bottomless pits. But if you stay on the path and do the self work with courage and determination, you will ultimately own your “WHY,” and you will have all the tools and wisdom to write your “WHY-STORY,” for others to read and engage in, and receive the value you are offering.  

The clarity and focus that stem from this journey and the deep knowledge of your “WHY-STORY” will forever inform your actions, both in your private and in your professional life, and make your success and your mark in the world inevitable.

Valuable lessons from a sockpreneur

I’ve talked about the importance of creating your own market before. If you are willing to spend your working hours screaming and fighting, then you will find a home in an overcrowded market that embraces transactional behavior. But if you are an entrepreneur of value, you will create your very own blue ocean to swim in. From the book, Blue Ocean Strategy, a blue ocean exists when you create and own a new market, making competition irrelevant. This is precisely what David Heath, founder of Bombas, did with great focus. 

David sells socks. But he doesn’t sell socks for the sake of selling socks. He has a unique understanding that entrepreneurs who are aware of their gift must share themselves with the world, and do good so that others can do better.

Bombas is committed to helping. They give away socks to those in need. If David had listened to financial advisors and market specialists, he would never have entered the sock market. There is too much competition. How can you honestly believe that you stand a chance next to giants like Walmart, Target, Uniqlo, H&M and JCPenney. You don’t. That ocean is filled with cutthroat competition, price wars and noise. Purpose and mission are not typically high on the priority list in red oceans. 

David recognized that wellbeing, coziness, and even feeling human, begins with dry and warm feet. You can’t fully function and feel at ease if your feet are cold. Your feet are what connects you to the ground you walk on. If you begin with cold and discomfort, that has an effect on everything that follows.

And this is how David created his own market. A market where socks are the promise for feeling like a human being and customers are enablers of humanness. Walmart or Target could never do this because it is not part of their mission, and it wouldn’t be believable. People would reject it. Also, it is expensive and complicated to run a business like Bombas. It requires 24/7 commitment across all levels of the organization. It’s nearly impossible for the average warehouse or department store to fulfill that promise. But for a small, specialized organization like Bombas, it’s a no-brainer. 

What can you expect from a specialized, value-oriented market? Higher prices. Yes, Bombas’ socks cost more than the average multipack next to H&M’s cash register. The higher price creates resistance in buyers that are just looking for socks. But it also creates distinction and desire in those who seek more. Those who understand the mission and positioning of Bombas don’t question the price because the transparency of the operation makes it clear to them where the money goes. If JCPenny tried to sell 2 pairs of socks for $20+, that experiment would end within a week. Their clientele isn’t interested.

David understands the rules of the value-entrepreneurship game. He is courageous and bold in his decisions and marketing because he knows about the value he is offering. He has full ownership of his market because he has created distance and separation from noisy markets. He is not afraid to let a human cause be the driver of his business (unlike some businesses that use causes strictly as a marketing ploy to increase revenue). In a recent interview with The Morning Brew, David said that if you do good to sell more, people see right through you. But if you do good because you want to do good, the right people will embrace it. 

*******

If you understand the lessons presented by Bombas and how they can impact your own work, you are ready to transform your business. Fair warning, you can’t implement a few changes to your marketing and product design and expect instant results. Doing business from a place of purpose, from a place that tackles everyday problems (and many everyday problems exist in all industries: insurance, real estate, financing, etc) requires real work and restructuring from the bottom up.

Why Story purpose index for Bombas: 95/100

Bottom line: even the most generic product can create a new market for you if your underlying mission is built on human value that is relatable. This creates distinction and distance from crowded markets and allows you to focus on your own specialized, premium market.

Airbnb: A tech company that is not a tech company at all

You can offer a room for the night, or you can offer human connection. You can focus on selling products or you can focus on serving a purpose. In both cases, the second choice is the way to go for Airbnb, and this is what makes them uniquely successful.

