How to create an actionable client profile

daniel day lewis launch tomorrow

Daniel Day Lewis, method acting maestro

He’s the first man to ever win three Oscars. Daniel Day Lewis, that is.

For the entire filming of My Left Foot, he didn’t leave his wheelchair, sound coherent, or even feed himself. For Last of the Mohicans he became a survivalist. He lived off the land. For In the Name of the Father, he lived in a prison cell. He starved himself. He asked the cast to insult and abuse him.

When playing Abraham Lincoln, he even signed his texts “A.”

Daniel’s style of acting, called method acting, expects him to become his character. To live in their skin. Which is a potent skill to have as a marketer.

Why?

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Rising Above The Noise With A Story

Imagine you lived in Paleolithic times. Your name is Blug. You live in a cave. You’ve used fire for years, to cook game that you’ve caught or to prepare the hide in order to turn it into leather. In any case, you know it’s hot. You know fire burns.

fire

fireOne day, as you’re sitting in your cave with your friend Geg, the fire lights a dry log lying nearby. The fire spreads quickly. The pathway to the cave entry is blocked by this burning log.

Geg suggests you have three options:

  1. wait
  2. try putting it out
  3. jump over the flames

Initially, you decide to try putting it out. You throw a pelt on the flame. It looks like it dies down, until…wait…the fur on the other side of the pelt catches. The flame grows even higher.

It’s getting harder and harder to breathe because of the smoke. You’ve moved everything else away from the fire in order to prevent it from spreading. If you wait any longer, you’ll start choking because of the smoke.

You are left with one option. The only way out is over the rising flames. Having suffered 2nd degree burns as a child, Geg’s terror increases as the hypnotically dancing flames get larger.

You’ve noticed that waving your hand over a campfire feels warm, but if you move it quickly it doesn’t burn. Based on this observation, you decide to take two hops and lunge forward over the conflagration. As you fly through the air, you feel the heat all around you. You raise your knees up high, minimize contact. The jump itself lasts a split second. You land on the other side of the fire, intentionally falling forwards to avoid any contact. You get up immediately, a bit bruised but thrilled you got over the fire without getting hurt.

You yell out to Geg, “Jump over it! I’m fine! Just hold up your knees and jump as far as you can.”
Unconvinced, he counters, “What do you mean? I’ll get burned again.”
You respond, “As long as you go over it quickly, you wont get hurt.”

Geg sucks in his breath. One, two, and clears the fire lifting up his knees, just like you. He lands cleanly on the other side, grinning from ear to ear.

“You were absolutely right,” he proclaims, as you emerge from the mouth of the cave. “You saved my life.”

Afterwards, when Geg tells friends the story of how you discovered this new fact about fire, they repeat it to their friends. The story travels far and wide. Other cavepeople enjoy hearing about your tale of courage, learning about this particular aspect of fire in the process. Before long, you become well-known as the One Who Discovered Fire Jumping. It’s how you’re introduced, whenever you meet anyone new. This story of struggle, this moment when you almost lost your life, enhanced the rest of your life and that of your fellow cavemen significantly.

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Fire Jumping 101, or Why Stories Matter

Storytelling, like many things which are a part of our everyday lives, has been around with us since prehistoric times. It was a key survival skill for human beings, humans as a race. The fact that we could share information in the form of stories meant that knowledge traveled among people. Thanks to stories we learned vicariously, not only from personal experience. Stories made it possible to build and spread knowledge.

Imagine that your product idea gives your customers the power to jump over fires, something they never believed they could do or knew was possible. Or probably, you have some other main benefit in mind. Packaging it into a story will make it easy to explain what it is and how it works, even if it sounds incredible at first. A good yarn helps your product find a context.

Create an explainer video for your complicated new product. Make sure your audience understands it, without being overwhelmed by technical details.

