What do you do? If you have your big WHY, now you need your big WHAT. I know that most of you reading this probably feel there are tens of elements about your agency that are important to include in your WHAT. But don’t. There’s time for this later. The big WHAT is a laser-focused spotlight on what you want to be known for. The features come later, the other services come later, the stuff you can upsell, cross-sell and diversify with come later. The big WHAT is the thing that makes you remarkably different, the thing people will remember you for. It’s the difference between saying: “we do digital marketing” and “we exponentially grow performance through digital marketing for clients in travel and finance. If we don’t think we can grow revenue, we won’t take on the client”.
I think that when you start a new venture in an existing market, your WHAT always comes down to a few key questions:
- What’s the proposition? What do you do?
- What’s different?
- What’s remarkable?
- What problem do you solve?
If you cannot explain these four points succinctly and easily in less than one minute then you’ve got more work to do. Work on your ‘elevator pitch’: could you pitch your proposition to possible investors or clients in an elevator?
It’s important to be clear in your language. My personal view is that if you can’t pitch it to your grandmother, you are likely drowning in tech speak. Think Apple, think Facebook, think major utilitarian technology that becomes part of the fabric of life, and simplify the proposition and how you talk about it.
Having total clarity about what you do, knowing what’s different about your proposition compared to other solutions offered in the marketplace and knowing what important problem you are solving are among the most important elements that will enable you to win and stay on top. This level of awareness allows you to:
- Target the best segment within your target market – the 20% of people you’re likely to create the best results for and who are likely to produce 80% of the results for you.
- Hire the right talent with attributes and passion for your vision and the problem you’re solving.
- Build attractive a compelling sales and marketing assets like a website and pitching decks.
- Build a pricing structure based on the value you bring through your different USPs.
This doesn’t just apply for startups and small agencies, it goes for anyone, irrespective of how long you have been in business. It is important to stop every so often and remind yourself and your teams about your WHAT – make sure you and everyone in the organisation understands it and can explain it simply and concisely.
(Having said that, at the time of writing my mother still doesn’t know what I do and my children think I work at Google – my five-year-old thought I owned Google for a while! When I say you and your teams must be able to explain your WHAT simply, I mean to your target market. You can work on your family and friends later.)
What do you do?
What would your immediate response be? When people ask us what we do for a living, we tend to focus on the technical name of our profession, which, if you think about it, means very little most of the time. “I run an agency”, “I am a graphic designer”, “I’m a developer”, “recruiter”, “builder”, and so on. Instead, we should be more specific. “You know when you look for clothes on Google and you see all those ads from various brands? I do that. I make those appear there”. “I design websites and logos for small businesses”. “I build software to do XY and Z”. “I find good people for good companies looking for staff”. “I build houses and commercial properties”. I think these are much better answers. In business, talking about what you do in this more descriptive, less prescriptive way is far more effective. Especially when you make it remarkable – more on being remarkable soon.
Check these examples out:
“We exist to deliver a measurable impact on the organic digital performance of the world’s most exciting brands. You need to feel safe, yet hugely excited about your agency partnerships. Our intelligent hiring strategy, built on a unique approach to account management, delivers a 95% client retention rate. Something we are very proud of.” – BuiltVisible
“We’re a team of leading [CRO] experts, specialists in our own optimisation fields, that work together to accelerate your conversion optimisation program through our unique framework.” – User Conversion
“We revolutionise digital marketing campaigns and bring exponential growth to retail brands investing between £30K and £500K/month in digital marketing channels” – Genie Goals
Your proposition statement does not have to contain all of your WHATs. Your value proposition statement should be enough for someone in your target market to understand what you do and ask for more details. If they are reading it or listening to it, they should feel interested enough to find out more. By this I don’t mean just curious; they should feel what you do applies to them. In general people are curious – we might find a topic interesting yet not be interested in investing time or money in exploring it because it doesn’t apply to us. I might look at a Lamborghini with curiosity but not care about doing the research I might do for a car I could actually afford or want to buy. You want your proposition statement to be a filtering machine that attracts the right audience and makes them want to know more.
This is where you focus on how you are different – your unique selling points (USPs).
“We deliver relentless growth to retailers through award-winning digital marketing. We’ve built the technology that helps you grow through smart bidding; Google awarded it the most innovative in EMEA. We have built a team of super-specialists with 13 native languages who can help you create winning strategies and take your brand to the next level, anywhere in the world.”
