This week, I went to a very well-run networking event. It attracted keen, accomplished people from many industries who were passionate about how they were contributing to the world.
When I’m networking, I’m trying to help people see how they could stand out in the world if they do some of the activities that I coach in Innovation Engineering. Let me walk you through the types of questions I ask, how people usually respond, and what I think about that.
How do you differentiate your organization from others who do similar work?
The most common answers are:
- “I am the only one who does X in a geographical area.”
- “I am very friendly / customer-oriented.”
- “I have been doing X for a long time.”
- “We provide a one-stop-shop so my clients don’t have to manage multiple vendors.”
What I want to hear is how they are solving their customer’s problem in a meaningfully unique way that is different than anyone else in the world. I want to laugh when I hear their answer because I’m so impressed by the creative thinking that went into the solution. I want to say, “how did you come up with that?” or “what do customers say when they experience your product / service?”
Now you may say, some products and services are commodities and it would be impossible to do it completely differently than anyone else. A dentist is a dentist. A contractor is a contractor. But it doesn’t have to be that way. On social media, I love to share stories about people who took very humble ingredients or professions and found a twist on the typical. Blanket makers who design a whole new kind of blanket. Pizza makers who patent a new kind of cheese. These are real stories. In my mind, the people who live here in my community have more opportunities than most in the world. There is no reason why the stories cannot be about us.
In Innovation Engineering, we have a phrase – “If you are not meaningfully unique, you better be cheap.” Being cheap is a business model, but generally not a model that makes life more fun.
Here’s an example from the networking event. I was talking with someone from a titling agency – the people who help you sign all the papers when you buy a house. Their current marketing strategy is to reach out to realtors because people find their titling agency through their realtor. Why would a realtor choose them over anyone else? Because they are friendly? Because they have been doing it a long time?
What if their titling agency could figure out a way to make the titling process more fun and convenient? My sole memory of working with a titling agency was when I bought my house. It took three hours signing papers. What if I could take a quiz that proved I understood all the concepts, and then we could get that process down to 30 minutes? Is it possible? I have worked with many people to take long, complicated processes and simplify them, saving tons of money for everyone. With a lawyer to confirm we did everything above board, there is no reason why we could not work to reduce that time and have a numeric promise to share with realtors.
Another pain point was taking time off work. Could we find a way to do the process over Skype? Or maybe we make it more of a celebration? I worked long and hard for that down-payment. How could the title process become a moment of congratulations for years of hard work?
What is your customer’s biggest problem right now?
This question stumps a lot of people. Or they guess, suggesting possibilities with a question mark at the end of their sentence. And yet it is so inexpensive to confirm our customer’s biggest problem. We ask a bunch of them to score possible problem phrases. If enough give it a good score, then we know we have the right language to describe the problem. We can build an offering that resonates with the customer.
We might find our current offering doesn’t solve that problem. And that’s where the energy for innovation springs!
I spoke with someone who provides promotional materials printed with the branding of their clients. It’s a rapidly shifting business because the trends in promotional products change every year, especially with the introduction of inexpensive technological products like Bluetooth.
To sell their products as more than commodities, promotional companies need to paint a picture for their clients of how their offerings solve a problem more elegantly than anyone else. How could they do that? What if they researched client problems and then provided a whole marketing campaign and how their offerings are an essential piece of that puzzle?
For example, if this promotional company wanted to engage a customer which was a hospital, they could research the hospital’s latest goals. Many hospitals work hard to reduce the amount of infections that patients get from being in the hospital. In some cases, they are not eligible for certain types of funding unless they address this problem. There is a type of bacteria called C. difficile that is a big problem for hospitals. What if this promotional company came up with a product offering, combined with an education campaign around hand washing? The promotional product could be a new type of dispenser for easily disinfecting hands in high traffic areas.
Imagine how much more enticing it would be for that client to call you back when you provide them with your product, yes, but also the whole picture of how it fits into their goals and solves a critical problem?
And if the promotional printing company is not an expert in researching hospital goals or marketing campaigns, they might partner with a company that does this type of work such as *ahem* Press the Go Button.
What attracted you to this type of work in the first place?
At the core of all innovation is a deep abiding passion. Some people may disagree – that innovation can be done through efficiency and systemization. I believe you need both. So when I meet someone, I want to find that passion. I can provide the efficiency and systemization, but I cannot make them passionate.
I heard a lot of passion from the people at the event, which is why it was so much fun. What I have observed many times though, is that their answer is nowhere to be found in the marketing materials for that organization. Instead, the materials present an outer shell of a “brand” or “credibility.” It’s like they think there is a correct answer to what you should put up on your website, and it should look a lot like everyone else in your industry.
When you have a passion inside, and it drives you to do great work, you should tell people about it. When there is a disconnect between what’s inside and what you put in your materials, it is like a constant disconnect. Those marketing materials become a thing to do, a box to check, rather than an expression of what makes you so good at what you do.
Lots of people hate writing. The flow from their heart to their hands – it got cut somewhere along the way. They got shut down for expressing themselves. That’s why Press the Go Button works so hard to be that wire that runs between your heart and your hands, to bring the charge back into the process of expressing what you do.
The bottom line is – if you are not passionate about your work, it is unlikely you will do great work. So ensuring that passion is front-and-center in your daily work means you are more likely to have a vision, and take risks, and do creative problem solving. You will be like water that just finds a way to get through, no matter the obstacle.
It’s great you have 20 years of experience, a bunch of certifications or degrees, and a brand that has been around the block. But we live in a time when that’s not enough. Those who differentiate, who solve their customers’ problems with finesse and who bring the passion will stand out.
So… how do I answer these questions?
How is Press the Go Button different from others who do similar work?
Press the Go Button helps organizations take their existing offerings and make them interesting and relevant again in today’s market. I do this with a methodology called Innovation Engineering, which systematizes your marketing and product development. It is the only full system that takes all your existing offerings and ideas and helps you decide how to spend your limited resources with the biggest results.
What is Press the Go Button’s customers’ biggest problem right now?
Most of my clients need help prioritizing how to spend their money and time when it comes to marketing and product development. Most only mention marketing, because they think their current offerings are just fine. What they learn very quickly working with me is that marketing and product development exist hand-in-glove, and we must work on both simultaneously.
What attracted me to this type of work in the first place?
I worked for more than 15 years for non-profits with very compelling missions where we struggled every day with scarce resources. But the truth was that we were not really doing anything meaningfully unique. The few times that we did, there were lots of resources. When I learned about Innovation Engineering in 2010, I saw how anyone could systematically produce meaningfully unique customer offerings with the right training, and I wanted that for everyone.
I never want to see organizations struggle or even go out of business because they didn’t have the courage to solve their customers’ problems with creativity and focus. I see too many wonderful people working way too hard for insignificant results because they think they need to do X or Y, but they don’t measure whether that was effective and they don’t check whether it really solves a customer problem. I want work to be fun, energizing and meaningful for everyone.
I hope I see you at a future networking event. Or we can organize our own any time! Let’s make sure your marketing and offerings answer all these questions and more. Be the only one in the world. Be more than friendly and local.