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Powerful stories amplify the effectiveness of product teams more than anything else. This is true at the level of the company’s story, at the level of the product’s story, and especially at the level of the offer. Good stories build on one another. For example, the tagline makes sense when you know the company’s story. Both communicate the values of the company as well as product messaging. Most importantly, it helps the product find or create a community for which it’s appropriate.

Start at the level of the prospect’s story. There are five main benefits you get from focusing on the user or the product story.

1. Stories Drive Buyer Action

Stories help to organize all that’s very meaningful. As a result, they drive action. The type of action that both you and your customer want. At the super-early stages, in fact, the main action that we’re looking for is the prospect’s intention to buy.

The story communicates what you’re trying to do for your target audience. A good story gives you the same effect of visualizing or simulating the struggle and how the product solves the problem.

In Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath cite a study where this effect of simulating the event, by visualizing it or by hearing it in a story, gives you two-thirds of the benefit of doing something e.g., shooting a basketball.

The story itself is transferring is the experience of having done what the thing is without necessarily actually doing it. It shares the skills needed to overcome a problem. The story helps resolve the protagonist’s struggle, the user’s struggle. It is a way to plant the belief that this product will solve their problem. “A belief,” Elly Roselle observes, “is not an idea held by the mind. Rather it is an idea that holds the mind.” You want your prospect to believe that your product will help them.

In direct marketing circles, copywriters consider emotion to be the key reason people buy a product. Marketing copy, for example on a sales letter, is just stored emotional energy. Stories are an extremely powerful way to trigger or deliver the emotion needed to convince the reader to buy.

Essentially, we’re talking about the persuasive stories that the prospect wants to hear. They draw the prospect in, make them want to find out more, and eventually convince them to buy. The prospect wants to be certain that you understand their story of struggle. Only then will they consider how your product fits into their own story and can end their struggle. The great thing about stories is that they allow everyone to avoid the trap of just following mindless problem solving recipes.

2. Talk With Prospects In Their Language

Quite often people are looking for a quick fix, a quick way out, without really addressing the full issue. Without really understanding it. If you’re using some type of mindless format, technique or tip, or something, quite often that’s not sufficiently infused with motivation for you to do anything, or enough motivation for the buyer of these products to do things.

For the last 20 years or so, the amount of information has been doubling annually. That’s overwhelming and continues to be more so all the time. If you look at the number of emails or ads that you get now on a daily basis versus 10 years ago, you can see how much that actually affects you. In addition to email, there’s many other types of communications which didn’t even exist back then. Things basically like chat, text, messaging, Snapchat, or whatever else.

Most people don’t actually want any more information. They’re overwhelmed with information. When they’re trying to solve a problem, what they actually want is the belief that they’re capable of overcoming it.

The thing is, if rational facts and information were so convincing, there wouldn’t be any smoking, obesity, or other “diseases of Western civilization”. Most people who smoke are aware of what the implications are in terms of lung cancer. But, obviously, it doesn’t affect their actions. Whereas a powerful story’s message can be a catalyst, it can inspire them to introduce change.

People want some wisdom or insight into their problem. They want to be inspired to act, to do something with it. They want a better understanding of what’s going on around them, the context. They also want empathy. They want to sense that others understand who they are. Good stories give you all of these things, while dry information doesn’t. Stories make problems much easier to understand on a deep level.

3. Focus Your Team on Business Impact

You want to avoid the trap of executing meaningless to do list items. If you really understand the full story, you understand why you are chasing after a goal. Thanks to a clear story, your team intuitively understands what the end user’s or buyer’s context.

With stories, you can communicate the important details about a product without stating all the details. This refers to both how a user sees things and how your product team understands that user.

For example, if the user’s story is clear, then it’s easier for the supposedly socially awkward software developers to figure out the relevant details needed to address the user’s problem. Even if you are missing certain details, the team can fill in what’s missing.

Good stories operate on many levels: emotional, intellectual, visceral, social. By telling a good story, you have the flexibility to adjust what gets emphasized for particular audiences.