Let’s break this down:
- Multi-award winning = credibility.
- Specialising in retail = major USP, as at the time of writing, Genie is the only retail-specialist digital marketing agency (to the best of my knowledge, and if not the only one, then one of very few).
- Most innovative according to Google = major USP and credibility, as only three percent of agencies are at our level according to Google.
- In-house technology = mid-level USP
- 13 in-house native languages = major USP, as at the time of writing I have not come across organisations with more than three.
Now compare it with something like this:
“A London-based digital marketing agency.
“Welcome to [Agency XY], a digital marketing agency based in [location], London and [location].
“Our honest and transparent digital marketing work speaks for itself. We deliver a personal, passionate & tailored service to each and every one of our clients, big or small, based in London or abroad.
“We strongly believe that there’s no merit in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media or SEM. Our digital marketing methods are innovative and always anticipate the intent of your customers and search engines.
“If you want clear, honest and tangible results online with the opportunity to learn how they’re achieved then get in touch now to see how we can help.”
This isn’t super bad, but it certainly isn’t as compelling as it can – and should – be. Let’s break it down:
“A London-based digital marketing agency.”
It’s unnecessary to say “London-based” as it adds absolutely zero value and can be stated elsewhere on the website, making the information easily accessible if the customer wants to find it. There are gazillions of agencies in London, so saying that you are based in London is like telling a person you want to date that you wear shoes when you go out.
“Welcome to [Agency XY], a digital marketing agency based in [location], London and [location].”
Welcome to [Agency XY] is waste of attention that could have been directed elsewhere. The logo, the URL and the branding around the website say the name already. “… a digital marketing agency based in [location], London and [location]” is an unnecessary repetition of an unnecessary piece of information.
“Our honest and transparent digital marketing work speaks for itself.”
The moment you mention you’re honest, you put the idea in people’s minds that one might be dishonest. People, at least in the UK, believe you are honest by default – your case studies, accreditations, references, and current clients will show that for you. “Our honest and transparent digital marketing work speaks for itself” is a weak statement. It doesn’t speak for itself, we know nothing about the work. So unless it’s connected to a case study the customer has supposedly just read or seen, that sentence means nothing.
“We deliver a personal, passionate & tailored service to each and every one of our clients, big or small, based in London or abroad.”
Personal service? Passionate? Tailored? These are things the customer expects. These are things that any other agency can and will say. Can you imagine an agency’s team responding to the questions from a customer who asks: “do you provide a tailored service? Are you passionate about what you do?” Who would ever say: “not really, we don’t provide a tailored service and we don’t really care about what we do”? The value proposition must tell people the stuff that isn’t obviously expected, the stuff that they need to hear to understand how you are different – in our case, retail only.
“We strongly believe that there’s no merit in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media or SEM. Our digital marketing methods are innovative and always anticipate the intent of your customers and search engines.”
The first sentence is about something they don’t do, and which they don’t believe is good (one-size-fits-all). It’s better to describe what you do and how you do it. For example: “We conduct a strategy session with each of our amazing clients, during which we design, build and plan the most effective approach and campaign engineered to deliver on the exact KPIs that are important to you.”
We’ve learnt this the hard way and, whilst surely still not perfect, we have made some progress. Here’s how we would approach it:
“We revolutionise digital marketing campaigns and bring exponential growth to retail brands investing between £30K and £500K a month in digital marketing channels.
“When you work with us, you choose a multi-award-winning digital marketing agency specialising in retail. You choose one that, according to Google, is in the best performing three percent of agencies in the EMEA. And you choose a partner that produces results no one else can through our combination of unique in-house technology, bold strategy and a retail-obsessed team with 13 native languages.”
Most of this is made up of tangible differentiating points that tell customers exactly how we are different to most others. It also acts as a filter, as it tells non-retail brands and brands with less than £30K a month to invest that we might not be their best choice.
The point here is to illustrate exactly how you are different from the alternatives. Do not attempt to describe yourself as better than or superior to your competitors, as this can and probably will produce the opposite effect – no one feels good or inspired when an organisation says they are better than another. And by talking about ‘the other’, you are drawing attention there instead of to your own solution. Importantly, by describing the negative elements of your competitors, you are eliciting a negative feeling. That means the person you’re engaging will experience your brand alongside that negative feeling you elicited, even if the negative comments were about another organisation.