When Brian Chesky set out to build the business that revolutionized the way people see vacation rentals, and that flipped the hotel industry on its head (long overdue), there was a clear idea at the heart of it: He wanted to create human experiences, not just provide a place to stay. The magic of feeling like a local, of exploring new surroundings armed with tips and recommendations from a person that lives in the place that you are visiting cannot be replaced by stale, hotel decorations and impersonal, automated check-in systems.

He and his two co-founders knew instantly that they had tapped into a goldmine when they realized that their common mission was founded on a human need rather than on a product opportunity.

In the young life of Airbnb, the three friends have had a few opportunities to prove themselves worthy of their purpose, and their company’s purpose worthy of success. 

When a crisis hits an organization, its purpose gets challenged. The magnitude of the Covid-19 crisis has challenged many. How deeply rooted your purpose is determines so much. 

In a podcast interview on The Bid, Brian discussed the importance of purpose (and I paraphrase): If you don’t work in full awareness of your purpose, of your why, you lose yourself when times hit hard. You have nowhere to go to. You have nothing to hold you above the waterline and all you end up doing is taking business decisions. But a crisis requires principal decisions: Ballsy, dangerous decisions that cut close to the heart with implications that give shareholders sleepless nights and partners cold feet.

When the covid pandemic hit, Airbnb found itself in a terrible bind: Practically overnight, customers requested over 1 billion dollars in cancellations; money that Airbnb had on hold and that landlords and hosts were relying on to pay their mortgage with. This was a difficult situation that required much more than just making a business decision. Such a situation required a decision that came from a place of purpose because it touched upon human values, existences and livelihoods. Fortunately, Brian and company are completely connected to their principal values, which come from an incredible awareness of their purpose: They knew that they were responsible for the system they had created, and that the human experience they were providing was not limited only to the “good times;” it had to be expressed explicitly, and especially, in the “dark times.” Against typical business practices, Airbnb issued refunds and paid out 250 million dollars in support funds to Airbnb hosts.

Most business advisors would strongly disagree with this move as it cuts into the bottom line and threatens the existence of the company. But Airbnb stood by its decision. This act made Airbnb’s purpose visible to the world, and people realized one thing: WE WANT AIRBNB TO EXIST. 

YES. When we embrace our purpose in our business so loudly and boldly that we let it inform our craziest, maddest and strongest actions, we get affirmation and acknowledgment from the ones we serve and the ones that are allied with us.

Companies like Airbnb, who invest time and resources into discovering their purpose, build a strong mission and embed it in their daily actions, will weather almost any crisis and come out even stronger (often with even more allies by their side). 

While others invest in business decisions: short term gains, price slashing, desperate marketing campaigns… the principle-strong, purpose-founded, mission-driven organizations will put human values first. When people are afraid, when times are uncertain, people want human promises. They want helpers, supporters, listeners. They don’t want greedy, scared, nervous business people that don’t look out for anyone but themselves.

I am more than positive and hopeful that Brian and his team will set an example for millions of people worldwide. They have demonstrated that transformation can occur within a tech company that is focused, not on its tech, but on a purpose that lives at the center of its organization; tech is just the enabler that makes the purpose visible and experienceable.

Why Story Purpose Index: Airbnb 95/100

Bottom line: A tech company that has understood that its products are just the way a deeply set purpose is brought to life so it can be shared with the world to create great experiences that improve lives. Airbnb has proven time and time again that it is willing to abide by its principles not just in good times, but especially, in crises when others put their purpose on hold. Bravo.

Link to podcast interview:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/airbnb-ceo-brian-chesky-on-company-purpose-in-crisis/id1441032838?i=1000489236506

Freedom of Choice

There are ongoing debates about how entitlement in the young and old is inhibiting the progression of the world towards betterment. In business, the notion of “being entitled to your choice” is a dangerous one because it creates false realities and distracts people from doing what they should be doing. 

Let me explain. When parents tell their kids “you can be anything you want” they plant the seed of limitless choice in their hearts. As children, we have no way to assess the validity of that statement. So, we believe it. And we think that we can build anything from it. With the vast amount of data we have at hand today, we can say one thing for sure: the real performers did not have a choice to do what they wanted, but they had the heart to focus on doing what they felt they had to do.

