Is That a Lion? Yes, and it’s Keeping Your Business from Growing

Ever watch one of those nature shows where you see a herd of gazelle that gets spooked by a lion and they all take off running together?

In the ensuing chaos, the camera always follows that one gazelle that breaks from the pack. Why do they follow that one gazelle? The correct answer is “Good TV.” That gazelle is about to meet the business end of the aforementioned lion. Regardless of what happens to the gazelle, the critical moment is when that one gazelle breaks from the pack, isolated and weak.

These days we don’t run away from predators all that often, but as mammals, we can empathize with the gazelle herd because our brains are hardwired to understand their group dynamic.  Our primal instincts are to stay with the pack, to alleviate risk and to survive.  Our brains actually release a chemical created in the hypothalamus to ensure that we follow this instinct.

At the same time that our brain is creating chemicals encouraging us to follow the herd, our hypothalamus also produces a chemical that will actually slow down our perception of time when it sees something different. I call this our “Lion Recognition” instinct.

Our hypothalamus releases these chemicals in an effort to keep us alive but, ironically, it keeps us from being successful in business.  In business we tend to adopt the herd mentality, mimicking the marketplace with what is known: If someone else is doing it then we know it is safe.

It’s strange how on one hand our brain is telling us, “For God’s sake do the same thing as everyone else or you will die.” And on the other hand, our higher reasoning is saying, “If you don’t do anything different how the hell am I supposed to see you?”  I believe that this fundamental paradox is the root of the reason that many businesses fail.

As a business owner you must realize that in order to be noticed and remembered, you must be the gazelle that breaks from the pack.  The camera will follow.  The only difference is that in business, there is no literal lion.  The only lion is your own fear of doing something different.

Great brands are different. Great brands aren’t afraid to break from the pack. Great brands have realized that the camera’s eye is more important to your business than outrunning imaginary lions.

Subjective Language is Making Your Elevator Pitch Completely Forgettable

Your elevator pitch is the single most important communication of you or your business and why you are relevant.

Last month I wrote about how you can use your elevator pitch — or 20-second summary of your business — as a litmus test to determine if you are creating your own market or if you are competing in someone else’s.  I received a litany of emails and comments about the elevator pitch exercise so I thought this month I would point out the critical error most of you are making: subjective language is making your elevator pitch irrelevant.

Subjective language is usually used in elevator pitches when businesses try to point out a perceived advantage in the market.  This usually manifests itself as an ignorable “we focus on the customer first” or “we deliver a quality product at a competitive price” statement. Because these typified statements contain only subjective language the brain does not know how to categorize them, so it ignores them.

Next time you listen to someone give their elevator pitch pay attention to how you actively listen.  Without realizing it, your brain is filtering through all the words that are being said and attempting to create a simple categorization of what the person is trying to communicate.  You might even translate someone’s elevator pitch that isn’t objective enough for them: “So, you sell insurance to people who own small airplanes?”

Your brain is trying to translate what you hear into a simple, objective category called a “schema.”  Our minds use schemas, or groups of cognitive elements that are associated with a single concept, because we are bombarded with so much sensory data that acknowledging all of them consciously would be paralyzing.

Consider an objective pitch like one Zappos might use; “you can return anything, anytime, for any reason.”  Zappos is using measurable concepts that mean the same thing to everyone.  Because objective words are measurable and finite, our brain can easily categorize and remember them.

Here is another exercise to determine how effective your elevator pitch is:

  1. Write down your elevator pitch.
  2. Cross out the subjective words
  3. Circle the words that are objective and measurable.

A great elevator pitch is only one or two sentences and contains only objective, measurable language.

Create Your Own Market – Don’t Compete in Someone Else’s

“It’s a $100 million dollar industry, all I have to do is capture 1 percent of that market and I’ll make a million dollars.”

After working with hundreds of startups, I have heard this statement countless times. This way of thinking is held by many business owners regardless of their industry, background or target market.

While on the surface this thinking seems logical, it is fundamentally flawed.

These same business owners argue that their companies can succeed on customer service, competitive pricing and high quality results. These “advantages” are neither sustainable nor differentiating, making growth virtually impossible. Business owners that try to compete in this way create — at best — what I call a “job business” — that is, a business that is just a glorified job.

What makes trying to capture market share in an existing market so challenging is that you are behind everyone else from day one. Those that already own market share are advertising, creating strategic partnerships, innovating and doing whatever they can to make sure you can’t come in and steal that $1 million out of their market.

To be truly successful, you must create your own market. Create objective differentiation and you can establish your own marketplace and own all of it rather than get your ass kicked in someone else’s.

Want to find out if you are in your own market or competing in somebody else’s?

Here is a quick test:

  1. Write down your elevator pitch. It should only be one or two sentences — if it’s not, condense it (something you should work on anyway). Pro Tip: Your elevator pitch should never contain subjective words like “better.”
  1. Circle the words that describe what you do or how you do it.
  1. Now, look at each circled word and ask yourself “do my competitors do or say this too?” If your answer is yes, cross it out.

Do you have anything left circled? Most people won’t but if you do, that is your unique market position and should be the basis for how you define your new marketplace.