Focus on yourself and on the things that genuinely make your solution different. Rather than saying “better”, or “more efficient”, simply state the things that make you better or more efficient and let the customer draw the conclusion. This part of your proposition must focus on articulating clearly and succinctly why you are remarkable. We will talk about creating a remarkable proposition soon. Once you have built a remarkable proposition, you must illustrate it clearly in your proposition statement.
If you are running or thinking about starting an operation that you want to grow to a remarkable level, you have the responsibility to create something remarkable.
Let me plead with you [*praying hands*]: please don’t start just another [fill in the blank] just for the sake of ‘taking a slice of the cake’. The cake always ends up tasting fucking disgusting. There are few things as sad as starting a venture just to copy something that already exists. It’s the saddest thing in the world.
I’m not suggesting that you should only create totally revolutionary businesses or products, like the new touch-screen, smartphone or self-driving car. But if you already run or want to start a digital marketing agency – or a construction company, a plumbing business or any other service business (though this is true for most products too) – then you must at the very least believe that you offer something remarkable, different and unique.
If you simply copy what’s already being done, you will probably live a very miserable life, competing on price, spending tonnes on marketing just to make more noise than everybody else, and watching as all the passion is sucked out of your mission.
Instead, strive to create something remarkable, something unique. And always strive to create a remarkable experience for your customers and staff. Here are a few examples:
- It’s freaking Google. It changed everything for the better. The world is easier with Google.
- As part of their green initiative, Google rents goats to mow the lawns of their mountain view HQ.
- Google employees in the US get death benefits. This guarantees that the surviving spouse will receive 50% of the employee’s salary every year for a decade.
- In 2004, I made a mistake with AdWords and spent £1K in one day. I asked for a refund and they gave it to me, even though it was my mistake.
- Mission: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
- Electric cars that are sexy.
- Renewable energy focus in everything they do.
- Mission: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport.”
- One-hour delivery (mind-boggling).
- One-click shopping.
- Super-frictionless shopping experience.
- Buy anything from A to Z.
- Mission: “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
- 500 in-house customer services employees based in Las Vegas: focus on customers – for real.
- Once they ran out of a product and instead of telling a customer they had run out and leaving them with the problem, a rep travelled to a competitor’s store, bought the shoes and delivered them to the customer personally.
- They sent a bunch of flowers to a customer who, whilst on the phone with Zappos to find out how to return an item, said she suffered from a condition that made her feet hyper-sensitive and therefore could not wear the shoes. They sent a note in the flowers wishing the woman well.
- Mission: “To provide the best customer service possible. Deliver WOW through service.”
- Revolutionised the mobile phone by creating a radically different smartphone – all others followed. Even though the touchscreen technology already existed, by improving it and applying it to mobile phones, Apple revolutionised not only the tech and the mobile phone device, but also the way we consume information and communicate.
- Mission: “Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.” Interestingly, they often use a much better statement at the end of press releases: “Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software and Internet offerings.”
- The first real low-fare airline – allows people to travel for less that a meal for two might cost.
- More flights in a day than some airlines do in a week.
- Loads of destinations.
- Mission: “To offer low fares that generate increased passenger traffic while maintaining a continuous focus on cost containment and efficiency operation.”
And it’s not just the big boys:
- I used REV.COM to write parts of this book, and many others have done the same. Speak into your phone (I have a strong Italian accent), click one button and 24 hours later (often much sooner than that) get an accurate transcription for very little money.
- Complete food replacement – each portion provides 100 percent of your recommended daily allowances (RDAs).
- Made a meal replacement product cool, ethical and trendy.
- Amazing and personable customer service.
Genie Goals (of course I was going to put this in):
- Performance-only model: alongside a traditional charging model, Genie Goals offers a pure performance model. If the client doesn’t make money, neither does Genie Goals.
- Builds bespoke technology for clients.
- Works with retail brands only.
Rolling Dojo – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy
- Parents who can’t afford normal rates pay what they can afford.
- World champion instructors.
Cape-to-Cuba – Restaurant in South Africa
- Everything in the restaurant is for sale: the chair you sit on, the table you eat at, the plates… everything.