Have you ever heard of an apple seed deciding in the final moment of sprouting to be a pear seed instead? I have not. And neither has science. There must be a reason why nature believes in a set path of purpose.

Warren Buffet stills knows what his game is. He loves it, but he is wise enough to know what the limit to his freedom of will is. He is the first one to admit that he would be terrible at most things. But he has a natural knack for numbers, for reading them and understanding them in the context of the stock market. This is something he was equipped with by nature. It’s not something that he developed a craving for because he wanted to.

If we seek freedom of choice in the things that are not for us, we build things that are not for us. We might want them, but only for false reasons. This creates noise and saturation. This creates over-selection in shelves and too many choices online, which leads to customer overwhelm, and eventually price wars, and ultimately frustration.

The German philosopher, Schoppenhauer, was early to study the nature of free will. And he asserted that the belief that there is a free will can be destructive to one’s development. Today, it is entitlement that is seen as having damaging effects on development. Many young people entering the workforce feel entitled to things they are not made for. So, rather than investing the time and energy into exploring what they really need to be doing (what is natural to them), what their tools, beliefs and passions are, they follow the path of trends, fashions and least resistance. If it is fashionable to have an MBA, they feel entitled to have an MBA. If the market seems in favor of real estate agents, people take the test, because they want a slice of the pie.

When we do this, we turn away from what makes us the greatest entrepreneurs in our own right and become “me-too” clones. We deny the world of our capability to build value. We end up joining the choir of sameness. I call this “willful destruction of value.”

It takes heart, courage and guts to walk the path you were born to walk because it might not seem like the most popular choice. Musical geniuses tend to have a hard time when kick starting their career because in the eyes of the general population, making music seems like such an impossible option for success. And yet, there are thousands of examples that come out marvelously. 

Our classrooms teach entitlement, and so do many parents. And while they don’t mean harm, they can cause harm. Attention must be given to the entrepreneur inside of us that is waiting to be woken up, not to our ability to copy/paste existing “recipes for success.”

Find out what seed you have inside and invest your resources into bringing it out, rather than contorting yourself out of shape to follow the general narrative.

Pain and Risk in Business

On pain

Building and running a business is like the mythological hero’s journey depicted by the ancient Greek. It is the path out of a place or state of doubt, complacency or comfort after overcoming a series of challenges that lead you to greatness, growth and hopefully a legacy (even though modern business schools sell it as one big imitation game where a pot of gold awaits at the end). Like those worthy tales we’ve heard so many times, the entrepreneur’s journey too is filled with traps, battles and challenges that must be overcome. 

As human beings we are wired to reject that which brings pain because we think it endangers our survival. So we never start our journey and, instead, we “wait it out.” What a way to live your life! For those that actually take the courageous step and leave their cave of comfort to face what the outside world has to offer, risk and pain await. Still, they do it. And they win. Because they know that risk and pain are a natural part of the journey.

“Growing pains” is not just an expression, it’s a real thing. When we embark on the entrepreneur’s journey, we break bones and accumulate scars as we remove or restructure painfully old patterns and metamorphose into the new version of ourselves. The caterpillar endures great pains (it basically dies) before spreading its wings and reaching great heights. The process is no different for us.

We must accept pain as part of our process of building a legacy with our businesses. Avoiding pain is a futile and inefficient strategy. It only works for those who want to remain dormant.

But pain does not equal suffering! While you have no choice but to feel pain because of your neural wiring and your emotional disposition, suffering is a choice. To dwell on past decisions and on things that could have been is not a natural necessity. An apple tree does not know of such a thing. It does not look back or focus on that which is broken. Nature focuses resources on that which is intact and can grow. Someone who loses an arm can choose between focusing on what they’ve lost, or on what remains. If you focus on the lost arm, you suffer loss. If you focus on the remaining one, you activate resilience and growth and your remaining arm becomes stronger. Soon you can do more than you were able to do when you still had the other arm.

