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Last week I gave a presentation at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business to some 200 advanced business school students from Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, and beyond. My presentation was part of the Indiana University Global Business Institute annual summer program sponsored by Coca-Cola. This program brings bright business students from other parts the world to Bloomington to understand and learn about American business customs and norms.
I put together a custom talk for the event called “11 lessons I’ve learned in 25 years in business” recapping some of the things that I’ve discovered are important after being an entrepreneur for a long time. I’ve summarized the 11 points here:
The Rest of the Story
But as is often the case, it turns out that perhaps my most important advice wasn’t part of my prepared remarks but was delivered as part of the question and answer session afterwards.
The second lesson I talked to the students about was my friend Sally Hogshead’s concept of “different is better than better.”
Being better in business is a difficult place to operate. It’s expensive and tricky to take your slight advantage whether it’s speed, efficiency, more features or something else, and use that “better” advantage effectively enough to cause behavior change and brand preference shifts.
Being different in business is easier to promote, and to defend. If you are in a category of one, you may have a smaller addressable audience, but among that audience you are THE solution. (This is why we totally overhauled our email publication 18 months ago to bring you Definitive. It’s a completely different take on social and content marketing insights, and it’s been a smash hit since we adopted different instead of chasing better.)
After my remarks, a student asked a question about this principle.
I am working on a startup services company that will wash clothes for people affordably and very quickly. Nothing like this exists in my country now, so it’s different, not better. But how should I tell people the benefits of this service?
The 1 Magic Question to Guide Your Marketing Messaging
I told him about the magic question I use to guide marketing messages. It’s a question that I find works every time, and in every situation. It really should have been in my 11 Lessons, because I rely on this question often.
Always ask yourself this question:
Why does that matter?
When you mentally walk backwards from the product/service feature and benefit and keep asking yourself “why does that matter” you end up with the core essence—the truly resonant difference at the heart of the matter.
It’s what my friend Tom Webster calls “The Theory of the Firm.”
I said: “Your service will clean clothes quickly? Why does that matter?”
“Because it will save people—mostly women—time by having us do it instead of doing it themselves.”
I said: “That’s terrific. But why does that matter?”
“Because they can spend that time doing something else instead.”
“Exactly,” I replied. “But why does that matter?” He was uncertain at this point, so I filled in the last blank.
“Because if you have time to do something else, you have time to do something more fulfilling. Since your customers are likely to be mothers, wouldn’t they want to spend more time with their children, in most cases?”
“Yes. They would.”
“And THAT is what matters about your business,” I said. “If this was my company, I would market it as a way for mothers to spend more quality time with their children, and since we always want to ask, “Why does that matter?” I might focus on a specific outcome of that time spent… familial love, educational achievement, etc.”
This Will Work For You
Marketing messages and positioning are not about what you DO but rather about what you ENABLE.
Take a moment and think about “why does that matter?” for your own business. Keep walking it backwards until you get to the essence. I would love for you to share your insights in the comments below.
Also published on Medium.