I work with business owners all the time who have no idea what to say when someone asks them what they do. They give the ‘vanilla’ answer. The same thing happens when we go to talk about their key messaging and marketing [i.e. pitch, marketing materials, website etc.]. They usually tell me what everyone else in their industry says. It’s hard. To not be vanilla requires we step away from our business and really look at it with a strategic eye. I know for my own business I’ve needed help with my messaging because I’m too close to it. When left to my own ways I usually choose the softer, more vanilla way. While vanilla may be easy, it doesn’t help us to stand out. Here are some ways you can be less vanilla this summer.
Set aside time to work on your key messaging.
In order to stop being vanilla you need to take the time to figure out what makes you unique, what will be interesting to your potential clients. I find most of the clients I work with have never spent enough time on their key messaging – they just say what everyone else in their industry is saying or they took the advice of some marketing firm early on. Taking the time needed to really dive into your key messaging is the first step. This isn’t a process that can or should be rushed. You must sit with your story, your strengths and your value. It takes time to flush out the truly unique nuggets and then to carefully craft your key messaging.
Do your homework.
The best thing I even did for my business was to survey all my clients a few years ago. I sent out an email asking for 15 minutes of their time. I told my clients I was working on re-branding my business and needed their help. I was overwhelmed with the response I got. Most were willing to have a conversation and their feedback was so helpful. I had crafted seven questions about what it was like working with me, what they would tell someone else about my business and what they thought made me unique. The feedback was gold – I could never have come up with the messaging they freely gave me.
Look for the obvious.
I sat with a student entrepreneur the other day trying to figure out his key messaging. He was frustrated. People did not take him seriously because he was so young. As we spoke it became obvious to me he had a powerful story he wasn’t telling. This young man had been on the jobsite since he was a toddler. He literally grew up working alongside his dad and knew the industry more than many who were ten years his senior. In addition, this young man knew how to keep himself clean on the jobsite all day – apparently this is very uncommon in his industry.
Look at your business, your story, your interests and what others are surprised by. We often miss our key messages because we think the things we do well, the unique parts of our story, aren’t really that interesting. People love the back story – where you came from, how you came up with your idea, why you got into your industry or what you think about the world. Your key messages are right in front of you – it is just a matter of uncovering them.
Use your own language.
I cringe when I hear people at networking events giving super cheesy elevator pitches. Many are just awful. People try to sound cute and funny but come across phony. I think the reason this happens is people try too hard – they push it. If we’re sharing our elevator pitch through someone else’s voice, or if it is just made up to sound good, it will come across as fake. Our messaging has to be authentic. If I’m not funny I shouldn’t attempt to use humor in my messaging. If I shoot it straight in my work – I should shoot it straight in my messaging. It’s important to get help and/or feedback when you are creating your key messaging but make sure it’s in your voice and authentic to who you are as a business owner.
I was working with a team of financial advisors the other day on their key messaging. They had the same vanilla key messaging as every other advisor in town. Being in a regulated industry makes it much harder to be creative with your messaging, at least online. Yet even in a highly regulated industry you can stand out. We worked at it and they found their gold. We dug deep into who they were, how they did business, what they believed about themselves, who they worked with and how they saw the financial world. Through it all we uncovered lots of rich messaging. They re-worked what they were saying on the phone, how they were pitching new clients and what they said when someone asked, “what do you do.” They are rocking it and it’s working. They are feeling more confident and having a greater level of success than they have had in years.
I’ve tried many times to craft my own key messaging and every time I fail miserably. I can’t seem to clearly see the value I bring, the strengths I have or the things that come so easily to me. I fail to see what’s so obvious to other people and it’s hard to toot my own horn. I need people to help me flush out the gold. Find someone you trust, someone gifted in creating compelling key messaging and have them work with you. This could be a friend, a marketing firm you already work with or your coach/mentor.
Remember the goal of your key messaging.
The goal with our key messaging – whether it’s to potential clients or people we don’t know – is to help them let their guard down and to be memorable. If we come on like every other business owner or sales person people put up their walls and tune us out. But if we’re authentic, interesting and memorable people open up more quickly and are more likely to engage with us.