Words We Try to Define
Expertise, selling, marketing, entrepreneurship, branding, positioning, and consultant. Blair and David do their best to come up with definitions for terms that they use regularly with clients.
BLAIR ENNS: David, the last time I talked to you, we were together in Nashville. Actually I did your two day seminar in Nashville, and then we went on vacation together to your cabin.
DAVID C. BAKER: Had some fun hikes, that's right, yeah, you didn't push me off the edge. I was a little nervous getting close to you. Stay away from me Blair. Yeah, it was great, with our spouses.
BLAIR: We're still friends.
DAVID: We're still friends, as good of friends as we were before, which yeah, still some room to go there, but yeah, still friends.
BLAIR: We should be in friendship therapy.
DAVID: Both of our spouses were with us, which is a lot of fun, yeah we do that every year, we should do it more. But right now, this is about perfect. It's about as much as I can take of you in person, per year.
BLAIR: Okay, why don't we talk about what we convened to talk about?
DAVID: Right, which is what?
BLAIR: We were talking about definitions, about getting the terms right, because we've had a few talks that have inspired some memories I think of conversations with clients, and obviously conversations with each other, talking about a subject, and then realizing, oh, we don't have the same definition of this subject. Am I characterizing that right?
DAVID: Yeah, I'm a little embarrassed, even because the most recent memory I have of this, was when we were talking about my most recent book on expertise, and you just threw that at me without any warning, you said, "What's your definition of expertise?" Uh ... Like what do you say? If you've just written a book on expertise, and then you're hemming, and hawing about how you define expertise, and it just like I have different kinds, but I didn't have an answer right off the top of my head, so there's a little bit of karma hopefully in this, where I've got a couple of things I'm going to throw at you hoping to catch you unaware, but no, that was where it came up, right?
BLAIR: Well, we have a list, and I've eliminated the things from the list that I don't have an opinion on, or a provocative opinion on.
BLAIR: At the top of the list, is the word expertise, so when people talk about expertise, and you hear that word a lot these days, there are books on why it makes sense to not be an expert, which is a ridiculous notion, but I really appreciate the people are taking the alternative viewpoint to the mainstream. You've had some time to think about it, what is your definition of the word expertise?
DAVID: How many words am I allowed to use in the definition? If I can use several, then this is what I would say, I would say when a lot of people ask your opinion on the same thing, and willingly exchange something of value to get your answer. That's really long, right? I don't know if we're talking about expertise in a business setting, where there's commerce involved, because there are a lot of people with deep expertise in things that nobody's ever going to pay for, like maybe you know the, "Detectorists," have you seen that TV show?
They're really great at metal detector stuff, and there's experts there, nope, that's a hobby, right? There's all these discussion boards all over the net about things that people love doing, and they are experts in it, but I think we're talking more in a business context. For me, you're an expert when a lot of people ask your opinion on the same subject, and are even willing to pay you for it, that's how I would define it. A while ago, before I started writing the book, I was interested in what people thought about expertise, so I actually paid, and I forgot about this until I was thinking about this podcast, so I went and dug it out.
I asked in a Google survey, a Google paid survey, which is a pretty cool tool, I asked 501 people how they would define expertise, and then I created a word cloud to see what were the most frequently used responses. Experience, and knowledge were the two that came up most frequently, which I thought was not very helpful, but it was interesting to get in their heads a little bit. How do you define expert, or expertise?
BLAIR: Well, I asked the question, because I don't know when I came up with it, but I had thought about it, and I did have a definition, and my definition, is expertise is the knowledge of what to do, or how to do it that remains valuable, even when unbundled from the doing.
DAVID: Oh, I like that better than mine, maybe you should've written that book.
BLAIR: No, that's my knowledge on it stops there, and then I think your word cloud experience, and what was the other ...
DAVID: Experience, so starting with the most frequently used words, experience, knowledge, specialist, success, professional, education, craft, and quality.
BLAIR: Yeah, I would say a lot of those are the bases for expertise, or signs that expertise are there.
