Can we please be honest about something? Marketing has its limits. Sometimes, when you can’t squeeze your message into a cookie-cutter marketing formula, you feel like you’re doing something wrong.
Then you rack your brain, trying to figure out what you need to change. Maybe you need to find a different product or service to sell. Maybe you need to change who you’re selling to. Maybe you need to just stop being so damn precious and answer the marketing prompts already. Whatever it is, you’re sure that if you could just make that one pivot, your marketing strategy would write itself.
But you aren’t doing anything wrong. Your resistance is real and meaningful because you are a special snowflake – yes, really!
What if instead of trying to twist, bend, and shape your message into a pretzel (with apologies for all the mixed metaphors), you were to share your perspective – and I mean without holding anything back – and see who responds to it? How would that feel?
For me, it feels like RELIEF. When I try to “dumb down” my message, that’s when I end up with misaligned clients, distorted expectations, or both. However, when I take off my marketing hat and say what I want to say, that’s when I find my way to the messages that resonate with the clients I love to work with.
And if you’re reading this, you may be in the same boat (these metaphors just won’t stop). Our expertise and the value we offer the world can’t be easily captured by snappy marketing copy. None of that language feels exactly right to us. That’s because what you have to share is deeply nuanced:
- Your work may not properly fit into one industry. Perhaps you’re borrowing from one industry to disrupt another.
- Or you may be a market maker. You are on the leading edge of a movement, and what you create is so innovative that it’s difficult for outsiders to categorize it.
- Or you’re simply so deep into the “inside baseball” with what you do that your clients could care less. All they know is that you get them the results they’re after.
If this sounds familiar, I want you to know you’re not missing the magical pivot that will make your perfect marketing strategy fall into place, and you don’t need to “dumb down” your message for your audience.
What you need is a way to translate what’s special about the work you do for a non-expert audience. This is not easy, but it’s a whole hell of a lot easier than trying to stuff what you do into a box that’s too small or trying to force marketing language to expand beyond its limits.
So what’s the alternative?
Translating What Makes You Special
Think about what translators do: They listen to what someone is saying in one language, process the information, and then rephrase it in another language, while staying true to the original meaning. Becoming skilled at the art of translating your expertise for others is the key to marketing yourself as a special snowflake.
Let’s look at the difference between translating your expertise vs. marketing your products and services. Here’s a good definition of marketing:
Marketing refers to any actions a company takes to attract an audience to the company’s product or services through high-quality messaging. Marketing aims to deliver standalone value for prospects and consumers through content, with the long-term goal of demonstrating product value, strengthening brand loyalty, and ultimately increasing sales.
Notice that translating is different from what we typically think of as marketing. Whereas marketing focuses on attracting an audience, translating focuses on conveying meaning.
These two concepts are certainly related. If you attract your audience with marketing language that is completely divorced from what you can deliver, you’re going to have a tough time when it comes to sales. Marketing and translating are different in at least one key respect, however, and understanding the distinction will help you lean into sharing your perspective without feeling like you have to hold something back.
With marketing, you focus on how you solve your customers’ pain points. To get to these customer pain points, you might ask questions like:
- What is the biggest challenge your clients face in their business?
- What is preventing your clients from achieving their goals?
- What would bring your clients the most relief if they could get it off of their plates?
- What would help your clients grow their business?
- What is keeping your clients up at night?
With translating, you focus on what you do that goes deeper than solving customer pain points. Here you might ask questions like:
- How did your clients end up with these pain points?
- What are the deeper tensions facing these organizations?
- What’s preventing your clients from taking action to resolve their biggest challenges?
For example, an executive coach who is an organizational psychologist, will certainly help leaders overcome burnout, figure out how to better communicate with their teams, and collaborate more effectively – all the typical pain points plaguing executives. They will also dig more deeply to uncover the root causes of such pain points and make sure the whole organization is working together mindfully and intentionally.
When you can prove that you can add this type of value, you position yourself as the expert, the consultant, the special snowflake, and your clients will flock to you because your message will stand out above the crowd.
Now, that’s a lot to convey in a short marketing message or an ad. So, the best plan is to think of marketing as a bridge to opportunities where you can translate your expertise.
You Still Need Marketing
Even though marketing has its limits, I’m not giving you permission to throw out everything anyone has ever taught you about marketing. You still need to market your business, which means that you still need to play by the marketing rules sometimes. However, you need to let go of the idea that you can capture everything you want to say using marketing language. That’s a circle you won’t be able to square.
Take your LinkedIn headline, for instance. You get 120 characters to tell people what you do in a way that will make them want to connect with you – and I want to acknowledge how inadequate this likely feels. Still, you need to find a title that you can live with and more importantly, a title that will attract the people who will pay attention long enough to see how brilliantly different you are. Think of your title as a bridge to conversations where you can get more nuanced.
- Come up with a title that most closely describes what you do and is also SEO friendly (e.g., executive coach, management consultant, mindfulness expert). Remember, it won’t feel 100% accurate and that’s a clue that you’re on the right track.
- Follow up your title with a sentence or two that goes a bit deeper, but is in that “translation” mode (e.g., Executive coach | I help leaders turn their visions into strategic frameworks their teams can implement). Again, this won’t be 100% accurate.
It may be helpful to think of the marketing language you’re using as a teaser. In the same way that you wouldn’t want to give away all of your most ingenious ideas during a discovery session with a prospect, you don’t want to try to explain everything you can do on a sales page. Save that content gold for your next sales call.
Also, if you have no idea how to write marketing content that will attract prospects who will pay attention long enough to get on a sales call, finding a really smart copywriter can be a game changer. Look for someone with those same translation skills. Someone who understands the value of what you do and who understands that dumbing it down will bring in a flood of the wrong types of clients. The right copywriter can help you build your bridge to opportunities to talk about what you really do.
If you’re truly a special snowflake (and not someone who is simply overcomplicating your marketing strategy), it’s okay to acknowledge that marketing language has its limits. You aren’t dumb and you don’t need to dumb down your messaging, you need to reframe the purpose of marketing and think about how you can start translating your expertise for your audience.
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