According to commonly accepted marketing best practices, the essence of marketing is telling the world how your firm is different from similar firms. The most popular formula for doing this goes as follows:
- What you do
- Who you serve
- How you are different from other firms.
It’s easy to see why this has become a standard best practice; it makes seems to make sense. Yet, in practice this standard positioning formula falls short. Your goal isn’t to explain what you do; your goal is to grow your business by generating more or better clients or higher profits. The conventional wisdom leads down the wrong path.
Part 1 – Clients Don’t Want to Talk About You
Logical Isn’t Always Effective
It’s not that the formula above isn’t logical. It’s that prospects hear something different.
You say: WHAT you do. WHO you serve, and HOW you are DIFFERENT.
Prospects hear: what YOU do, who YOU serve, and how YOU want to talk even more about YOU.
What results is a big disconnect because the prospect cares about their business, not yours. We’ll see in a moment how this disconnect has bigger implications for growing your firm than you realize.
Misplaced Faith in “Best Practices”
Marketing best practices reflect what most people do rather than what is most effective. More than 15 years of interviewing hundreds of customers from dozens of clients led me to some powerful insights. Chief among these insights is that most professionals don’t know the real reasons their best clients buy from them. It’s hard to see yourself the way others see you. They know they are valued, but they don’t have an accurate handle on why. These professionals end up marketing why they think clients select them rather than why those clients actually do.
Perhaps that’s why so many professionals complain about marketing costing so much while accomplishing so little.
The Most Expensive Miss
What really hurts is that marketing is the single, most-powerful engine for growth you have. More powerful even than sales. Great marketing costs no more than mediocre marketing, sometimes less. The ROI is huge.
Better execution isn’t the answer. While the everyday practice of marketing increasingly involves technology and tools, the biggest opportunity generally comes from an idea, not more skillful execution of ever more complex tactics. Words and tactics matter, but ideas matter more.
This idea shapes the way you market your firm—and even how you view your business. It’s an idea that costs you very little, but requires that you to be willing to fly against the conventional wisdom.
Try to see marketing as solving a problem rather than as a set of tasks to be executed. To be effective, you must precisely define the problem your marketing aims to solve. Therefore, defining the right problem is critical.
There are a lot of “experts” invested in the status quo. The good news is your new guide is common sense. Once the switch flips in your thinking, you’ll never view your business development process the same. You will reap the benefits of more effective marketing, and—maybe for the first time—see a clear connection between your marketing, business development, and the rest of your business.
The Science of Decisions
Up to this point, I’ve focused on what you shouldn’t do. Successfully generating consistent growth for your firm requires you know what to do.
First, we’ll take a slight detour into the emerging field of neuro-economics to examine how your prospects make decisions.
Study after study consistently shows people make decisions emotionally, and then rationalize that decision using a process called post-hoc rationalization. According to Raj Raghunathan of the University of Texas, post-hoc rationalization is found whenever we make decisions; “We are ruled by our emotions first, and then we build justifications for our response.”
Think about your own experience. When you connect emotionally with a particular product, service, or firm, your brain is exceptionally good at cherry-picking the data that supports that decision.
What about those times when you struggle with a decision? You go back and forth over all the information you’ve collected, weighing the various factors again and again. Surely, that must be logic ruling the day, but it’s not. Generally, indecision is a sign one has failed to connect emotionally with any of the options. By seeking out even more information, we typically wind up making our decision even harder. Often we end up making no decision.
In fact, USC neuroscientist Antonio Damasio notes that people who lack emotions due to brain injuries often have trouble making any decision.
- “The earlier you make the emotional connection the better, because once [the buyer has] decided they like a particular option, the more difficult it is for them to backpedal. Their thinking falls in line with their emotions.” – Prof Raj Raghunathan
I’m not advocating sneaky persuasion techniques. As you’ll see below, if you are a great choice for a prospect, re-thinking your marketing in light of how the prospect makes decisions can get them to “Yes” more quickly, with greater certainty, and with less emphasis on what you charge.
You can’t grow your firm when your prospects choose someone else or decide to “do nothing.”