message

Are you "shoehorning" or taking a road less traveled?

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For many years my professional life was the equivalent of being a square peg being forced down the round hole. The truth is I did it willingly even when I knew deep down that I was in the wrong lane.

Today I call that shoehorning – doing everything possible to fit the mold or be found occupying the right space, no matter how crowded or uncomfortable that space might prove to be. It’s another way of trying to be all things to too many people. Many of us do this without giving it much thought because somewhere along the way we made the assumption that this is how it is; this is what we’re supposed to do.

This can feel counterintuitive for us as individuals, and it can be detrimental to organizations and brands.

Robert Frost’s famous poem The Road Not Taken is the antithesis of shoehorning. Although we know the closing three lines well, we don’t often heed the advice of poets. Instead, too many of us have bought into the belief that the well-worn path someone else blazed will somehow lead us toward similar success simply by staying the course. As a result, we avoid differentiating ourselves for fear that divergence leads to a dead end.

Taking calculated risks can help move us in a new direction. But what if that isn’t enough? When is it time to rethink and recalibrate your brand, your organization or even what you personally do around the those critical why and how questions? Here are few prompts to help:

 

What are you willing to own? When so much is already taken or spoken for, when so little looks different from one organization to the next, what are you willing to hang your hat on? What unique or radical aspects of your work are you willing to be defined by? You know the challenges as well as the glaring deficiencies in your industry. Are you willing to put your stake down where others are less comfortable or unwilling to commit? Taking ownership is bold if not a bit scary. Consciously choosing the other path instead of shoehorning into the same queue as everyone else creates needed separation.  

Who are you willing to invite in? Who do you trust to strategically question your motives? Who will have your back when challenges arise? Who will help you push things further than you imagined but also pump the brakes when necessary? It’s critical to assemble teams of people who think differently than you. Their nuanced points of view will challenge you, which is the litmus test you need before customers and clients bring their challenges.

What outcomes are you willing to accept? Nobody says “let me fail first then I’ll get it right.” But often we don’t know what getting it right truly looks like until confronted with things that are not quite right – which is still a distant cousin from wrong. Embrace course correction and iteration as necessity rather than nuisance — it will take the heightened fear of failure down a few pegs.

What are you willing to say? Articulating what makes you different can be hard. We all want to be liked right away, and because of that desire we can be wooed to say yes to circumstances that warrant a no. What we say matters. When you know what you’re willing to own, you need to have the confidence to write it down, share it, and articulate it — over and over. You and your team have to be aligned on what you’re communicating at every touch point. It’s the consistent message (followed by consistent action) that begins to make the difference.  

 

Few if any customers clamor for more options that resemble existing options. So, much like Frost’s familiar poem, consider leaning into a strategic approach to do things differently and avoid shoehorning yourself into well-worn spaces where everyone looks remarkably the same with comparable features.

This is what makes all the difference.

 

On Message (vol. 1)

Recently someone share with me what they thought ratchet was all about – and for the most part they were spot on. But the analogy that was used to describe the work really struck a chord:  

Message is to a brand what location is to real estate.

Indeed, it is that important. People don’t make real estate investments without carefully weighing all the issues of location and, for a business, audience. Yet for some reason many brands jump headlong into identity work, marketing, sales, further product development, and even social media, without giving much thought to developing a concrete and easily understood message. 

Building stuff and focusing time on brand design, marketing, advertising, creative and the potential of social engagement – these are the shiny new things that many of us get excited about. This is the fun and sexy stuff, and we would agree. But there is a caveat. 

Among all this creativity, our job is to pause and ask: What will you say? Why should anyone care? This is creative work. It is a critical part of the creative process.

Don't forget the message ...

Don't forget the message...

Shiny things have the potential to blind us from the proven and somewhat pedestrian ways of success – which starts by articulating the why, the how, and the what. 

Not many people get excited about words on a page. But words do matter. When chosen judiciously and with intention, their impact can be far-reaching. Messages give rationale to our purpose for being and why others should take notice. Stories, which are examples of our messages in action, have the power to connect, ignite, transform, inspire and best of all – linger. The greatest stories are timeless and shared with conviction. They also contain conflict, which is something we shouldn’t shy away from either. That vulnerability is both real and relatable.

Does your brand have a clear message? Do your stories have power? If not, keep in mind that you have the ability to refine, rethink and recreate. 

To borrow from the textbook real estate perspective and a friend’s analogy, perhaps the most important thing about your business and your brand is – message, message, message.  But unlike a piece of real estate, your brand is not stuck on the same plot.