With clearly communicated priorities, it’s much easier for you to focus on the business impact of your work. The following are good ways to visually summarize the impact you want to achieve: Gojko Adzic’s Impact Map tool and Ash Maruya’s Lean Canvas.

4. Easy-Peasy Chasm Crossing

A story that is easy to understand helps you, even at the pre-launch stage, to “cross the chasm”. Geoffrey Moore pointed out, in his fantastic series of books on high tech marketing, that high-growth tech companies face a number of significant audience changes in a compressed time window. Unlike traditional companies which tend to stick to one large group of people and try to scale that way, tech startups often start out by serving the “early tech adopter” community. It’s dangerous to generalize from that audience to a more mainstream audience. In fact, this complete change in audience is an important aspect of the “chasm”. Promising products that don’t make it across the chasm stall when they could be experiencing exponential growth.

In this context, a simple story, which a five-year-old could understand, is one that will be easier to scale up. Because it’s understood by everyone, from early adopters to your grand aunt, it’s very memorable. A clear, memorable, and spreadable story that everyone understands is easier to adopt. The leap from the early guys to the mass market is simplified.

A great example of this is Apple’s byline when they were launching the iPod. Although mp3 players had existed for years, the iPod was “your whole music collection in your pocket”. That story that drove the design specs, manufacturing, and embedded software requirements. This byline also explained to users, even if they were completely non-technical, exactly what the thing did. Unlike most mp3 player manufacturers at the time, Apple didn’t stress how many megabytes or gigabyte of RAM the thing had, or other technical characteristics. Apple just drew people’s attention to the benefit mentioned above. It’s a benefit which summarized the whole point of having an MP3 player, and made having an mp3 player attractive to the target audience.

5. Rallying the Troops

The next reason why you want to have a very clear story, at the user level and when scaling up, is that it sets your organizational tone. If the whole organization focuses on solving the user’s problem, it motivates everyone. Not just the CEO. Ultimately, the customer is the primary source of revenue and profits in a business.

This way everyone understands exactly what needs to be solved. Everyone understands how to make tradeoffs. Decisions are easier when the CEO is not required to be there physically. The team would have a common language for discussing requirements based on the story. This would result in the sharing of essential information needed to act quickly.

Organizational culture just clicks into place, as you’re building out your product later. By helping to act, what this
essentially means is that, quite often, the audience becomes engaged with it. They become more involved because you’re talking about their story. They feel drawn to what it is you’re doing.

Optimizing Your Product Idea By Building a Sales Funnel First

When your prospects first hear of your product, your message will make or break your whole business. That moment is crucial. You will repeat it many times. You will continue repeating it as long as you have prospects. The more successful you are at nailing that first impression, the easier it will be to ramp up afterwards. Exponentially easier. You will literally see it in the numbers at each stage of the funnel, as people drop off and lose interest.

In fact, invention guru Doug Hall did rigorous market research across his client base, where he looked at thousands of new product launches. His results confirm the importance of the product idea, “the quality of the idea or the offer is 2.2x more often the source of product failure than the marketing plan, and 1.5x more often the source than product [technical] performance.” Ouch.

Once your prospect has a clear picture of what you are selling and whether they care, which will typically take a few seconds, then they’ll know whether they want to continue engaging with you or not.

If you nail this core message, and your market drools as it hears about your product. Everything else will be much easier:

  • Prospects will clamor for your product.
  • Your product launch has a much greater chance of going viral via referrals.
  • With good revenues, it’s much easier to build a solid business that supports your early adopters.
  • The cost of acquiring new customers will be proportionately lower, if you have a good offer.

A clear, sexy, and differentiated offer that solves a real problem affects all downstream metrics in your business. And you go from startup to successful business owner fast. Very fast.

In mature businesses, the simple way to benchmark business success is profits. If you are just starting out, you don’t have profits yet. Instead, you can observe the flow of your prospects towards a sale.

As you build out the funnel, you can test and optimize your product idea
“Begin with the end in mind.” –Steven Covey

Therein lies enormous power.

