Verbal Branding And Simplicity Modeling For Differentiation With Stephen Melanson
As AI takes off, especially in this day and age, where businesses are popping up left and right, it's more important than ever to be differentiated. How do you stand out in the first five seconds of your elevator pitch? In this episode, Stephen Melanson, a Speaker, Consultant, and President at Melanson Consulting, talks about how memory is an interesting thing and that people will form an opinion of what you're talking about quickly. He discusses how to and why you should simplify your message. He shares what verbal branding is and how you can use this approach to make presentations more memorable. Plus, Stephen also emphasizes the need to target memory versus just saying things well or communicating well.
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Verbal Branding And Simplicity Modeling For Differentiation With Stephen Melanson
I’ve got a special guest with me, Stephen Melanson, who is the President of Melanson Consulting. He's been doing this for many years. His customers include companies like Schwab, British Telecom and TD Bank. We're going to talk about the importance and the need for verbal branding and simplicity modeling. We're going to dig into what those two things mean, especially as AI takes off, it's more important than ever to be differentiated. We're going to dig into these two concepts. Stephen, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.
Chad, thanks for having me.
I'm part of the C-Suite network. We obviously broadcast this on the C-Suite Podcast. That's where you had attended the C-Suite network. That's how we first became connected.
I did. A lot of great virtual meetings. It was well worth attending and I'm glad I met a few people, including yourself, Chad. I'm not blowing smoke, but I'm glad I met you.
You always think of the virtual world and I'm working with a friend of the family, Robert White. He trained 1.3 million people on how to create an extraordinary life and live an extraordinary life and it's all been in person. Now, it’s been like, “It'll never work in virtual. There's no way.” Until you get to a compelling event where you have to make it work in virtual. He's now to the point where, “Maybe I need to learn how to do that.” It’s the same thing. I was looking forward to going to Vegas for the event. At the same time, I met you and a handful of other folks that I would not have normally met.
Content is king and communications is communications. They're all different channels. Most people prefer live, I suppose. I suppose I have over time, but what are you going to do? Things are what they are. We can only control what we can control. This is going to last a while, in my opinion. People may as well get used to it and buckle up because we're going to do Zoom in meetings for a long time. Some things will never go back. Imagine that? You never know what’s going to come along in life.
Play the hand you're dealt and make the best of the hand you have. There we go. Let's dig in. When we talked, you had said that memory is an interesting thing and that people will form an opinion of what you're talking about very quickly. I would maybe think 30 seconds, 1 or 2 minutes, and you said something that shocked the system. What's the reality for people's forming opinion of you when you're talking to them?
I could treat those as slightly separate things. There's the memory thing, which it shouldn't be shocking because this is the reality. I'm not a rocket scientist and I'm not a scientist per se, but I’ve looked into these things enough to know. I looked into the data. Memory should be the target of a salesperson and any communicator. The thing about memory there’s nothing we can do about that. People will only remember a thing or two about us a day and a week after we talked to them. If somebody reads this blog or if we have a conversation on Zoom or over coffee, by the next day, and certainly a week later, you will not remember more than maybe a thing or two about me. It's possible that you won't remember anything. Think about the conversations you've had. Picture being in a sales environment. You have the best meeting you've ever had. You think you did fantastic because you had described everything perfectly, on and on. That person or those people that listened to you, they're not going to remember more than 1 or 2 things a day and a week later.
I’ve heard the example where you fold up the piece of paper, that's one day. Now you're down to half. Now you're down to half of half. By the time you're on day ten, you're down to the one nugget.
Let me put it this way. If somebody only remembers that somebody is in AI, they're only in branding, they're only a CPA, they’re only in manufacturing or anything you can think of, to me, from a branding perspective that means they didn't remember anything. Those are categories that we happen to do business in. Unless you have a differentiated brand, something that's valuable to them, if they don't remember that means you lost. From a selling perspective, you've lost massive amounts of opportunity if you do that over and over again. I should let that sink in to everybody. I mean this absolutely sincerely. This is science-based. It's not my opinion, but anecdotally, if you pay attention, you'll see this everywhere. People never remember hardly anything. It's from a scientific human cognitive standpoint, that’s true.