What problem are you solving? The Stripe case
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Beighton, CEO at ASOS – you can find the video interview at goo.gl/246qST – who shared with me the advice he always gives to young individuals who want to be entrepreneurs:
“You must solve the customer’s problem. It starts with solving the customer’s need.”
That’s the core of this section. Many startups fail because there’s no demand for their product, no problem to solve. Stripe did have a problem to solve – a big one.
The financial infrastructure is very old and clunky. For years, the e-commerce industry suffered from poor solutions that allow businesses to take payments from users securely and smoothly. The traditional solutions took forever to get implemented and the fees seemed endless. The problem was that nobody dared develop an innovative tech solution for an industry as heavily regulated and institutionalised as banking. The result was the banks were deciding what the market needed. PayPal was around but its main focus and purpose was to facilitate the transfer of funds from friend to friend, before becoming the number one solution for the eBay marketplace. But there was still a massive gap in the market; the industry needed hackers, and banks aren’t hackers.
Enter Patrick and John Collison. Born in Ireland, the two brothers felt the pain and began the process of turning the world of online payments on its head. Their final solution was simple enough to be built by two brothers and yet powerful enough to change everything. The final result was a short code (seven or twelve lines – debatable – but either way still freaking short), which would enable e-commerce businesses to plug the solution into their webshops, instantly connect it with their bank and take payments from credit cards. Easy implementation, fast integration, low fees, and the ability to take payments online without having to wait weeks and spend hundreds – all of this was a product of the two brothers’ work and innovative thinking. The embodiment of less is more. They called it Stripe.
Unsurprisingly, Stripe was a massive hit almost instantly, and many global startups began using it. Stripe became a vital part of many organizations’ financial operations – including Facebook. As well as solving an important problem, the two brothers gave themselves a strong WHY and a mission that was bigger than just profit. Their mission is to increase the GDP of the internet, and to achieve that, they are thinking beyond payments and writing software that helps organisations handle payments to their staff, detect fraud and, I suspect, many other functions.
Stripe wants to change the way online payments have worked for more than twenty years; the company wants to give people with good products or services a chance to compete with bigger organisations. Co-founder Patrick Collison said to Bloomberg: “We think giving two people in a garage the same infrastructure as a 100,000-person corporation – the aggregate effects of that will be really good.”
The Collison brothers dropped out of college in 2009 to start working on what would become Stripe. They set up an office in Palo Alto, California, mixing in with the various startup giants like PayPal. When Stripe was launched in 2011, it took the industry by storm, mainly because of the ingenious simplicity of the solution to a gigantic problem. With Stripe, all an organisation had to do was add seven (or twelve) lines of code to their website, and voila! They could now take payments online.
Before Stripe, this would have been a very expensive project that took several weeks. Now, no more than cut-and-paste. Before Stripe, finance teams were in charge of choosing the payment gateway. Now it was in the hands of developers, thanks to the Collision brothers.
Stripe changed the way the financial industry operates in regards to online payments, which was something no one else would have aspired to do at the time. This is why the Collision brothers struggled to raise the capital to grow at the beginning. Tech startups loved Stripe, but potential investors were skeptical, mainly because it was hard to believe that a group of techies could change such a traditional and heavily regulated industry. They all thought that if any organisation could make that change, it would be PayPal. Ironically, PayPal co-founders Peter Thiel and Elon Musk loved Stripe and invested in it.
Stripe helps more than 100,000 businesses deal with online transactions, processing tens of billions of dollars in transactions annually. Stripe went from 80 employees to 750 in three years. They charge a fee on each transaction, which makes Stripe a very interesting business, valued at a massive $9.2 billion at the time of writing.
Examples like these of companies that created something remarkable are abundant, but the list of companies that didn’t is almost endless. Whether you build something in an existing product or service space that goes radically beyond what anyone else is doing, put a new spin on an existing service, create a new variation of one that’s revolutionary and valuable (like UBER), or create something that doesn’t yet exist (like Stripe), you must aim to build something remarkable. The alternative is just too boring, and, simply, very likely to fail.
Be different, solve real problems and be remarkable!
- Take time out to answer the following questions (make sure you come up with strong, compelling answers):
- What’s your value proposition? What do you do?
- What’s different about it?
- What’s remarkable?
- What problem are you solving?