Why you need to keep this one secret

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Secret

I’m all for transparency. Transparency, unless we’re talking about David Lee Roth’s stagewear circa 1984, is a good thing: it’s a linchpin of trust and communication, and you know that at some point somewhere, no matter how many scary-looking, spiky charts the company accountant shows you, it all boils down to trust and communication.

Still, some secrets are worth keeping. Superheroes from Clark Kent to Jessica Jones keep their identities secret so that they can be left alone to save the world in peace. My mother believed that a woman should neither put on or take off her girdle in front of her husband. And me? I believe that every business, before it grabs the shiny new thing – whether it’s story, or content, or marketing communications, should have a secret message.

A secret message combines elements of your business’s core values and strategy and stands above everything you do and communicate, informing your actions and communications directly. It is a guiding principle that helps you make every decision, and helps you construct and send every message. Without it, everything you say will either fall flat, or fall in a heap when you or your business is tested.

When you keep your secret message front and foremost, it gives you precise focus, and directly influences everything you do and say, and how you do and say it.

It’s for your eyes only; not your customers’ or clients’. Why? Because first and foremost, they won’t care. All they care about is the results. This is exactly as it should be, and also good for you because of the second reason: your secret message doesn’t have to be pretty.

I have seen, time and time again, businesses get stuck on a public message, tagline, or vision/mission statement. I’m talking months here (the maximum so far is 18 of them)! Everything is in suspended animation until they get their message just so. They imagine dire consequences if they don’t megaphone exactly what they’re about to the world in the exact right words.

But it’s simply not true. With a secret, internal message guiding your decisions and communications, your clients and customers will get the message of what you’re about loud and clear.

And without it? That’s shaky ground, right there, no matter how good you are at expressing yourself. Where is your focus coming from? How are your clients and customers supposed to read your words and actions? The pretty stories you tell – what are they actually for? What is keeping your words congruent with your values?

It’s not worth skipping your secret message, particularly when it’s so quick and easy to put one together.

Your secret message is made up of three simple things:

PEOPLE

PRACTICE

PURPOSE

When you’re talking people, you’re talking about you and your team, and your clients or customers. Who are you all? Define everyone, but not too specifically: you want to leave room for creativity and the vagaries of the market.

Next is your practice. Here you need to define not only what it is that you do, but also what your clients or customers think that you do for them. It’s vital that you are able to see your practice from their point of view as well.

Finally, let’s talk why. Why do you do what you do? And also, importantly, why do your clients or customers come to you?

You can put it together in a few sentences, or in – forsooth! – dot points. It doesn’t need to be pretty, just practical.

We’re a bunch of programmers and assorted IT geeks who work for decision makers in the freight transport industry. We provide them with software that logs and tracks freight. It makes freighting a lot more efficient, and saves them time and money. We do this because we care about the impact of freight transport on the environment; the more efficient it is, the less impact it has. Also, we think trains and trucks are cool. Clients come to us because we’re reliable and available 24 hours a day, and there’s nothing we won’t do to make freight as efficient as it can be.

And that’s it. You can see how a secret message like this can impact all your messaging, whether it’s in the form of marketing, or internal or external communications, and in fact, any decision you make. Crucially, it also allows you to see where your goals and your clients’ or customers’ intersect. This makes for better communications, and better business. And that’s no secret.

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The Ultimate Expert

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STERN WARNING

Not me. You.

OK, me. But it’s me, telling you it’s you.

But wait – before both our brains boggle themselves into total fritz-out, let me backtrack just a tad.

Last month, and against all common sense (it was just before Christmas) I ran my inaugural Content Marketing Strategy for Small Business workshop which, by the way, was a great success as well as being brilliant. Throughout the six hours we were together, I took participants through the basic principles of content and engagement: getting to know your market and audience intimately, and planning for the content that is most useful to them, at the best time for them, in a way that will also benefit the business. And content marketing is all about getting to know that market and audience, what with the customer profiles, demographics, buyer personas, and everything short of a palm reading for every customer who walks through the door. A pretty clear message. Or so I thought. Close to the end of the workshop, one of my awesome participants asked, “So… what kind of content should I have?”

My mouth dropped, albeit briefly, because hadn’t I just spent six hours taking her through the process of getting to know her market and audience, and the content she should provide for them? I had, and after checking in with her, I realised that she got it. So what was the issue? It was that because I was delivering the workshop, and I was the “expert” in the room, she thought I would know better than she did what her market and audience would need and want.

I don’t. That’s where my expertise ends. And if you are listening to experts telling you what to do with your business, you should know, very clearly, where their expertise ends and yours begins.

The cult of the expert is everywhere, and it’s easy to slavishly follow what the expert says. But take note that the expert doesn’t know your business, or your market and audience, like you do – unless you’ve hired her to do so.

A day or two after this workshop, I was on LinkedIn where a contact shared an article about how it’s vitally important that every business’s social media strategy be mostly composed of pictures, because graphics have so much more engagement. Every business, the article said. And there’s my LinkedIn contact innocently sharing the article, not taking into account that its subtext is, “I know your market and audience better than you do”.

Sure: people like it when I put pix up on my social media. They like them, and engage with them, but are graphics really what they want and need? And more importantly for my business, does it tell them anything about me, my brand, and my ability to do the job that they might one day want me to do? Because pictures may be nice, but I’m out there earning a crust as a communication specialist: people need to know that I can write and communicate worth a damn, that I have a couple of brain cells to rub together, and that I can come up with an original idea now and then. I know my market and audience – they’re my people, and I’ve spent considerable time and energy getting to know them – far better than the expert who wrote this article. So while she may well be an expert, she’s not an expert on my people and what they need from me. That, in a nutshell, is knowing where her expertise ends, and mine begins.

Where does my expertise – and that of other “experts” – end, and yours begin?

Do you know your people? Who are they? I don’t mean just as a market and audience, but on a real, human level? Have you taken the time to get to know them – if not all, then at least a goodly number – and to ask them what they need from you? Do you keep an eye on your stats and metrics, to check what brings people to you, and what makes them run away? Have you got some buyer personas that will help you create an accessible, engaging voice your people will respond to?

If you have, and you do, you’re an expert. And if you haven’t and don’t, then become one. It’s simple, and you know what? It’s a privilege to know your people so well. When you do, even if there’s a time that you need to bring the expert in, you can work as equals, shoulder to shoulder. And that’s good for you, and good for them.

Trust me on that one. I’m an expert.


 

Photo credit © everett225 via DepositPhotos
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An Opinionated Dame’s Advice On Absolutely Everything You Should Be Doing

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Dear Abby

 

Well. Almost everything.

And the opinionated dame? Me.

Here it all is: my best advice for 2015, shortened to a few words that will get 2016 cranking for you.

  • Unless you have trust, you’re dead where you stand.
  • If you’ve gone to the trouble of creating personas, don’t just let them sit there: tell their stories.
  • Cultivate your damn voice.
  • … unless you need to make something up to someone. If you do, don’t be a jerk.
  • Also jerky: either paying for, or offering, a $15,000 program for writing your own business book. Don’t do it.
  • If you don’t know why anyone should care about what you’re trying to say, you’re just being self-indulgent. Quit it.
  • It’s never too late to make a difference in someone’s life. Start now.

 

See you all in 2016! Happy New Year!

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