You've got to target memory, not saying things or communicating well. The other thing that you mentioned is interesting too is that it takes a person less than one second to start deciding what they think of you. The rubber hits the road out of the gate. People don't have the tolerance, the inclination, the time you got to hit them right away. The rules I always use is I don't describe anything. I differentiate immediately. I go from there and fill in the rest of the context and the data to support and validate. If you met me at a networking event, I say, “I do verbal branding and simplicity work,” and I stop talking. You'd get curious. You'd ask me about it, but I’ve already set the stage and I’ve already got somebody’s attention. There's a lot of white noise out there. There’s a lot of competition. You've got to get people's attention right away.
You've got to have it. That's interesting. We have a customer right now that helps other companies move to a mobile app. Instead of days, weeks, years to build, it's hours and it can be done by anybody. Low code is what they call it. We've done a couple of 1,000 dials, gotten a few referrals and requests for info, no real solid meetings yet. The marketer wrote the copy of the conversation. If you read it, it's like reading right off the website, “I'm calling because my company provides low code mobile application development. Do you have any needs for mobile application development?” “Not that I can think of.”
We had a fire in the subdivision, so I went to my folk’s house about 10 miles away. It was 461 acres. It was a pretty interesting afternoon. I brought my laptop and my computer and some pictures in case the house went. Luckily, it's all passed now, but I went over there and I spent an hour on that opener. We changed it to starting with third-party evidence. “According to a recent study by,” fill in the blank. I don't remember the company. “They said that due to the COVID situation, a lot of physical paper is being moved into Cloud and/or mobile applications. The challenge that companies have is it can take months, weeks, or even years to create an application like that. The purpose of my call is to see if your organization or you personally are responsible for building any mobile applications to deal with the current situation that we're in.” It's such a different assemblance of words than we do this, we do that. Getting it right when you do this at scale at 3,000 to 10,000 dials a month for customer matters. That's why it’s important to invest the time in this product.
What you're reminding me of, Chad, is a lot of people have a habit of communication where they build a case towards something and they take too long. In reality, even the elevator pitch is standard. Everybody's taught at that's in sales, especially. Think about how long 30 seconds is. If you take 30 seconds to build towards a case that somebody should care about you or listen to you, it's not going to work. I do a lot of speaking. One of the things I tell people that they do remember, and again, this is no joke. If you're taking 30 seconds and you have mapped it out, you've memorized it. It takes that long to build towards why you think they should pay attention to you. I have a crazy test, by the way too. I say, “Why would somebody be crazy to not talk to you or to work with you or buy from you,” all those things, and then cuts out all that white noise.
Point being, if you take that long you'll turn into white noise even if you have a good message. That's why I do the reverse of what most people think is intuitive, which is I'm there from instant one, verbal branding and simplicity modeling. I pause for a fact when I meet somebody and I compel them to be curious about it. It's literally 99% of the time they ask me what I'm talking about. “That sounds interesting. Tell me more.” I have them from a branding standpoint inside of one second. My rule is you got to get them five seconds or less and in 1 or 2 concepts. Never more than that.
What I gave you is more of a twenty-second line.
You can A-B test that. Where are you headed with all that? It's not that wasn't good, but you have to monitor what's the result. If you A-B test, what if you come out with the hammer to the head right away? Salespeople can't afford to lose the opportunity. Everything is gold.
We've always looked at it as you got seven seconds to get them to engage. You've got another 30 to get why you're there. After that, you're in the gravy points and now it's a business conversation. I call it a conversation funnel, just like pipeline when you're selling. You need to have a lot of prospects in the top, same thing in the conversation.