On risk

Apart from pain, we also deal with risk. There is no gain, there is no adventure and there is no legacy without risk taking. But how much risk is too much risk? How little is too little? Entrepreneurs who immediately jump out of a window (figuratively speaking), are not worthy of our admiration. They are courageous, but also ignorant. The ones who use the window to look through and lean a little bit outside, curious and cautious, are the ones who win the long game, because they stay in the game and embrace INCREMENTAL GROWTH – slow but steady, natural growth. In nature, nothing grows faster than it needs to. Everything takes its natural time. Businesses should too.

When we bite off more than we can chew, we break the system. This is why my definition of zone of growth is the area between comfort and “death”. “Outside the box” is not precise enough because there is also death outside the box. But right in between, there where our efficiency lies dormant, is the zone of growth. When you build your business, run it like a marathon, not a sprint. Prepare by incrementally increasing your distance (goals), get to know your physique (staff, clients, operations), your stamina (are you pushing too hard, too fast?) and your reaction to the system you are in. 

Founders who only focus on money, who have websites that are better than the products they sell on it, who over-promise and under-deliver, who risk home and family or financial ruin to scale fast are all victims of false risk assessments. They lose sight of exit strategies, they do zero proactive planning and, alas, become a failed hero – the least attractive story ever told.

Develop a mindset that accepts pain and risk as natural and helpful devices for growth, and that deflects suffering as an unnecessary choice. Then you will be equipped with the right kind of courage to be the hero we all want to hear and read about.

You are not a fixer

I am sure many have heard or said this before: Stop trying to fix me. It is also a popular line used in the movies. Like so often, there is a lot of truth in the things movies are trying to teach us. And this is a big one. Entrepreneurs who are in it for the long run, the ones who build companies not to cash in quick, but to provoke lasting change and build a legacy, understand that there is a difference between empowering change and forcing change down someone’s throat. It’s not really a thin line, and yet so many who switch sides go from transaction into the other extreme.

This, however, does not work. People can be divided into several groups according to the latest neurological studies. Some crave safety more than anything. Others are thrill seekers; and then there are the over represented adventurers. These three types make up the range of humans that can be reached with a marketing message. Some of them are quicker at reacting to a message and taking actions, while others, the safety-oriented ones, wait until a trend is almost over before eventually hopping onto the train.

But what all of these people have in common is one thing: They want to be responsible for their decisions. Even if they let Amazon and the likes co-direct the course of their lives, they want to be the ones pulling the trigger. They want to be able to look back and say “yes, I had some help, but I was the one pushing myself over the finishing line.” And this is actually the bare truth. Valuable connections all happen when we empower someone for positive change and turn it into a story. A valuable connection does not happen, however, when someone feels forced, even if the outcome might be a valuable one.

It is our job as marketers of our value to listen and then offer something where our clients see the value but never feel pressured into a purchase or a relationship with you. Fomo, as a strategy, is invalid if you are aiming at loyalty and long term relationships. 

When Booking.com tells you “only 3 rooms left for your dates” it creates a sense of urgency. A forceful one. And the relationships we engage in start on a bitter note. We feel pressured, and the only relief is when we know we got the thing we were pressured into. But our brain remembers the pressure. And the payoff is a lowered sense of gratification.

People want to be the masters of their fate.  Whether they are religious or spiritual or neither. They want to be reminded that they pushed the button for change. So they ask for accountability. Even if it’s their lawyers taking care of the settlement of a lawsuit. They were the smart ones to engage in the relationships, to ask the right questions, to scrutinize the offer and guide the course of action. They were the ones allowing for change. In that respect, even the most valuable entrepreneur is nothing but A FACILITATOR for lasting positive change. Mark my words, because that’s the only angle we have at becoming valuable to anyone.

What does this mean for any business?

