There was a TV show named “The Dating Game” where a bachelorette would ask questions to three bachelors, hidden from her view, and then choose one to go out for a date at the end of the show. Each male contestant would try to stand out from the others by showing swagger, being witty, and sometimes have put-downs of their rivals. “Bachelor No. 2 – How would you describe a romantic night out with me?” “Well, Bachelorette, I would pick you up in my Ferrari, then we fly to Paris in my personal jet for dinner, and finally to my home to play Xbox (my mother makes a delicious cup of hot chocolate).”
Life is “The Dating Game” whether you are dating, working, or selling...
Why should I buy from you? Why should I hire you? What separates you from the crowd? These questions apply to you as an individual and to your company, products or services. This is the premise of branding.
You start to define your brand by creating a positioning statement. This is a short synopsis of who you are and what makes you special - the proverbial "2 minute elevator pitch". It helps others match you with what they need, see value in what you offer, and clarifies your niche and articulates how you want to be perceived throughout your community. It strengthens your identity by helping you see yourself through the eyes of your “customer” and highlighting that "one thing" (or "big things") that sets you apart.
Take your time to think about and internalize these Starter Questions:
1. Who are you? What do you do?
This should come from your mission statement. (All individuals should have personal mission statements regardless of whether they are doing personal branding or not.)
2. What are the specific needs or problems of the market that you serve? How do you satisfy those needs or solve those problems?
Think of three specific and unique ways you can address these needs or problems.
3. Who are your preferred customers? What is your value to these customers?
Identity who you trying to sell to. You cannot be all things to all people so think about which customers you wish to target and why they would choose you. Think about what the customer cares about and what your compelling value propositions are. (Determine your single most compelling value proposition, the top three, and no more than a total of five to maintain focus.)
4. Who are your competitors? What unique benefits set you apart from the competition so that the customer chooses you?
Each product or service has a different set of competitors so carefully identify them and determine what differentiates you enough so that the customer selects you. Define the criteria that customers use when making purchase decisions. Remember all benefits and values are compared relative to the competition.
After answering the above starter questions, you can construct the positioning statement in several ways but I like these two slightly different templates. Template 2 is a modified version of a template from personal branding expert and author, Karen Kang. I got to meet her (fabulous person) and highly recommend her book, "BrandingPays".
Remember that you may have different positioning statements for different products and situations. Be the contestant that stands out and wins in your daily version of "The Dating Game"!
A file with both templates can be downloaded here.
Instead of a typical brainstorming meeting where either everyone sits in silence waiting for ideas to come up or Type A personalities take over and effectively shut off participation, try a “Gamestorming” session.
I used Gamestorming to:
The core game that we “played” was “Post-Up” where players generated ideas on sticky notes (3M Post-It Notes™) and shared them later by sticking them on the wall or flip charts.
How to Play:
“Fire Starting” is the 1st step in Gamestorming – create a spark or light a fire to get the ideas flowing and spreading.
Fire starting can be an open question: “How would you make Product X easier to use?”, “What would you change in Product Y?”
I went with fill-in the blank sentences since I wanted to focus on specific topics, e.g., “For Reports…I want ____.”, “For Indicators…I want______.”
Each fill-in sentence was projected on a screen (you can also write them on a board) one at a time. Each team of 2 people brainstormed together, writing each idea or thought onto a separate sticky note. Each team had their own colored sticky notes. Everyone was given a set amount of time before I moved onto the next topic via the related fill-in sentence.
After all topics were revealed, each team went up to stick their notes to individual walls for each topic and also quickly present their ideas to the entire group.
Teams often had new ideas based on what they were hearing from other presenters and were encouraged to post up new sticky notes.
At the end of the exercise, you can see patterns: sticky notes with the same or similar idea, categories and subcategories. The next step may be to create an affinity map which is to sort topics and categories (I did not since I already started with topics), prioritization of ideas, further discussion of value/effort for each idea, etc.
The Post-Up game generated literally walls of ideas, sparked some real creativity, and participants had a fun time. So try injecting play into your ideas exploration and gathering – a colleague coined my ideas on games at work as “funication” (catchy but possibly career limiting name)!
"Post-Up" is one of the core games described in the book “Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers" – by Gray, Brown, Macanufo.
