Note: this is the second in a series about how to stand out and be a light in a saturated digital space. Read the introduction to the series here.
No, this isn’t a Ron Burgundy “I’m kind of a big deal” moment.
Being important means being important to the audience. You can be different, but why does it matter?
You will matter to your audience if you (or more specifically, what you offer) represent an improvement in what they care about.
More often than not, what they care about is themselves. I don’t say that to be cynical, I say it as a truth. People make decisions about how to spend their money based on the benefit it has to them. That could mean improving their commute, their marriage, their cooking, their business operations, their accounting processes.
Sometimes, what your audience cares about is outside of themselves. The health of the oceans, local sexual slavery, global poverty. You may be important to them if you line up with an external cause they care about.
In the end, being important to your audience means representing something they care about – beyond simply the distinction of being different.
Whose Story Are You A Part Of?
Donald Miller is the CEO of StoryBrand, what he calls a company that helps businesses clarify their message. In his view, that message is largely not about themselves.
If I were to summarize Don’s StoryBrand concept, at least in what stands out most to me, it’s the concept that the protagonist in every story includes both a hero and a guide.
Nobody wants to buy stuff from a brand that positions themselves as the hero. People want to be the hero, which means it’s the brand’s job to be the guide, and position themselves that way.
We use the Brand Script framework from Don and his team to outline and clarify how a brand positions themselves within the story of their customer.
This isn’t just a framework we use, though – it’s a truth that we witness all the time.
It’s telling that when we first start meeting with a client and talk about what they do, we get semi-passion.
People talk about their work, the unique ways in which they work, how they started their business.
But things get really interesting when we start guiding the conversation to the why.
The Five Whys exercise never ends up with a statement about yourself.
Think about that – when you drill all the way down to the purpose of your own business, you step into someone else’s story.
This is uniquely interesting when it comes to founders, who may share a large portion of their identity with that of their company. Ultimately, the essence of that identity is a story in which they’re only the guide.
That’s a humbling point of view. And from a brand strategy perspective, it’s an effective one.
Your story is not only about the founder of the company or how long you have been around. It is about who you started your company for and why those people inspired you to serve them.
How to Be Important
I perceive two trains of thought that at first glance seem to be at odds with each other. One says that in building your brand or your marketing, you should always think customer-first. The other says to start with your own why.
The customer-first model can seem like the one true driver of business success – the customer is always right, and the customer is where your dollar comes from. To best serve its customers, a company should tailor its offering to what they’re asking for. That’s entirely accurate, and it’s the reasoning behind laudable initiatives like Net Promoter Score surveys, customer research, and user feedback.
Of course, there’s a dark side. Taken too far, an exclusively customer-focused model can become inauthentic. In a post-advertising-golden-age world, consumers are increasingly good at sniffing out inauthenticity.
Let’s take a look at the other model. We’ve already discussed the Start With Why approach. It sounds pure – be true to yourself.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of accidentally walking into a talk by Tim Urban, author of the very popular Wait But Why (of no relation to the similarly-titled Simon Sinek book). He talked about one of his philosophies in his writing: he imagines a whole stadium filled to the brim with Tims. People exactly like him, who are interested in the same things, and think the same way. And he writes for them, because if he can do one thing well, it’s talk to himself. And that’s how he’s found success – narrowing his focus to what really matters to him.
But does leading from such an internal view naturally exclude the external – the people who ultimately can pay your bills? Is it naive to focus just on what matters to you, to the exclusion of thousands of potential customers?
Of course, these two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive.
The right way to be important is to create a framework from what matters to you, and use that to make customer-focused decisions through the lens of your mission.
From there, you bring the infinity of choices trying to please every consumer into a focus of who you can align with, who you can be important to, with what you’re good at and what you care about.
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