BLAIR: That's an interesting one, okay, do you see areas where it's misused at all?
DAVID: Well, if we could tie ... I'm trying to think about how to say this next thing without using the Venn diagram phrase, because that's one we should have on another list, right?
BLAIR: Well, my worldwide moratorium on Venn diagrams, is still in effect, nobody is allowed to use a Venn diagram until I recover from being overly Venn diagrammed, so please work around it.
DAVID: This is in one of the 28 rules of Blairtopia.
BLAIR: Yeah every once a while I Tweet, and somebody will Tweet a Venn diagram, and I have to let them know that those aren't allowed right now.
DAVID: When people describe themselves as Guru, or an expert, the thing that just strikes me sometimes about that, is that they haven't really done the hard work to be an expert. They haven't done all of the research, the strategy work, they haven't set themselves apart. I can never picture them in a room, by themselves, thinking really carefully about something, instead they've just self described themselves as an expert. That bugs me a little bit, because I still so strongly believe that we need experts in so many things, and I mean a lot of things that just aren't associated with money at all.
I want to listen to people who know what they're talking about, I don't care if they've written a book or not, I don't care if they're making money from the expertise, I am just drawn to listening to people who really know what they're talking about in any setting. In fact, when I'm riding in a taxi, or I'm sitting next to somebody in a plane, or something, if I finally want to talk to them, which doesn't always happen, but when I finally want to talk to them, I want to get as quickly as possible, I want to get to something where I can learn from them.
Something in their life that they could impart to me, that would give me a shortcut. I want aha moments, and there's something about the expertise in the aha moments, that's why it's such an intriguing concept to me, so why did you unbundle the thinking from the doing in your definition?
BLAIR: It's not that implementation isn't a skill, it's just that I think if you're a real expert at something, you should, and I haven't thought deeply enough about this, so this might not be true, and I might realize it as soon as I say it, but if you're an expert at something, you should be able to benefit from that expertise without actually having to implement. You should be able to sell just advice.
DAVID: Yeah, so one of things I urge people to think through, when they're trying to describe their expertise, is picture that you've had some accident, you no longer have use of your hands, or your legs, and you can't even speak maybe, maybe you're colorblind, or something like that, could you still be an expert? To help them think through that, why is it that we naturally dive to the places where expertise is tied to doing? There's something about an imposter syndrome thing that happens there, right? We're not as naked when it's tied to doing, I think that's part of what's happening there.
BLAIR: Yeah, there is tacit knowledge though, right? Which is, you need to know how to do something, and you can't just explain, there's the knowledge of what to do that's valuable, but then there's the application of that over many years would give you implementation expertise, switches tacit knowledge. I don't think my definition is 100%, captures all the forms of expertise, but I think in our world, and our clients worlds, the worlds of the people listening to this podcast, I think that's probably a fairly good definition, but if we thought about it longer, we could probably narrow it even further, or get an even more accurate description.
Let's move on to the next one on the list, selling, and I have to admit, this is my domain, and ...
DAVID: I can get you, I can get you here, this is like a karma, okay, Blair wanted selling.
BLAIR: Well, I wrote a new definition based on preparing for this podcast, I really like the definition, but I'll first give you a few definitions I've used previously. Almost offhanded, selling is helping, selling is facilitating, I've got a three step model for selling. What selling is not, is it's not talking people into the things.
BLAIR: What I like to say, is as a salesperson person, a person selling the expertise of your firm, you have no business convincing anybody of anything ever. It's not your job to convince. I don't see selling as the art of persuasion, maybe advertising is, I see it is an active facilitation. My three step model, is help the unaware, inspire the interested, reassure the intent, but that's a model, it's not a definition. Here's the definition that I came up with, it's about 48 hours old, I really like it, we'll see if it lasts another 48 hours. Selling, facilitating a paid interaction designed to help another achieve a desired future state.
DAVID: You've focused on the prospect, or the prospective buyer quite a bit. Here's what I said, I said, selling is maximizing opportunity as you overcome objections, because to me, selling takes place very late in the process, but if we're going to use selling as a synonym for helping, then it seems like selling starts much earlier in the process, so I'm going to use that definition.
