Monday, December 8, 2008

Focus, Focus, Focus

When you boil it all down, success online is dramatically affected by one thing! Recently, a colleague and I were talking about success. Since he has given me good advice and friendly council over the years, he had my rapt attention while sharing pearls of wisdom from his 40+ year technology and business career.

My friend asked me, “Do you know what the secret to success is?” Almost without letting him get the words out I said, “No What?” After a dramatic pause he said, “One thing.” Remarkably, my friend’s appearance began to change to that of Jack Palance (Curly), from his Oscar winning performance in the 1991 classic City Slickers . I waited with bated breath for him to share this life-changing secret.

Nothing happened. He wasn’t saying anything. We were just looking at each other in silence, until finally I asked; “And that ’One Thing’ would be..?” A wry smile crept across his face. “I have no idea,” he said. “That’s for you to figure out. Whatever you decide, do it with all your heart and do it better than anyone else!” I got the point. My friend had reinforced a principal so basic and so true.

The principal of One Thing -- Focus, is especially relevant when applied to the Internet. A singular focus is fundamental to answering the question; “What’s it going to take to do business on the Internet?” The numerous elements, tactics really, that go into the development of an effective e-Strategy for your small business are important, without question. But, more important than any combination of any element or tactic is ..........FOCUS!

Who Needs a Unique Value Proposition Anyway?

(The importance of your differences cannot be overstated.)

The short answer to this question is, you do! If you want to do more business, more effectively on the Internet, then you definitely need a Unique Value Proposition.

The term Unique Value Proposition can be best understood by breaking it down into its parts.

Unique refers to the characteristics of your product or service offering that distinguish you from as many of your competitors as possible. Think about it. What is it about what you do that sets you apart? Take the time to really understand how you are different from your competition. Then, write it down!

Value is the intrinsic worth of your offering to your customers. In other words, it defines what your customers get for their money. If you’re having difficulty with this one, ask your customers to describe how your service or product has helped them. Take this input and translate it into several concise statements.

Webster defines Proposition as; a statement containing only logical constants and having a fixed truth or value. That pretty much sums it up! It is your factual and truthful proposal to your customer. Being able to qualify and quantify your claims is very important and makes your Unique Value Proposition that much stronger!

The Internet is a tremendous resource for gaining a better understanding for the UVP concept. There are numerous examples that you can find online through a search using any search engine, on the terms ‘Unique Value Proposition.’ Using the results of your search as a model, construct your own Unique Value Proposition.

Documenting your Unique Value Proposition and making it easy to understand is very important. As with goals, the elements of your Unique Value Proposition are not real until you have written them down. Once you have done so, place them somewhere that you are sure to see them. Reading them on a regular basis is an excellent test of their accuracy. Ultimately, your customer will determine how well you have captured your Unique Value.

As an aid in this process, ask yourself this question: “What is it about what we do that makes us different (better) and why should anybody care?” Combining your honest answer to this question with some objectivity and customer input will get you far along the path to identifying and documenting your Unique Value Proposition.

Use mind mapping to capture your Unique Value Proposition. Write your product or service features in the center of separate pieces of paper. Once you have documented the features in this way, draw a circle around each one. Then, write the benefits that your customers receive from that feature in smaller circles, surrounding the center. Connect the circles with lines, like spokes in a wheel. When finished, evaluate them all to ensure that they accurately represent your offering. Compile each feature map page into one sentence. Then, combine the sentences into an itemized list or paragraph. Congratulations, you have just created your Unique Value Proposition.

As indicated before, your customer will be the ultimate judge of the accuracy of your UVP. Take the time to test your newfound focus by sending it to some of your better, longer term customers to gain their insights. Their input will provide you with the finer points that will allow you to refine and sharpen your Unique Value Proposition even further.

All The Business!


I wrote this article in 2005 for Business Strategies Magazine. It is as relevant today as it was then. Note in particular the emphasis on Trust in the last paragraph as it relates to the success you will achieve on the web!

Most small businesses are of the opinion that their website is like a billboard on the Information Superhighway. Unlike traditional billboards, having a website without promoting it effectively is an exercise in futility (It truly amazes me how many small business owners and managers still think this way).

If the majority of businesses that have had limited or no success on the Internet were honest with themselves they would acknowledge that they have no clear direction when it comes to the Internet. This manifests itself in their lack of focus and their inability to state, in no uncertain terms, why they are online.

Why Are You Online? The development of a very clear objective statement for your online activities is important because it will help you shape what is it that you intend to do specifically and why you are online?

Branding is a term that you hear most often in relation to big product names like Coca Cola, General Motors, Microsoft, and so on. Not so coincidentally, these are some of the most well known brand names in existence today. These companies recognize that the perception that exists in their customer’s minds, which is essentially the brand message, is a valuable commodity. It is so valuable that often times it is considered as the most valuable asset of any company. For example, the Microsoft brand, which is one of the most well recognized brands in the world, is worth 65 Billion dollars, according to Interbrand, the brand valuation company.

You may be thinking, how does that affect me and my start-up or small business? As follows: Those giant companies with their mega brand valuations didn’t start out as giants. They began life as somebody’s vision or dream in a basement or garage or in a back room somewhere. Over time they were able to define a very specific category or market segment and then dominate it. As a result, their brands came to be identified with that category or segment. The meaning of their brand names evolved accordingly and became associated with a positive image in the mind of the customer.

In their book, The Fall of Advertising and The Rise of PR, Al and Laura Ries submit that, “The best way to establish a brand is to create a new category...This is a revolutionary concept in the sense that it goes against conventional thinking.” They go on to say that, “Creating a brand and defending a brand are two major functions of a marketing program. PR creates the brand. Advertising defends the brand.” (Editorial comment: I really believe that Al & Laura kicked off the Social Media emphasis on the web, without even knowing it...)

Public Relations builds the brand. There have been more cases of brand building failures that were directly related to the misuse of advertising for this purpose, than most advertising and marketing people care to remember. It is incumbent upon you, the small businessperson, not to make the same mistakes .

In establishing your brand, it is important to follow the path of success mapped out by other successful brands many of which you most certainly are familiar with because they are household names. After defining your particular category you need to work diligently to associate your brand name with that category striving to establish that positive impression that will set you apart. The Internet represents the ideal opportunity through which to do this.

The Internet was created to enable communication, cooperation and collaboration. Public relations strives to do the same thing. Most people view PR (articles in newspapers & magazines, the news, editorial columns, etc) as the advice of a “trusted friend. You have the opportunity to establish this same level of trust using the Internet as a primary communications medium with your customers and prospects. Be cautious about the contents of your messages however. Try pushing a blatant advertising message through this medium and you will quickly loose that trust.

Everything about the design of your Web site should represent your unique position within your category and support the positive impression that you are striving to establish in the minds of your customers. In addition, the information that you make available to your Web site visitors needs to build on the philosophy that you are developing a trusting relationship with your customers and prospects.