From “run of the mill” to “brilliantly unique”: take the branding challenge
I recently gave a presentation about entrepreneurship to a group of SMEs. When time allows, I like to ask business owners who they are and what they do. Out of twenty people, not one gave me an answer that showed me how they were different… So if I was a potential client, how am I supposed to choose between them and a competitor? Branding is about leveraging your uniqueness.
Create an elevator pitch
that actively gets you business
We’ve all heard of the elevator pitch. It should be a reflection of your brand, telling your potential customers that “I am the solution you have been looking for”. To create an elevator pitch that will actively help your business, you need to tell the world:
- who you are selling to,
- not just what you sell, but what you specialise in,
- and exactly what you do, not in a cookie-cutter, administrative-form way (“I’m a graphic designer. I’m an engineer. I’m an accountant”), but in a way that shows people how your solution works, in practice.
The elevator pitch of my company, Hayes Culleton, goes something like this (adapted depending on the occasion, of course): “We speak, write and train about the financial markets, economics and entrepreneurship, online and offline, to corporates and organisations, in the UK, Malta, Ireland and the US.”
Not just “We’re financial trainers”, because that wouldn’t be much help to anyone. It certainly wouldn’t help people see in their mind’s eye what it is we do exactly. Whereas “we speak, write and train” means people can envision us giving a presentation, they can imagine reading our articles, and they can picture themselves in the training room with us – or they can visualize themselves participating in a webinar or navigating their way through a video suite.
Here are some additional pointers to create an elevator pitch that will do justice to the many ways in which your business is absolutely unique.
1. Have you won any awards?
In our case, when relevant we stress that we’re an Enterprise Ireland client. Incidentally, simply by going through the process of applying for an award, you will be reflecting on your business and working at your elevator pitch while gaining strategic insights. Whether it’s the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, the Women in Sales Awards, the Cartier Awards or the Irish Post Awards, go for it.
2. Quantify your customer service
Do you answer every email within 24 hours? Every phone call and voicemail within two days? What action do you take, in what timeframe, to keep your customers happy? “We do x by y time” is a very effective differentiator.
3. Highlight what you specialise in
In our case, we emphasise geography and niche subject areas. I once stayed at a hotel that boasted to cater to the needs of “the female traveller”. The rooms actually featured toiletries, a make-up mirror, and a hairdryer. Now have you ever heard of a four-star hotel that wouldn’t offer those things? Me neither. But simply by “putting a name on it”, they made sure that a segment of their target market would feel understood.
4. State your experience
Experience is also a tremendous differentiator, so state it boldly if you have it. I met two founders of a company at a networking event: their business was only four years old, but the two of them had been in the industry for 25 years each. So they made sure to mention that their company had “50 years joint experience”. This instantly set them apart as a credible authority. On the other hand, being a startup can sound exciting, but to some ears it can also sound like you’re only starting off and should be let prove yourself before you can be trusted with a big contract. There is a workaround: one clever startup founder explained to me that they were a “2014 brand”, putting the emphasis on how current and relevant they were.
5. Giving back
Corporate social responsibility is a USP that’s especially close to my heart. If you engage in charitable or philanthropic activities, if you champion a cause, tell your market! Corporates do it all the time – there’s no reason why an SME, an employee or a candidate can’t do so as well. People love to work with people with a moral conscience. In our own company, we partner with and sponsor women’s networks that seek to empower their members and beneficiaries, like the Roscommon Women’s Network and Dress for Success.
6. The Irish touch
Emotional connection is another one: how about “Buy Ireland”? The Irish never feel more Irish than when they’re abroad. If you are the proud supplier, buyer, producer, etc. of Irish products or services, make it known.
7. Be the whizzkid
Do you have a technological advantage? I recently talked to university students about personal branding and how they can differentiate themselves on the job market. Can they bring 200 LinkedIn contacts when they walk into the door of their new place of employment? Are they active on Twitter? Have they created or reviewed an app or other piece of technology? Tech expertise is crucial, so if you have it, flaunt it.
8. Intellectual property
You shouldn’t forget to mention if you have intellectual property. When we launched the companion website to my book The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom, we included a proprietary budget app that allowed readers to plan their budget very simply and effectively. The app wasn’t just a spreadsheet: I used my knowledge of spreadsheet algorithms to create a one-of-a-kind, locked down, branded piece of software that made people’s lives easier.
9. If you’re international, say it
Finally, we always point out the markets that we operate in so that we make it clear to our customers who we can work with. That international element adds to your credibility; it’s a very effective differentiating factor as only 4% of Irish companies export.
It’s important to articulate it, as well as any or all of the different factors above, and your elevator pitch will just write itself. To create an elevator pitch, show the world what makes you unique, and uniquely suited to solve the problems of your customers.
A version of this article was first published in the Irish Post.
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