How do businesses ultimately succeed?
By word of mouth. People telling people because they want it to thrive. Because they love it. Because they know it will be useful to a friend.
In short, the business is known for being good at something.
And that ‘something’ should be clear from the first moment people meet you. That something is your brand.
It should be something that’s so clear that people can express it to their friends.
It doesn’t need to be something you can sum up in a slogan (but bonus points if you can) but it should be something people can feel and ‘get’.
And, of course, this can all feel a bit daunting.
So, let’s break it down.
I would submit that there are six things your business can be known for.
That your platform isn’t just one thing. It’s not some pithy sound bite or elevator speech or a single Unique Selling Proposition. It’s a weaving together of six things. At least.
And, I’d submit that most businesses settle for being known for only one of these things (almost always the same one – which also happens to be the least inspiring and the one most likely to have you relegated to commodity status where people compare you only on price).
Before I give you the six (plus the one other). I need to tell you a story – to give you an image in your mind.
Imagine a young man on an island (which we’ll call Island A). It’s not that great a place to be. But, it’s all he knows, so he goes about his days. Then he starts hearing that his is not the only island in the world. That there are other islands. At first he doesn’t believe it, but the more he visits the docks and meets these visitors the clearer it becomes. It’s true. And then, one day, he hears about a particular island (which we’ll call Island B). And his heart leaps. He wants to go there.
Of course, he needs to get a boat to go there.
But there are so many boats to hire! Which one to choose?
Your business is a boat. It helps people like this young man get from Island A where they’re struggling with some problem (i.e. set of symptoms they don’t like) to Island B where they have the result they want (i.e. something they’re craving).
So, in this image we have six elements I want to lift up for your consideration. Each of them is something you can become known for.
- The Captain: you.
- Boat: what you do. Your irresistible offering.
- The Journey: the problem you solve and result you offer for a particular group
- The Sea: your particular point of view and map on that journey.
- The Sky: the overarching reason and cause that all of your work is an expression of.
- The Unimagined Possibility: beyond the place they can imagine going, there might be something even more wonderful.
- The Deepest Fear: if they do nothing – what are they secretly afraid might happen? (this is the ‘other one’ because it’s not something you can really be known for but it plays a role).
If you’ve been following my work for any time at all, you know that a core theme of mine is about identifying the ‘journey’ that people are on.
Metaphorically, it’s like people are on Island A where they’re struggling with some problem (i.e. set of symptoms they don’t like) and they want to be on Island B where they have the result they want (i.e. something they’re craving).
And your business is like a boat that takes them on the journey from Island A to B.
The truth is that some people will just want to buy from you because they like you, the captain, so much. Some people have such a great vibe that people spend money with them because they just want to support them and be around their vibe. This is the heart of any kind of holistic work because the implied message in holistic healing is, ‘do what I say and you’ll end up like me’.
And when practitioners have a bad vibe – all the marketing tactics in the world won’t help them.
But, the best vibe in the world isn’t something you can build a business on. You can have such an amazing vibe and still be broke unless people are clear about the other four pieces.
And, in your marketing, you want to make sure that you’re speaking to their journey, not just talking about your boat and how great it is. The homepage on your website should be about the journey, not about the boat. The first words in any presentation you do should be about the journey – not about the boat.
But most marketing is just people talking about the features and benefits of their boat. But when people see you as a boat, sometimes it can be hard to tell you apart from all the other boats. And so you’re a commodity. They have lots of options and ‘let’s see who’s cheapest’ becomes the mantra.
So, getting clear about the nature of the journey is vital.
On the outside edges of that journey are two other islands. Behind to the left of Island A you can imagine Island Z. That’s where they’re secretly scared they’re going to end up if they do nothing. These are fears like, ‘if i don’t handle my dating life I’m going to end up old and alone’, or ‘if I don’t keep my mind sharp I’m going to end up with alzheimers like my great grandparents.’ These fears are rarely talked about, but they’re deeply real for people. These fears aren’t things you can be ‘known’ for but understanding them gives you an incredible empathy and sensitivity which will allow you to engage the other three more deeply and safely.
The key here is that Island Z is not real. It’s a mirage. A nightmare fantasy. The worst case scenario. That’s why it’s not part of your platform. It’s a part of their internal world.
To the right of Island B, we have Island C. If Island A is the pain they’re in now and Island B is where they want to get to, then Island C is what we know is possible for them that’s even beyond Island B. As I wrote a few days ago,
Island A: I’m lonely. Island B: I want to date someone. Island C: we fall in love and say, ‘I never knew I could feel this way.’
Island A: I’m sick. Island B: I want to be healthy. Island C: we cleanse, do yoga, start juicing and say, ‘I never knew I could feel this way.’