Today was a wonderful day! Almost thirty of us went to the local food pantry to sort canned and dried foods collected by the US Postal Service food drive on Saturday. Together, we unloaded bins and bags of food and sorted them into different boxes for further distribution to those in need. It was wonderful to see the small mountain of food, the camaraderie among us, and knowing that we did a good deed (with double Brownie points since it was in a church). Everyone was smiling and cheering each other on while doing some serious lifting and running around - we sorted 16,750 lbs or ~8.3 tons of food in a record 2 hours 15 minutes!. It was fun organizing the event at work - the sign-up was full within days.
There’s something about volunteering and charity that gives more meaning and fulfillment to life. You get to meet others and see a better side of people and society. On the personal side, I work with charities and volunteer organizations, be it serving on advisory councils to tap into my marketing, writing, or management background or just when they need some heavy lifting. I am also a proud member of the Instron C3 group (which stands for “Community Connection Committee”) with the mission statement of “Making a measurable difference in our community by extending awareness about local needs and providing opportunities for Instron employees to help and serve”. We do the monetary campaigns, e.g. the One Fund Boston for those affected by the tragic events at the Boston Marathon, as well as “Days of Caring” where people can donate time and skills. We also work very closely with The United Way - we received the Cornerstone Award for our overall contribution to the United Way of Tri-County in 2013. It's wonderful to learn how many caring people I work with (many unassumingly).
Change this paradigm, change the world.
Many of us are brought up to be self-centered, always asking “What’s in it for me?” and “Looking out for #1”. If we change this paradigm, we change the world. Practice random acts of kindness. Pay it forward. Never look down at anyone unless you are helping them up. Do something good without expecting anything back – and you will definitely receive more than you give.
Remember that kindness and compassion do not have to be organized activities. Nor do you have to have a lot of (or any) money. It can be just a "little thing". See the video below to understand.
Have you ever looked at a company’s activities and wonder “What does any of this have to do with getting and making a customer happy?” Show me a company that bases their strategy on internal operations, activities, and metrics and I will show you a company that will fail.
"Who Are You Competing Against?"
Improving productivity, inventory turnover and other internally focused activities alone means making investors happy, but has nothing to do with getting business. In this case, who are you really competing against? Your own old “self”! Such improvement is good, but only in the context of having a goal to gain an advantage against competitors with a set of customers - so that these customers say, "I want to do business with this company!" You need to know how to make customers happy in a way that brings about competitive advantage. Strategy is having a "where to play" and "how to win" against competitors.
You can always have a strategy to win in a certain way in a certain place. The US military changes its organization and equipment based on who and where they are going to fight. They recognized a new world order where Russia is no longer the main enemy and large armored divisions are not going to work. They changed their strategy to emphasize fast, mobile strike specialized units. JC Penny totally sunk itself (and got the CEO fired) by working on mini-boutiques, improving sales per square feet which had, arguably, nothing to do with winning customers from Macys, Target, or other department stores.
Operational Effectiveness vs. Strategic Positioning
1. Operational Effectiveness is creating, making, and selling a product or service faster, cheaper, and with less defects. You do not win on this alone in the long run nor is it sustainable since competitors can eventually emulate this.
2. Strategy or rather, strategic positioning, is about doing things that differentiate you from others for a sustainable competitive advantage. It's about doing similar activities differently or different activities from similar competitors. Great example of this: Starbucks offers high quality coffee in a bistro-like ambiance.
Remember Michael Porter’s “What is Strategy”:
1. Strategy is the creation of a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities.
Strategic position emerges from three distinct sources: 1) serving few needs of many customers, 2) serving broad needs of few customers, 3) serving broad needs of many customers. In other words, find niches.
2. Strategy requires you to make trade-offs in competing—to choose what not to do. You cannot be all things to all people. As one of my programming colleagues said when I pushed him too hard, “We can do anything. We just can’t do everything!”
3. Strategy involves creating “fit” among a company’s activities. McDonald’s tested McPizza and customers just were not willing to wait (it’s supposed to be “Fast” food!). Pepsico owned KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell but spun them off to create YUM! - just did not allow them to focus their activities.
So always know who you're really competing against, know your strengths and weaknesses, look for niches, and be disciplined not to bite off too much when formulating your strategy.
Frank Lio is a Product Manager, Strategist, and Change Agent in the Hi-Tech industry. His growing track record of successes include creating 3 winning software products, leading nationwide seminars, and turning around a failing business unit. He is currently serving a dual role as Product Manager and Business Team Support Manager at Instron ITW.
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