We're living in the age of the rise of personal brands, and I recently sought some advice from one of the world’s experts. You may not know his name but you’ll recognize his clients. Two of them changed my world, expanded my mind, disrupted my thinking. Both of these luminaries have been instrumental in shaping my own business and marketing strategies.
The first is Simon Sinek: Start With Why. He helped create clarity for me in my professional purpose and pushed me down the road where you make a difference.
The second is David Meerman Scott and his book, The new Rules of Marketing and PR is mind boggling and answers the questions around sales and marketing convergence in the digital era. He convinced me to give my content away for free.
So who is the man who has helped these luminaries? His name is Mark Levy and I sought him out to ask him for some thoughts and advice on personal branding. Strap yourself in because like Morpheus, he offers us the red pill. Are you brave enough to swallow it see how far the rabbit hole goes?
I was and I’m embracing it all. I’ve never worked harder in my life but the results have been truly staggering. Whether you’re seeking to implement Challenger or to inject yourself upstream, early at senior levels with target customers; all of this is highly valuable. Mark Levy made a few important points with me and here they are:
“Don’t feel confident unless you have reason to feel confident.” Mark told me the story of a businessperson whose stated problem was a lack of confidence. The businessperson was about to attend a high-powered conference, packed with top prospects, and he didn’t feel confident about his ability to grab and hold people’s attention. When he heard the man’s elevator pitch, Mark said: “Lack of confidence is not your problem. You have every reason to lack confidence. Your pitch is unfocused, and all your claims are based on your opinion. Instead of working on your confidence, let’s work on your elevator speech and pitch."
“You don’t need phony confidence. You need an elevator speech that's so brutally honest and relevant to your audience that you’ll stop people in their tracks. When you feel confident in your material, confidence in yourself comes naturally.”
“Pull them in with facts.” For four hours, Mark interviewed the businessperson about the company he founded. In particular, Mark was looking for facts. What kind? Facts about how the company began, who exactly it helped, and concrete evidence of the approach the businessman took in his projects.
“I was looking for tangible things,” says Mark. “Things a camera would see. Sometimes that camera would be shooting a close-up: 'Tell me about how you helped one company.’ Other times it would pull back for a wide-angle shot: ‘Tell me about one commonality among the hundreds of companies you’ve helped'. Big picture and relevant granular details are both important."
Soon, Mark uncovered ten factual statements that formed the basis of a powerful pitch. Remarkably, the person was able to use one of those facts to demonstrate that his firm was, in a specific yet important category, the #1 firm in his industry. This was a position the businessman had not realized he could own until he had invested the time with Mark.
“When it comes to finding a big sexy idea and a strong marketplace position,” says Mark, “philosophy, opinion, and point-of-view are critically important. But when you look at the facts, at the telling details, you see things in a whole new way. Looking at the facts takes the pressure off. You escape the demands of your mind, and you’re more clearly able to see all the ways you’ve helped people.”
“Start with where your audience is.” Mark and I discussed how best to pitch an idea (or, what he calls “a big sexy idea”). He says that a problem some people have is that when they share the idea with others, they jump into explaining their solution too quickly. “If you jump to your solution,” he says, “you’ll do one of two things: both bad.
“First, the person you’re pitching to won’t know that you truly understand who they are, what they’re facing, and what they want to accomplish in the world. Before you tell them how you’re unique, they want to know you recognize how they’re unique.
“Second, if you jump to your solution, you’re forcing the other person to make sense of it and how it fits into their life. You’re asking them to do too much work. That’s work, by the way, they won’t do. They’ll ignore you or they’ll put on a false smiling face while they think of reasons to leave."
“When pitching an idea, start with where your audience is. They haven’t lived your life. They’ve lived theirs. Make it easy on them. Talk about things important to them. Talk about situations pulled right from their daily work. Show them that you know what they’re experiencing in ways that they themselves may not have even articulated. Then, and only then, should you talk about solutions and what you have that’s different.”
“To find your big sexy idea, look at your business as if it’s a book.”Clients come to Mark to find their marketplace position, or get help in writing a book. Mark, in fact, has a long history in the world of books. He’s worked in publishing, book wholesaling, and book retail. He’s written books, ghost-written books, coached people on writing books, and taught writing at Rutgers University.
“It’s no wonder, then,” says Mark, “that when I look at positioning your business, I look at it as if it’s a book. See, whether you realize it or not, like a book your business has a main idea. It’s ‘about’ something. That main idea may be sharp and distinct, or it may be general and commoditized. It may be easy for people to talk about, or it may be fighting with other ideas, so talking about it is hard."
“I look at your business and think, ‘Right now, what’s the main idea here? What’s the idea, and what are all the things substantiating that idea? What are the facts, stories, pieces of philosophy, exercises, frames, endorsements, and so on."
“While I’m examining things, I look for story-lines that might be buried, or that the business owner hadn’t thought about before, and I ask myself: ‘If this storyline were brought to the fore, how would that change everything? What would the business’s new focus be? Who would be its customers? How would it make a difference in their lives? What would they be buying? How would they be talking about it?’
“It’s really about trying new story-lines that are honest, but unused. It’s searching for a way to make a book into a page-turner. Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – a little change can make a commoditized idea into a big sexy idea. It can make a good book into a blockbuster. “
I asked Mark about how his ideas on positioning and branding applied specifically to personal brands. He told me: “It all applies. Everything I’ve been saying works for big businesses and brands of one. “Your brand, no matter what the size, always needs to be about an idea. Right? It’s not about you. It’s how you make a particular audience’s life better. It’s what you stand for and what you symbolize.
Mark's parting wisdom: “You’re never selling your humanity. You’ll always be selling an idea.”
If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.
Main image photo by Flicker: Sir Richard Branson by Jarle Naustvik