BLAIR: Yeah, I think it is, and I think the most effective salespeople, are the people who see themselves as helping, or facilitating, but who at the same time, don't see themselves as in the customer service business, they don't see an obligation to ... They have an obligation to truth, and fit, more than they do to the bottom line of the organization that they represent. What I mean by truth, and fit, is don't sell somebody something they don't need, don't lead them to a conclusion that isn't in the best interests of them, their organization, and if it's in the best interest of them personally, and their organization, then it's probably in your best interest, and the best interest of your organization.
It's in your best interest, if your compensation plan is appropriately structured, so we get a lot of these situations where salespeople are talking people into things, because of their compensation plan, or because of the pressures that they're getting from above. It was really important to me to start with the word facilitating, and then the idea of helping somebody else achieve a desired future state, because whatever it is you're selling, it doesn't matter what business you're in, if you're in some consultative, or customized services, or even if you're selling a product, you are trying to help somebody achieve a desired future state.
The focus is always on the client, you're a facilitator of the client's journey to a better place, and you're getting paid for it. I think that ticks all the boxes, tell me again your definition.
DAVID: My definition, is maximizing opportunity as you overcome objections. It's not complete for sure, and I'm not the sales expert, but I have come to believe that in a cutesy stupid way, we could say the selling is accomplished when the check clears, but really if we'd step back, and we were a little bit more thoughtful about it, it does seem like ... At what point are you really maximizing opportunity?
BLAIR: Well, whose opportunity?
DAVID: I meant the person doing the selling, which is not the same as what you were talking about, helping the other person. As you were describing the characteristics of the great salesperson, I found myself relaxing, because I trust somebody who takes that approach, so much more than I do the typical approach when somebody is selling to me. I started scratching my head thinking back, what percentage of all the people who sell to me really are trying to help me, really have my best interests in mind?
It has to be in the single digits, that's why I'm so disgusted with selling in general, and why that definition of helping is so refreshing to me. I just wish more people ... It feels like if people really believed that, an embrace it, they would actually be so much more effective as salespeople.
BLAIR: Yeah, I got a great email yesterday from one of our coaches, it was one of the clients in our program had sent to her about an experience that he had just gone through on a way we have them navigate through the sale, versus starting with the first question right at the beginning. At the end, the client said, "Oh my God, these are such great questions, I wish we just hired somebody to do this bigger thing than what was on the table. I wish I would've talked to you a few weeks ago, I wish we could've hired you for it."
He asked the question, and I'm not going to give the question away here, but he asked a question that really put his focus on the client's desired future state. Ask any question about the client's desired future state, the individual, the person, not the organization, and if you open up a sales conversation with something about, "Look, effectively what is it that you want? What do you want?" Not what's going on? What's your exit strategy? How do you look? All of these corny sales questions, just ask, "What do you want?"
DAVID: Yeah. People's defenses will go up almost always when they hear that, because they feel like, "Oh, man, as soon as I'm honest with him about what I want, they're going to use that against me. I don't dare be honest with them about what I want, and it's a shame, because we should be able to have those sorts of discussions.
BLAIR: See, I don't agree with that, I think, I recognize why you're saying it, because when it's in the hands of a wrong person. The wrong person might be somebody who's got a really high competitive drive, there's no such thing as too high, but there's such a thing as too high for the sale, or for the role that you're in. You're really impatient when you should be patient, and the cost of competitive drive is patience. If you get somebody who's in a consultative sale where there's a real requirement to understand what it is that the client wants, first, and they don't have the patience for that.
In the hands of a person like that, that question might seem forced, and your defenses might go up, but in a normal caring person, who's I'm not suggesting high drive people aren't caring, but somebody who's actually focused, interested in ... I know you are, I know if you asked the question, my defenses would go down, not up, because I know you're not even interested in the engagement unless you can help me achieve something fairly significant, and I hope I'm the same way, and I hope my people are the same way.