In a for-profit business, your ultimate goal is to make money. If you start with that end in mind, you immediately identify all of the reasons why you aren’t selling yet. In fact, this helps you rapidly identify all of the key things you need to do.

By learning how to reach your ideal prospects, learning enough about them to convince them to sign up for more information, and ideally even pre-selling the product in a simplified form, you will be certain you’re building the right product when you actually start building anything.

funnel

funnel

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In the image, the top funnels symbolize each traffic source you use. The big funnel then grabs the output of those funnels, and sells them on the product.

The trap many tech startup founders fall into is creating the product, only to discover that they don’t have a sales funnel. They don’t know how to reach prospects systematically. They don’t know what prospects actually need. Building the right product means hit-or-miss.

Create an explainer video for your complicated new product. Make sure your audience understands it, without being overwhelmed by technical details.

or call us now at:

US/Canada: +1 202 949 4478
UK: +44 773 952 7708
EU: +48 692 870 297

If you know you want to build a business, by trying to sell (or at least get email addresses from interested prospects) from the start, you learn about the business you are entering. You are finding out where all of the warts are immediately, before building anything.

You are immediately forced to see the world how it is, based on the patterns in the data you gather, not how you think it should be.

Extreme accountability: The Entrepreneur’s Superpower

Most startups fail. About 1 in 2 survive 5 years. In IT, that’s probably more extreme.

How many companies do you deal with today, which are over 10 years old? Remember how many search engines there were in the late nineties, most of which don’t exist, or at minimum, don’t exist any more as a viable alternative to Google and Bing.

Enter the entrepreneur. He is a visionary, a dreamer. He sees what others don’t see. Or he is just deranged.

How does this happen?

Eric Reis has a theory: “Hidden among these mundane details are a handful of assumptions that require more courage to state-in the present tense-with a straight face: we assume that customers have a significant desire to use a product like ours or that supermarkets will carry our product. Acting as if these assumptions are true is a classic entrepreneur superpower….If [these assumptions] are true, tremendous opportunity awaits. If they are false, the start-up risks total failure.” Typically, this refers to assumptions that everyone else overlooks. That’s why it takes guts, cojones even. At the very core of being of an entrepreneur, you will find someone who has the guts to face reality how it really is, and constantly test his assumptions. This is not necessarily difficult intellectually, as you can have an army of accountants keep track of systems, models, and spreadsheets. You can even build it into the product, such a system to allow you to test refinements of your business idea.

At the very core, this is about courage, not spreadsheets. It’s the very essence of creating a new business, when nothing existed before. It’s equally applicable to the pimply-faced php hacker trying to create a “social network” in his bedroom, as it is to the clean tech industry veteran who needs to raise 500 million in order to take a punt.

It’s been called various things in the past. In Steve Jobs’ case, it was called a “reality distortion field”.

Here is a conversation between Andy Hertzfeld and Bud Tribble, the guy who coined the term:

“Bud, that’s crazy!”, I told him. “We’ve hardly even started yet. There’s no way we can get it done by then.”
“I know,” he responded, in a low voice, almost a whisper.
“You know? If you know the schedule is off-base, why don’t you correct it?”
“Well, it’s Steve. Steve insists that we’re shipping in early 1982, and won’t accept answers to the contrary. The best way to describe the situation is a term from Star Trek. Steve has a reality distortion field.”
“A what?”
“A reality distortion field. In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he’s not around, but it makes it hard to have realistic schedules. And there’s a couple of other things you should know about working with Steve.”
“What else?”
“Well, just because he tells you that something is awful or great, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll feel that way tomorrow. You have to low-pass filter his input. And then, he’s really funny about ideas. If you tell him a new idea, he’ll usually tell you that he thinks it’s stupid. But then, if he actually likes it, exactly one week later, he’ll come back to you and propose your idea to you, as if he thought of it.”

This ability of Steve’s has even been parodied by a Dilbert comic strip.

What would it take to get you to that level?