I can simplify this too in another way. If a person or a firm does not have in place 1 or 2 concepts that represent why they are important, why people should work with them, pay attention to them or care about them, then they're not branded. They might not have a brand at all. Branding is that. Branding, in essence, is a simplified something. In the old days, the reason that there is such a thing as brand is steer that was owned by a farmer was stamped with their brand. This mark means it's mine, not yours. It's morphed into the current business world of you still have to stamp yourself with something that matters to people, that matters to an audience. People as humans simply do not have the tolerance or attention span, especially these days. I would challenge everybody that might read this. If you don't have 1 or 2 concepts that you can say in five seconds or less that represent your position, your differentiation, etc., why anybody should about you, then by some percent you're losing business every single day.
Think different. That's Apple's early slogan. That obviously has transcended decades. Our new CMO came in and I gave him this challenge. I said, “I can give you a whole lot of words.” He took notes for three hours. Two days later, he came back with delightfully human.
Do you know that the test of that, Chad? It’s whether people become genuinely curious to hear more. What do you mean by that? Tell me more.
We use AI to empower sales and marketing professionals to have more and more genuine conversations with their customers.
There's the test. If you hit 100 people with that, how many of them are genuinely curious?
Let's move to the next topic. What is it about simplicity that you've been doing this for many years? What is it about it? Why does it matter? We touched a little on it, but I bet you can go in a little deeper.
If I'm not talking about simplicity, then I'm not talking about what is truly important. There's a couple of things about it. One is it's missing from most business, whether it be communications, operations or leadership strategy. You name it, critical things in business are usually missing a component that I would call a simplicity logic. Once again, I have to say the data is there. The evidence is there. That simplicity is like an impact multiplier, I would call it. If you and I were in the identical business and we had identical services and you and I were similar. I wouldn't call us identical people, but if we were offering about exactly the same thing to the market, but I was simpler in the fashion with which I communicated it and delivered it, I'd win every time or vice versa. That's how people's brains work. There’s a global branding company called Siegel+Gale that they have a thing called The Simplicity Index that they measure all these things and they have a top 10and a top 100. They dig in. The world's simplest brands outperform everybody else by leaps and bounds.
That'sconnect and sell, my friends where I used to work. I always question why one-trick pony. Why are you enabling people to have more conversations? It was because that's a hard thing to do and it's an amazing business problem to solve. As everyone else went wide, they went narrow and said, “We automate conversations,” because their tagline is conversations matter.
I have a bit of a metric, or it's almost like a math equation I have in my head that I tell people when I can. Differentiation isn't easy. If you work at it to figure out how to differentiate from your competition especially in commoditized markets, itis difficult. There's no such thing as A++ differentiation, unless you invented something that nobody heard of. People worry about these things and like, “I don't know how to differentiate. We don't know how to differentiate. We've been struggling for years.” I'm here to say you don't need A++ and it's because of the power of simplicity. This is the way I think of it. If you have a B-minus differentiation, as long as it's valuable, as long as it's real, as long as you can validate that it's true, you have a track record and all that good stuff. If you're ultra-simple about it, and how you communicate it, how you deliver it, the results that somebody experiences. If you can wrap simplicity around that, you'll win more business than you did yesterday and you'll have a better brand. My math equation is differentiation time simplicity. As long as you get a B-minus on the differentiation, you want to go for ultra-simple in terms of messaging to the degree that it can be operationalized, and then you want to do that.
Get the A-plus and simplicity and a B-minus and differentiation.
You don't want to get a C on differentiation. You want to get at least a B-minus.
It's funny because my equation’s always been revenue equals frequency times competency. When the C is low, you can get a B-minus in your competency. Make up for it on frequency. More touches at that average level. This is similar differentiation, time simplicity.
People need these little tools. You've got to hang your hat. What are you going to do? Even stuff like that, you need some simple tools. I call it simplicity as a tool. What do you need to improve and inject some simplicity around it? It'll work better.