I think most of the people that go through our program are the same way, so I don't ask that question, and my experience in the probably hundreds of people now, who've embarked in this approach, it's almost all universally positive. Just get to the heart of ... Okay, there's all these goals that the organization etc., but what do you want? What's going to make you happy at the end of this?
BLAIR: Start there, and if you start there, now you're setting the tone for facilitating a conversation, and then you should get most of the way through the sale without actually thinking about what you will do for the client. You're completely focused on the client, and the client can tell you're completely focused on the client. Then once you get enough information about what will make you happy, what are you willing to spend on this, etc., then you can go away, and start thinking about solutions.
You made an interesting comment about the sale commences when monies changed hands effectively, and I think it culminates at that moment.
BLAIR: Sales is a human one-to-one interaction, so it commences at hello, and it ends at a check.
DAVID: When somebody completes a form on your website for instance, and let's say they want to sign up to get your regular emails, but they haven't reached out to you and said, "Hey, I want to talk about a specific program," has sales started at that point, or does it start when they actually raise their hand, and say, "Hey, I'm giving you permission right now to talk to me about this opportunity, this thing that you offer," where does sale start? If you're talking about sales being about helping people, maybe it starts at the very, very beginning, when you first know about each other?
BLAIR: Yeah, so you're going to force me to eat my own words here.
DAVID: I'm still looking to embarrass you in some way, and I'm not ...
BLAIR: I think it's pretty clear I'm winning.
DAVID: You are.
BLAIR: I know you're getting me on the next one, so I'm dragging this one out as long as possible. What I just said, it starts with hello, but you're right, it actually begins sooner than that. It begins as soon as the client starts to form an opinion about you, and increasingly that's well before hello. We've got this four conversation framework about you see the sale as four different conversations. The first conversation is what we call the probative conversation, where you prove your expertise, and you move in the mind of the client from vendor, to expert practitioner, that should happen before hello.
That conversation happens without you present, through your agents of thought leadership, and referrals. You're right, the sale should begin the moment the client starts to think of you, and starts to match you with their problem, or opportunity, and I think we've beat selling to death here.
DAVID: Well, one last thing, so this came from my friend Derek, who said, he wrote, "Marketing just means being considerate." Just a few paragraphs here. It says, "Don't confuse marketing with advertising, announcing, spam, and/or giving away branded crap, really, marketing just means being considerate. Marketing means making it easy for people to notice you, relate to you, remember you, and tell their friends about you. Marketing means listening for what people need, and creating something surprisingly special for them. Marketing means getting to know people, making a deeper connection, and keeping in touch."
What I liked about that, is that it does dovetail with this definition that you have of sales, in that it really does focus on them as well.
BLAIR: That's a valiant effort, but I would state straightforward, categorically that's an incorrect definition of marketing. It's funny, we don't have marketing on the list.
DAVID: Yeah, maybe because we know even less about marketing than we do sales.
BLAIR: I would say marketing, the definition of marketing is pretty clear, it's always, it's not clear, there are lots of different definitions, but there's only one that reigns for me, and it's marketing is identifying a need in the market, matching a product, or service to it at a profit, that's marketing. We often think what he just described, is a really intelligent, broad view of one component of marketing, which, if you go back to the Kotler 4P's of marketing, I think he's now up to 7 P's, would be called promotion.
I think the big mistake we make around marketing, is seeing it as promotion, the one P, but marketing is ... We're going to talk about entrepreneurship, but this is where we ... It's almost the same definition to me. It's seeing an opportunity in the market, matching our products, or service to it at a profit. An entrepreneur, I think, is somebody who builds a business to do that. We might as well just jump to entrepreneurship.
DAVID: An entrepreneur meets an unmet need, satisfies an unmet need in the marketplace at a profit.
BLAIR: Creates a need I think I would expand on that, but there's also ... An entrepreneur is somebody who starts a business who does that.
DAVID: I wouldn't limit it to starting a business, because they can take over a business, and that can be just as entrepreneurial, so to me, it's somebody who takes a financial risk to fill an unmet need in the marketplace.