Formulate your offering in non-offensive ways. Build a marketing voice that speaks of possibilities and upward movement. Don’t buy into the loud voices that try to trigger a reaction through a false projection of fear. You are not in the business of fear. You are in the business of transformation. Remind your clients along the journey that they did well, that they chose well, that they are doing a great job. Not because you want to flatter them, but because it is true. 

Build your entire offer universe around people succeeding in their choices and responses. This is not about you. This is only about them.

Marketing is the gateway to the heart

Has anyone ever told you that everything is marketing? That you can’t not market yourself, just as much as you can’t not communicate? This is true in the sense that we are always exposing ourselves to the scrutiny of our environment. We are always at risk of being judged and compartmentalized by the ones who see our actions and hear our words. As such, if we are really running a business that is supposed to have an impact, we need to be extremely aware of the fact that we are being “watched,” and use it to our advantage. 

To market means to position your business in a way that it can be seen, heard (with the goal of someone buying something from you). So, if it is true that there is no second chance to make a first impression, ask yourself what you want that first impression to be? Do you want to be considered as “more of the same” or “different, but honest.”

You would think that people would choose the latter, right? But they don’t. If that were the case, we’d probably have less saturation and noise in each industry. For some reason, we all decide to agree on a set of “rules” that someone outlined before us, align our marketing accordingly and fire away with our Google ads. And by doing, so we create…more of the same. And the differentiating factor becomes our price and maybe our inventory. But in reality, we push a lot of the same for cheaper just to beat out the competition. 

To uniquely market yourself means that you must know your market first. And a market is defined by a place that offers solutions to people who are looking for something. Some of them know what they are looking for, but most don’t. Most are confused when they enter the market, not knowing, for example, whether they are going to have fish, meat or a vegetable stew for dinner. It is up to you to address that uncertainty and confusion and point them in the direction that will benefit them.

This is what it means to own your marketing voice. It’s not more of the same, it is also not randomizing your presence according to rules that have been set by others. It’s about full and total ownership. It’s about not putting your logo all over an inflatable doll in front of your office, not going for that internet banner, or dropping that corny radio commercial. It is about thinking hard about what people need. Marketing is not a discipline. Marketing is being in business to bring value.

There are plenty of examples of great companies that fail because their marketing tells potential clients, to their face, what problem they have and how they can solve it. They may be right about the problem the potential customer has, but they are not right about using it to attract them. Nobody wants to hear that they have a problem. People want to be heard and understood before they listen to what you have to say.

In marketing, this is the approach of generosity. If you are not generous and instead just loud and rowdy, people are disturbed and will avoid you. Even if they might agree with your marketing, there is still a level of mistrust or skepticism about your approach.

What good marketing does is open a channel of trust. Good marketing hits close to home and is relatable: I see your pain, I hear your trouble. And I am not listening to have a reaction. I am listening because I care.

Loud corporate marketing does not listen. It just crushes people with its presence. We are all aware of those big corporations and even though we engage with them, we don’t always feel too good about it afterwards. Your business is most likely not big enough to be permitted to act like those big corporations. You would not be forgiven by the market if you tried to. And what a great thing! It is an opportunity to be thoughtful, human and relatable. 

Coca Cola is loud because they have power and are too big to fail. But this is where we, as entrepreneurs of value, can beat Coca Cola, Redbull, Hilton, Toyota and all the other big players, because we care enough to stop and listen. When Coca Cola listens, they do so because they want to play in our field. They want to appear to be on eye level with their customers. But it’s pretentious and an act of social media tinkering. It’s fraudulent and dishonest and creates false connections- connections that are worth nothing more than a like on Instagram or a comment on Facebook. They have no transformational value; they don’t even have much transactional value.

We, who ARE on eye level with our customers, cannot afford to pretend to listen. We have to listen because we actually want to listen so that we can understand, connect and eventually act with our customers’ best interests at heart.

Turn your advantage into your marketing game plan: Listening to understand. Listen to connect. Listen to bring value. Leave the yelling to those who have no choice but to yell.

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