I'm taking a little bit of a trip and I have two VPs in place now. One does channel and does direct. It's the time in life where I'm going to let the car drive itself with these two amazing drivers. I’ve been thinking about what is it that I'm going to focus on while I take these 2 to 4 weeks of vacation. I’ll call it a vacation, but I'm going to be working eight hours a day. From this conversation, that's my job as the CEO. It’s to figure out how to simplify and let's see if we can move the differentiation from a B-minus to an A. If you can get an A-plus on both sides, that's the best-case scenario.
If you do, let me know because I'm going to want to know about that.
The next thing that I want to talk about is it's not the first conversation, the demo or the negotiation call. You speak about adding value on any touch. Everything we've talked about so far with verbal branding and simplicity modeling, how does that apply to any touch when it comes to customer conversations?
This is where that would be possibly impossible if you don't have a good, strong position brand. Let's say your Volvo and the gold standard for what I talk about, the example that everybody would know, is Volvo and safety. I’ve given 1,000 speeches. I’ve never said to the audience, “What do you think of when you think of Volvo,” and they didn't say safety. It's never happened because they’re so strong, they own it. There's a number of ways to attack this. First of all, let's go outside of Volvo and then I’ll go back to it. If you, me and anybody reading is not providing strategic value above and beyond what their category would ordinarily provide, the nuts and bolts standard services, they're going to lose market share and value over time.
What I mean by strategic value, however, is are you helping your clients succeed in their mission, vision, etc., and helping them win whatever results they're looking for short and long-term. If you are a CPA, if you add the numbers up and they equal the right thing and you provide that information, that's not enough. There aren't any reputable and becoming larger CPA firms that don't add advisory services now. That's the reason. They have to provide strategic value add or they're not going to keep up with their competition. This is a branding issue too, Chad. There’s what you do for a living and then there's what's beyond that to add high impact, strategic impact to your client's lives. How can you help them not just by doing a good job, but by helping them win and succeed in whatever their mission and vision is? I call that strategic value. Simplicity, these things all overlap, but if you don't have a simple, strong, stable brand, it's chaos practically. You don't run around saying, “How can I add value for you?”
I would come along and say, “My simplicity model will add value in a number of ways. Leadership alignment, sales, attract and retain talent, build a stable connected culture.” Far-reaching simplicity is not a better way to sell, which by way, I would say that it is. It's also all those things. We're looking to get everybody on board, everybody rowing in the same direction. I want to talk about Volvo real quick because that's the most stable, longstanding brand I can think of. They don't make good, safe cars. They save lives. There's 1 million ways you could go with that. Everybody internal at Volvo knows how they impact the safety factor of that business. Whether they're a leader or they arrived as a new hire or an operations manager or a risk consultant, everybody knows that safety is the target and they ought to know how they add value to it strategically so that they benefit their company.
I think of the other side of that coin and I talked to one of the reps on my team who made 20,000 dials in a month. He's got a real pulse and he uses AI For Sales. He's not manually dialing. He's using dialer's technology powered by humans. He talked to a company and I won't name them, but I’ll say it starts with an X and it might end with an X. They might be in the copy business, but that's what people think of them as in the copy business. As a result of that, when he talked to this executive in marketing, they said, “This COVID crisis is a massive problem for us. Why are you even calling us? We may not be around by the end of this year.” Volvo safety, people are always going to drive cars. The new world of less paper and more digital getting that simplicity right, and then also being able to listen and change to the market changing conditions is equally important.
Everybody's using the word pivot right now, and that's a strategic thing, not a tactical thing. I would say this. We're mainly talking about sales in general during this conversation. Sometimes you have to know when to call, when to have that touch. If you don't know why and if it's not a strategic value add importance, then I'd say don't do it. Figure it out first. I'd rather talk to somebody tomorrow than today if I know better tomorrow why I'm calling them, but not why I'm calling them. It’s what value am I adding? I don't think this is rocket science, but sometimes we're a little antsy and I’ve talked to people lately that they regretted being as high touch as they were in April 2020, for instance. It's an honest mistake and they were trying to add value.