BLAIR: Yeah, I think the most important word in any definition of entrepreneur, is the word risk.
DAVID: Yeah, because I think an entrepreneur is all in, all the time. They've got all their ... Maybe not all, but they might be diversified etc., but whatever venture their running, they've got everything on the line on that venture. A lot of experts are entrepreneurs, but there are many experts who are not entrepreneurs, and we're not making any judgment call about that, we're just simply acknowledging that expertise can occur inside, or outside entrepreneurship.
BLAIR: Do you think, when you think of our typical client, maybe it's somebody who went to design school, says, "Hey, I want to design for a living," they work for somebody else for a little while, and they think, "Oh, I don't need you Mr. Employer, or I'd like to do things a little differently," so they take a client, they go out on their own, now, they're an entrepreneur. Then, the rest of their lives, they're all in on this thing, they're trying to figure it out. They're hiring consultants like you, and I, they're learning how to manage etc., they're living with risk, they're cutting short family vacations at times, they're lying awake at night, all the things that come with entrepreneurship.
Do you think that's the same thing, and we should use the same definition for that form of entrepreneurship, which I think is what we're talking about? This other type of entrepreneurship, where you see it more in the technology world, Silicon Valley, start up, spin up a business, sell it, move on, do it again.
DAVID: I think, yes, I think that's exactly the same type of entrepreneurship, but the difference to me, is that the first example, the person who went to design school, and so on, doesn't think carefully enough about entrepreneurship. They make sloppy positioning decisions, they don't think carefully about money, they don't think about marketing, and positioning. They jump into that entrepreneurship for very different reasons that are more self, they're more self-motivated than they are by the marketplace.
DAVID: I would say, they're exactly the same kinds of entrepreneurs, they're just not making great entrepreneurial decisions, but I think they're the same entrepreneur.
BLAIR: Oh, okay, now, yeah, that makes sense, because I often accuse my usually designer clients of ... It's not an accusation, that's a strong word, but of pointing out to them, that they're more producers, than they are marketers. No designer says, "You know what the world needs? The world needs another unspecialized generalist design firm."
BLAIR: There isn't that act of what I described as marketing, there isn't that act of looking at the market, and saying, "What does the market need?" Whereas in the Silicon Valley startup, that's absolutely what's going on, but there's something about the cultures of those two things. I've never fully bought into the spin up a company, exit, spin up a company, exit. Maybe it's just a personal thing, I just can't see myself doing that, so that would be a serial entrepreneur, right?
People who love building businesses, and getting out, and they probably are not very good managers, they're good at conceiving things, they're good at raising money, they're good at selling their vision, they're good at seeing the opportunity in the marketplace. I've seen some fairly compelling arguments saying, one from Nassim Taleb, who wrote, "The Black Swan," and other books on probability, and I think he's written about in his most recent book, "Skin in the Game." I haven't read it yet, saying that's not entrepreneurship, and I forget what he calls it, he's got a definition for it, but he's saying, "That's not true entrepreneurship, that's something else."
When I heard that, I thought, "Yes, I agree," but I don't agree it's not entrepreneurship, there's just nuance's here, and as we're talking, as I'm talking about this, I realize I don't know nearly enough about this topic.
DAVID: Yeah, hey producer, don't publish any of this.
BLAIR: Isn't the subtitle of this podcast, "Conversations on Creative Entrepreneurship?
DAVID: Yeah, that's right, so we're having a conversation.
BLAIR: You wrote a book on expertise ...
DAVID: Without knowing what it meant.
BLAIR: I'm a sales training organization, we're just clearly communicating that we don't know what the hell we're talking about.
DAVID: No, I like this conversation though, the more you talk, the more silly you look, so this is great, keep going. No, I do think, I was listening to a podcast yesterday, the one that Databox does, I think it's called, "Ground Up," or something like that. It was a really good one, and it was a recent one, and they were interviewing Rand Fishkin of Moz. Here's a guy, with his mother, who started a very small firm, doing SEO for some clients, and he was an accidental entrepreneur in a way, because he recognized that there was a big need in the marketplace that he could fill, and he began then over, I think it was 16, or 17 years, to build that company, and now it's a 50+ million dollar company, which he just got fired as CEO by the way, and that's what the podcast was about, it was really interesting, and he's getting ready to start something else.
