Can I tell you a story?
A few years ago I was sitting in an office with a group of folks. If you know me, you know that's a bit strange since I do a lot of work remotely.
But this was one of those times when I was helping out a company, and they were stuck and they asked if I would come to their offices and meet with their entire marketing team.
They were stuck.
So I took the 90-minute drive, braved both traffic and the struggle for parking in San Francisco, and finally got into the office to meet with the team.
They were having serious challenges with copywriting, messaging, product naming and more. It was a struggle, some of the folks were suggesting that the code name for the project simply be the name they use to go to market.
That's a bit like the movie, “Snakes on the Plane.” You know someone finally just said, hey, let's use the shorthand we've gotten comfortable with since we can't figure out a good title.
If you're in the movie business and you have Samuel L. Jackson, maybe that works for you. But this team and this product weren't Sam. Trust me.
How do you help, in a matter of minutes or hours, a team figure out the right words and phrases to use to name and sell their product?
That was the challenge. Maybe it's one you've faced as well.
We call it a branding challenge. A naming challenge. A copywriting challenge. But all those are just proxies for the real challenge.
Want to know what the real challenge is?
It's hard to approach your company, your product, or your marketing materials as a stranger who has never heard of you when all you've been doing for days, weeks or years is staring directly at that very thing.
It's not just an empathy thing. But that's important. It's not just a creative issue. But that's part of it.
Here's the exercise I used with them that day
What I did, and I'm not saying you need to do this, but it will ground you in where I'm going, was to give them a quick challenge to make my point.
I asked them to come up with a new name and the marketing copy for a product they may have never used before.
They looked at me like I had lost my mind. But I had to get them out of their challenge. So I had them look at something really, seriously, different than what they were doing.
They looked at me with that look that makes you wonder if you'll get your consultant fee.
And then one brave person said, “How in the world, without time for research and interviews, without time for almost anything, how are we supposed to do this?”
Thankfully I had a trick I introduced them to on that day. Maybe you know it too.
See, over 2/3 of the content on any Amazon product page is user-generated content. In the form of reviews.
And that's where I pointed them to. I asked them to look at the reviews and read the natural language used by people who had purchased and were happy with the product.
They spent about 25 minutes, in teams, and came up with not only great names but great campaigns.
To be clear, they didn't know the product beforehand, had no time to research, couldn't interview prospects, and didn't have their personal experiences to guide them.
But they had real people who were real users. And those people had real opinions.
Why am I telling you this story?
What I find, when it comes to branding and marketing, is that we have a seriously hard time doing it for ourselves.
We're too close. We're with us everywhere we go. We lack perspective. And heck we struggle with insecurity.
Is it just me?
So whether you're a solopreneur, or a tiny shop of 4 or a growing team of 10, you likely still struggle with branding, messaging, and marketing.
Because we're horrible when it comes to talking about ourselves.
And that assumes you even know what you're good at. I know a ton of folks who don't even know that!
So whether you know what you're good at and are still uncomfortable putting it into words or you're clueless about what makes you unique and awesome, I want to help you.
You don't have to suck at branding and marketing
So I want to introduce you to a trick I've used with over 75 individuals and small businesses when it comes to helping them figure out the right messaging for their business.
Before I tell you this trick, I need to tell you that it works. Pretty much every time.
I'm telling you that because your bias will cause you to push this idea away, and you'll tell yourself there's no way you'll do this.
But you're looking for fast results without paying tons of money, right?
I mean, if you're ready to solve this problem by spending tens of thousands of dollars with branding and marketing experts, then I'm wondering what you're doing here reading this article.
But assuming you're in growth mode where every penny counts, I'm going to show you a free trick that will work wonders.
But before I do, I need a promise from you.
I need you to promise that you'll try it. Once.
Here's the fastest way to find your value proposition and your key differentiators help you with marketing
First, you sign up or re-login to LinkedIn. If you don't have an account, get one. I know, you're rolling your eyes, but do it.
Second, find and make connections with as many people you've worked with, worked for and managed. This doesn't take much time because LinkedIn helps automate the process.
By this point, you're seriously wondering if I've lost my head. I know. Maybe you don't value LinkedIn or simply think it's not for you. But trust me here…
Third, you use LinkedIn to ask others for “recommendations.” But you don't ask the people directly. You let LinkedIn do the asking. You just pick the people.
Now some of you are dying. I know it. Not because I'm looking at you right now but because I've seen the look from all the folks I've coached before. They hate this idea.
Until a few days have passed and some recommendations come in.
See, the thing is, if you walk up to your friend and say, “Can you tell me something nice about myself?” they'll think you're crazy.
But when LinkedIn, a company, a third party, asks them for their opinion of you, people have choices:
- They can ignore the request.
- They can reply with a “blah” recommendation.
- They can reply with an awesome rec.
What I've seen countless times is that you almost never get the second response. You get a lot of the first and third. And that's great.
Now, here's where it gets interesting. You don't really care about LinkedIn. All you're doing is collecting user-generated content – much like that company did when browsing the Amazon pages.
By collecting these recommendations, what you get is the words and phrases from people who aren't you, but who are writing about you.
Those words and phrases, when you read them numerous times from several people, start to shape a new version of your story. A new way to see yourself or your company.
And that's the stuff you use when you start creating the messaging for your business. Because you want marketing and brand messages that resonate with ordinary strangers who don't know you.
And the best way to do it is to use the words given to you by people who do know you. Those words aren't just great testimonials and social proof…
They're the insights you need to help you see yourself in a different light.
Do you need to use LinkedIn?
I'll be honest. You don't have to use LinkedIn. That's just one way to collect feedback. I used it for years to collect over 20 recommendations.
These days I do it with my Clarity.fm account. After 128 calls, I've collected over 90 reviews (and have a 4.9 rating out of 5).
But I use this data to keep reframing the narrative I'm telling. Even if I'd never think of it myself.
You can use email to collect the feedback. You can use prospective clients to collect the feedback (have them call your references and then share with you what they heard). You can use any feedback system you want.
But the point is to collect tons of data that you normally wouldn't go asking for. And using third party systems really helps.
Because people don't feel nearly as pressured. They're comfortable ignoring those emails because they don't come directly from you.
How the story ends…
The good news is that the client I went to visit in San Francisco years ago had already run betas with several companies and had tons of forms with feedback.
They'd read them, but only for critiques to fix things. This time they started reading it looking for something new:
- What problem were we solving?
- Why were people happy?
- How did it change their behavior?
These things were all in that feedback and they were able to find common threads which later became critical parts of their messaging.
And the same is true, using LinkedIn or any other system, of the folks I've coached. They've learned new things that they took for granted (“of course I do that, doesn't everyone?”).
And it became the cornerstone of their brand messages and marketing campaigns.
My guess is that if you keep your promise and give this a try, you'll learn some new things too that could easily become the cornerstone of your brand messaging and marketing campaigns.