When I talked to them about it, they said, “I was trying to stay in touch, to stay on the radar. I don't think that's good enough right now.” If you think about it long-term, what if you extrapolated that out? If you're not adding value every time you're touching, reaching out, calling, Zooming and all the things we do, that's part of the landscape. It’s too much competition, too much white noise out there, too many messages hitting people, too many people with full email and voicemails. Many used the word delightful before. What if people were utterly delighted for personal and professional reasons to hear from us? That means we're adding strategic value. That's one way to put it.
Let's wrap on one final concept. We've covered a lot of simple ideas that have profound impacts. How does one get started in this path? Is there a mind mapping approach? I assume you have some exercises companies could use or what do they do next?
Let me do that this way. I have a thing I call the 95% rule, which is this. The 95% of people in companies do 95% the exact same thing as their competition. The way to get started is to take that concept, that reality, and that's indisputable, by the way. Everybody in every industry is doing almost identical work with identical products as their competition, those that they butt heads with every day. If you scan all the content and data and what you do for a living and strip away what is the commoditized part of it, which is what I call the 95% rule, I also call it the of course category. Do you do X, Y, and Z? Of course, we do, but so does everybody else in our line of work. If you take all that and strip it all away, you're left with candidate ideas for how you can position for differentiation by its own nature, if you follow the logic of what I'm saying.
The first thing is eliminating all the white noise, all the commoditized stuff and admitting to the reality that if somebody said to me, “Do you train salespeople?” Let's say, “Yes.” You can find that anywhere. However, the reason I would say is different than “better” is because I do verbal branding and simplicity work. It's always leading back to the same answer. Do you align leadership? Of course, I do. You can find that in lots of other channels and venues. The reason mine's different and better is because I do verbal branding and simplicity work. People in firms opt to have that logic. They have to be able to handle that logic and respond in that way, at least have that rhetoric that's in their head so that they understand what's commoditized and what isn't. This first drill is to eliminate all that is a part of this, of course, 95% category.
Let's spend two minutes on an example. We're in the middle of launching company number two. It's called SalesClass.ai. The original idea of it came at the very start of COVID because people go to their homes and they're working out of their house. The training business has become shattered and it's all moving to online instead of in-person. We came up with the idea of Netflix for sales content. I want to serve up the most relevant piece of information. That's highly differentiated. Nobody does that. Most companies use Thinkific or different ones. There are top 2 or 3 tools that are out there. It looks and feels the same. The natural inclinations of most people that I talked to that were even the cofounders of this business were like, “We got to use the Microsoft one or the Thinkific one.”
That's what everyone does. I'm like, “Hold on.” We partnered with a company out of Utah that has an Alexa-like function. When you log in, it talks to you through the computer speakers and it asks you to rate your scale on a scale of 1 to 10 and these eight core areas. It serves up, “Here's three pieces of on-demand content out of the thousands we have on hand. Here's the three live meetings you could have with a trainer in these areas. Your product could be one of those areas that could serve it up. By the way, if you want to book a one-on-one based on your answer of a one in this area you might want to book a meeting with this particular person on one-on-one.” It's interesting because my brain tends to take me towards that 5%. As Gary Vaynerchuk, if you follow Vaynerchuk, let's go there. This has been highly valuable. I appreciate you sharing with our readers. My feeling is that we have a lot of customers who come to us and need this level of simplicity and honing down on the message. I’ll definitely be reaching out to you soon with some potential opportunities to work with us and our customers.
It's my pleasure to be on. I'm always happy to talk about this. Any way I can help you or if anybody wants to reach out to me, I hope they do. I'd love to talk to them.
I hope to see you via the C-Suite Network. When you launch your podcast show, let me know, and I'm happy to be a visitor.
You've got a deal.
Stephen Melanson with Melanson Consulting. You can get a hold of him via LinkedIn. Maybe there are a few other pieces of content we can add as like the 95%, 95% concept or something like that. We'll catch everybody next time. I’m signing out. Thank you.