The thing about why entrepreneurship is so different in one setting, versus the other, is that the barrier to entry, if you're going to start a big tech product, or SaaS, or something like that, you're going to need a lot of money, so there's gonna be other people who are going to ask you a lot of questions before they decide to invest money in you, whereas somebody who's a designer, the barrier to entry is basically nil, so you just start something. You don't have anybody else running your idea through the gristmill, deciding if it's a good idea.
DAVID: The consequences are pretty lame as well, what's the worst that could happen? Well, you go back, and work for somebody else, so there are a lot of us, me included, some of us land on something good, some of us don't. Some of us make mistakes along the way, where we're learning about entrepreneurship. I would say it's all entrepreneurship, and many people would just salivate at the notion of being entrepreneurs like so many of our clients. We compare them, and ourselves, to some of these really famous unicorn, $1 billion firms.
I don't know that, that's fair. I think we have amazing lives, and we've taken risks, not as big a risk, not with other people's money, but we've taken risks, we've made good decisions, and I think that's remarkable, right? I think that's entrepreneurship.
BLAIR: Yeah, well said, that was great. Where do you want to go from here? We've got ...
DAVID: I want to go to one where you don't ... Where's one you're really uncomfortable?
BLAIR: Unless you go to the ones where we've crossed off the list, I was so uncomfortable about it.
DAVID: How about branding?
BLAIR: Yeah, you know ...
DAVID: Have we beat that one to death already?
BLAIR: I'm already worried I'm turning into an angry white man, they're going to give me a show on CNN, or something, so I'm trying to reform my ways, so why don't I ask you about branding? David, what's your definition for branding?
DAVID: Branding is what you do when you can't tell the cows apart in a field. You wrestle them to the ground, and you put a hot piece of metal on their asses, so that you can now tell, which ones you vaccinated, that's branding, is that what you were looking for?
BLAIR: Is that the origin of all, I guess it is, that's the origin of branding.
DAVID: It is.
BLAIR: Do you know when brand made it from cattle, to goods?
DAVID: I think it was in the early 50s I believe, I am not positive.
DAVID: Yeah, but just barely used then, and then it didn't really take off until the late 80s, that's when there were conferences about branding, and I was going to some of them back then.
BLAIR: Oh, so that's the use the term, okay, we're not going to go back far enough ... At some point I remember doing a tour of an old ghost town, like a wilderness, or a western town, where they re-create Western times, and there was something about making butter, and there was an old woman there who said, "My grandmother used to make butter, these women in this town used to make butter, and sell it at the general store." The butter was wrapped in paper, and the butter makers would all sign it, or put their name on it, and she said, "People would always want my grandma's butter, because of ..."
How do you make butter better? Anyways, she made good butter, and I thought, "Oh, that's probably one of the earliest examples of branding." Aren't we through brands, and branding, trying to project a level of quality, or something else about something through some visual imagery, isn't that what we're talking about when we talk about branding, or is it something else?
DAVID: We want to make a big distinction between brands, and branding, so brands have been around for many years. There's some interesting charts, I have a book that was written in the late 1800s, I think it's 1898, and it's called, "The Last 100 Years of Advertising," because marketing wasn't even a term then, branding certainly wasn't a term. There's some interesting chart's in there about how long the names of certain kinds of things last, and back then, the longest lasting brands, were always food brands.
Some of them have lasted more than 100 years, and then fashion brands were the shortest, and so on. When we're talking about branding as something that we do to brands, that's a very new, and a really lame concept, right?
DAVID: Yeah, we're talking more about the branding concept.
BLAIR: Why is it a lame concept?