Island A: I’m broke. Island B: I want to to be able to pay my bills on time and have money left over. Island C: we do the work needed to handle our money and say, ‘I never imagined I could feel so at peace and proud in my relationship to money.’
Island A: I’m full of angst and depression. Island B: I want to feel good again. Island C: we get deep into our personal healing work and one day wake up saying, ‘I feel so beautiful and light. I feel so at peace.’
Island C is what might be possible in the life of ONE person that they hadn’t previously considered. This i different than the bigger cause we imagine which is what we envision for our whole community or the world (though they are likely connected).
There’s the pain they feel. There’s the thing they’re craving, but the thing they’re craving only goes to the limits of their imagination. Our cravings take us to the end of what we know but no farther.
And then you have a certain map or route that you’d recommend for how folks can get from Island A to Island B. You have a certain Point of View about the journey. You can think of that as everything that’s under the water connecting these two islands. It’s your diagnosis about the underlying, root causes of why it’s so difficult for folks to make this journey. I’ve written a lot about that lately.
But there’s something more that’s been becoming clear to me recently.
It’s not enough to be clear about WHAT the journey and the boat are or HOW you take them on the journey – they need to know WHY you’re so passionate about that journey and what the bigger picture is for you. They need to know what this is about beyond the money. Why does your work matter to you and to the world?
Your why is the bigger cause you stand for.
It’s the journey you see that the world or your community is on (e.g. Martin Luther King Jr.’s articulation of the journey from a deeply racist USA to ‘the beloved community’).
“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.
WHAT: Every single company and organization on the planet knows WHAT they do. This is true no matter how big or small, no matter what industry. Everyone is easily able to describe the producs or services a company sells or the job function they have within that system. WHATs are easy to identify.
HOW: Some companies and people know HOW they do WHAT they do. Whether you call them a “differentiating value proposition”, “proprietary process” or “unique selling proposition”, HOWs are often given to explain how something is different or better. Not as obvious as WHATs, many think these are the differentiating or motivating factors in a decision. It would be false to assume that’s all that is required.
There is one missing detail . . .
WHY: Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do what they do. When I say WHY, I don’t mean to make money – that is a result. By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?
When most organizations or people think, act or communicate they do so from the outside in, from WHAT to WHY. And for good reason – they go from clearest thing to fuzziest thing. We say WHAT we do, we sometimes say HOW we do it, but we rarely say WHY we do WHAT we do.
But not the inspired companies. Not the inspired leaders. Every single one of them, regardless of their size or their industry, thinks acts and communicates from the inside out.”
A strong ‘why’ or cause doesn’t marginalize anyone – it’s different that a position. Your point of view is a position. Your point of view says, ‘I’m for this and I’m against this.’ People will often disagree with your point of view. But a reason why you do something is less likely to get disagreement. Usually they’re the kinds of things that anyone can relate to and empathize with – even if they might choose a different approach. Your cause is a stand for something bigger and deeper. Your cause says, ‘as a world we need to get to island B’ your point of view says, ‘and here’s my belief about the best way to get there’.
Your why is what you want, not what you don’t want. It’s the core of what you’re for – not a list of things you’re fighting. It’s often inarguable. Once you land on it, it’s like, ‘who could be against this?’
You might picture the ‘why’ as the golden sun shining above the islands and the boat – holding them all. The umbrella of the sky.
What’s interesting about all of this is that when the journey, point of view and larger ‘why’ are clarified – the boat often changes.
You will, in the end, be known for your boat – but make sure that your boat is an expression of you not just a cookie cutter, copy cat boat. Make everything about your boat an expression of the cause. If your business is about fun and celebration then make it a fun boat with wonderful colours and amusements around every corner. If you’re in love with elegance and beauty – then make your boat the most elegant boat the world has ever seen with lanterns and candles and beautiful dinners. If you’re passionate about adventure – then let your boat be rough and the rooms people sleep in be spartan.
And, of course, the boat must be a boat that you want to be on. It must fit the kind of lifestyle you want to have. As you figure out your ideal lifestyle, that will do more to help you design your boat than just about anything I know. And, if you need help with that, there’s only one person I can commend speaking with on that.
Every plank of your boat should ‘fit’. It should make sense. It should all communicate a clear message. They should be able to look at the boat and quickly get a feel for it what kind of journey it can take them on, what your point of view is and what you’re about at the core. And then, when they get on the boat their initial impressions should be deepened and confirmed.
Want Help? If you’d like some more direct guidance and hand holding on figuring out your niche then go and check out my Niching for Hippies coaching program https://marketingforhippies.com/niching-for-hippies/
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