DAVID: Well, because we pretend that somehow branding, it's somehow unique, like, "Oh, I'm a branding expert," as if everybody else in marketing is not a branding expert. That's the main reason why it's lame to me, because branding is not anything unique, everybody does it, so if we use it as a substitute for positioning, which by the way, is another word we have to define at some point in the future, then it's not gonna work. I posted something yesterday, "I'm a pretty unique barber, I use scissors."
BLAIR: I'm fond of saying, "A creative firm that specializes in branding, is like a fish that specializes in swimming."
DAVID: Yeah, exactly, right.
BLAIR: It's not a specialism, it's the cost of entry, but would you recognize that there are actually true branding experts in the world?
DAVID: Oh yes, for sure. Okay, get a number in your head, and I'll get one, and we'll say it at the same time. How many branding firms would you say in the world, are really experts in branding?
BLAIR: I don't even have a number. I'll get a number that I think would be recognized experts. Okay.
DAVID: Ready? One, two, three, 20.
DAVID: There's 12 on there that you think are really lame at it, and I want to know who those are. That's pretty interesting though, we came up with a number fairly close.
DAVID: Yeah, now how many people claim it?
BLAIR: If you're doing a positioning workshop where you're in a room full of a bunch of our clients, and you're talking about positioning, and you have somebody write out a positioning statement, somebody writes out we're experts in branding, and let's say there's 50 people in the room. You get them to read a little bit more about their expertise, here's what we do that's different, we're going to have to talk about positioning next, and then you say to everybody else in the room, "Okay, hands up if you also do this? Maybe have a core focus, but you can also do everything else here."
BLAIR: Every hand will go up.
DAVID: Better way to say it is, "How many of you don't do this, and refuse to do it, because you're not capable of doing it?"
BLAIR: Yeah, that's a good way. Okay, let's just put a bow around branding, and say, it used to be full service marketing, and communication, was the term that everybody used to imply all the wrong things, and now it's branding.
DAVID: Now it's storytelling.
BLAIR: Yeah, now it's storytelling, right? Yeah, there is something meaningful about storytelling, because I heard somebody say something recently, I thought it was profound, there's so much wealth in the world, we all have so many things. The most valuable things that we possess are our stories, and I thought, "That is a profound truth."
DAVID: It should be on a Hallmark card, one or the other.
BLAIR: I think the firms that are circulating around storytelling are trying to tap into that, but they all just sound the same, and just give it two years man, it's going to be the Inbound marketing, and I'm not knocking Inbound, or HubSpot, but there are so many Inbound marketing firms that all look the same. They're all doing the same thing, they're all saying the same thing. They've created this big problem in the market, the same is happening with storytelling.
DAVID: Yeah, yeah.
BLAIR: Okay, so we've gone on a couple of tangents, this is the most fun podcast we've done in forever, we're already over time, let's keep going. Positioning, you go.
DAVID: Positioning, okay, positioning is defining how you can be appropriately uninterchangeable. Do you think I need some wordsmithing.
BLAIR: I actually like that quite a bit, say it again.
DAVID: Positioning is determining how you can be appropriately uninterchangeable.
BLAIR: Okay, so I had positioning, and strategy together, because I think positioning is fundamental business strategy, and we in the creative professions, we don't use strategy when we're talking about the way it's used in the broader business world. We use the positioning word, and we use the positioning word, because at the time, this great book, I think it was 1982, "Positioning The Battle For Your Mind," by Trout & Reese. That book really took off, so positioning, it's an act of relativity.
It's positioning your brand in the mind of your customer, relative to your competitor, so let's come back to strategy. I collect answers to the question, what is strategy, and the one I like the best, is Michael Porter's, which is almost exactly what you just said, in different words, strategy is the answer to the question, how are we going to become, and remain unique?
BLAIR: Say your definition of positioning again, because it's essentially the same thing.
DAVID: Yeah, it's the process of appropriately determining your lack of interchangeability, I've changed a couple of words there, but that's essentially it.
BLAIR: Yeah, that's great, how do you become on uninterchangeable? Because your power in the sale, comes from the lack of availability of substitutes.
BLAIR: Where the client says, "Well, if I don't hire you, there's nobody else who's going to be able to do this, or do it this well." That's where your power to do anything, raise margin, lower your cost of sale, do good work, it all comes from that, so it's lack of interchangeability, I think we've nailed this one.
DAVID: I think pretty close, and there's a little bit of a nuance in mine, because I'm seeing something really frequently nowadays where people are landing on a positioning that's actually too narrow. One of the tests for me, of a good positioning, is that there should be other close substitutes, maybe not exactly the same, but close substitutes. We're not aiming for complete lack of interchangeability, we do want a little bit of interchangeability, but I'm seeing more people land on this positioning, and they get so excited, because they don't see any competitor out there.
It's like, no, no, no, that's not really the right answer, it's closer than any other, but it's not exactly right. I do want some competitors out there, but classically, the mistake is way too many competitors, but there could be too few competitors too. You might land on something that is like, no, a lot of people thought of that, and they jumped it, because it was not viable.
BLAIR: Yeah, that's a great point. I'm reminded of Peter Thiel's book, which is sitting on my desk here, "Zero to One," and he talks about ... You said that you're seeing these mistakes of positioning too narrow, and he talks about a positioning mistake, he doesn't use that word, he probably uses the word strategy, of articulating your difference, your uniqueness in an artificially small way. He gives a great example, he says, "I am at a certain location in Palo Alto, lunchtime, we're hungry, we want to go eat to a restaurant. There are all these restaurants on this street, then there's restaurants in the greater area. There's two Indian restaurants."
If somebody says, if they're positioning is effectively, we are the best Indian restaurant on this street, in Palo Alto, that doesn't truthfully acknowledge the fact that your competitors are also the non-Indian restaurants.
BLAIR: The non-Indian restaurants on that street, and further afield, so I think when you say these really narrow positionings, that's what it brings to mind for me. Some are too narrow, but almost artificially narrow, and not recognizing that, "Okay, well you can own that niche," but all the adjacent niches are their direct competitors too.
DAVID: Yeah, I was speaking with a consulting firm, not a creative firm, but a consulting firm that just hired me, and in our first conversation, I said, "Your positioning is brilliant, but it may be too brilliant. The marketplace may not be ready for it yet, because I can't think of a single other entity, there may be some, I just can't think of a single other entity that does what you do, even though what you do is brilliant. That's a positioning that might be too narrow, where the marketplace may not be ready for you yet."
You can't, as a small firm, you're not going to be able to educate the marketplace, education can never, usually, anyway for a small firm, be a part of the equation.
BLAIR: Did you talk them into moving the branding?
DAVID: I suggested storytelling, I wanted to get 20 years ahead on them.
BLAIR: Hey, we're already over, but let's finish, there's only one left on the list, that consultant, and I don't have anything on this.
DAVID: Okay, so before you created this training organization, when you were in the consulting business, did you cringe when people called you a consultant?
BLAIR: Do you?
DAVID: No, I fully embrace it, even though ... It's weird, I have this strange finger thing when I'm typing, it comes out conslutant unfortunately. Seriously it does, and for some reason it doesn't autocorrect. I think it's a Freud thing happening, but no, I do embrace it, because it's to me like lawyers. We all tell jokes about lawyers, but then when we really need one, we are so grateful for the role they play in our lives. You can say the same thing about consultants, I think a softer word for it, is an advisor.
To me, is an expert, with a clearly articulated point of view that you pay for, that's what a consultant is, and I embrace it, I'm fine with that. I use consultants all the time in my own life, personal, and business life, so I'm fine with it.
BLAIR: When I was a consultant, people would say, "What do you do?" I would say, "I'm a consultant, I don't do anything."
DAVID: Yeah, they would love too, and then they'd tell you about, borrow my watch, tell me what time it is, and they yeah, all those old jokes.
BLAIR: Exactly, yeah. This is so much fun, we're like 50 percent over, but whatever, I think it was ... I hope some people stuck around to the end. We resolved some things, and we just made a mess of others.
DAVID: Thank you Blair, it was great.
BLAIR: Thanks David, talk to you next time.