By Susan Griffin, Griffin + Skeggs Collaborative
Have you ever been to a classic New York diner?
Once you are seated, a waiter throws you a many page laminated plastic menu sleeves with unending options for your meal.
Breakfast all day long. Burgers, soup, eggs 25 different ways, cottage cheese and jello, diet plates, souvlaki and fries, other ethnic dishes, overstuffed sandwiches, salads . . . lots of stuff you can get affordably and quick.
Then there are page upon page of entrée offerings from spaghetti to meatloaf to Chicken Cordon Bleu, all requiring culinary acumen unlikely to coexist with prep of simpler fare.
Get anything you want, at any hour of the day, and that’s is the main value proposition. Everything to all people!
With so many choices, any diner is hard pressed to believe that they are going to get anything special or quality.
The classic New York diner is getting harder to find. Why? In part they are being replaced by individual restaurants or QSR chains that promise something specific. Fewer choices, but a distinctive value proposition: Organic, sourced locally, specific preparation . . . all promising something distinctive. Take the assembly line QSRs where you build your own salads like Just Salads or Chopt.
Both are quick and affordable. Just Salads even solidifies the distinctive brand promise with the slogan: “Home of the Reusable Bowl”.
(I can tell you that I always forget the bowl . . . or I will be between client meetings where carrying around the bowl would be weird, however it may appeal to my sustainable instincts that I COULD be recycling! But I digress!)
Like many research firms, your company may have evolved as generalists, admirably mastering many methodologies and serving clients across many different industries. You built relationships and you were the go-to provider of anything.
But now you have to do more business development to find new clients because the old relationships are not sustaining your business.
If you fall into the “Menu of Methodologies” trap, filling out a profile in the GreenBook Directory becomes a tempting exercise in ticking all the boxes and declaring expertise in all the business activities.
Whether it is a GreenBook profile or your website or the capabilities one-pager, too many firms try defining themselves doing everything, the classic “Jack of all trades; Master of none”.
Worse some firms describe themselves in terms of the tools they use, rather than the business problems they help clients solve.
It is like a baker saying: “We use flour, butter and sugar and we bake in ovens” as opposed to saying, “We make all your special occasions easy and more memorable, with tasty, affordable confections!”
The tools in which you have expertise, and methodologies you apply are table stakes. Unless you are singularly focused on a unique methodology that no one else is providing, or you are the category leader, or you ONLY do one thing, clients want to know what makes you different from every other provider, to serve their unique business needs.
If you are a generalist quant firm or qual moderator, you must figure out those distinctive characteristics that help clients see you as relentlessly focused, experienced, knowledgeable and passionate about solving *their* immediate business problem. The tools you use to do it are less important.
So how do you start describing your firm, distinctively . . . and more memorably?
Do you have domain expertise in a vertical? You probably have several, but minimally identifying specialties as broad as B2C or B2B can be a start.
Here is a start: Conduct analysis of all the projects you may have done in the last two years. Instinctively you may think that you are strong in financial services, but a client of mine recently conducted this exercise and discovered that retail was a big secondary category. They are now conducting an organized campaign to find other prospects in that vertical.
Do you have things to say about the business problems you have solved for clients? Write something about your point of view and post it in your LinkedIn profile so prospects start recognizing the niche you fill.
Want to figure out where to meet with prospects that will resonate with your new distinctive promise or something that just makes you stand out? Form alliances with organizations that serve the verticals in your sweet spot, or an audience that you resonate with, including publications, conference organizers, associations and LinkedIn groups. A colleague of mine has become active in an organization called “Digital Irish” that meets regularly in New York. And it is proving to be a useful networking resource. Helps that he is a red headed Irishman, of course.
It is scary to think about losing out on a project because someone might not know that you can wield a vast array of methodological knives. But like the QSR, less is more, and focused beats one size fits all on any day. And if you manage to craft the distinctive menu of your services, you will assuredly get clients saying: “I’ll have some of that, please!”
Susan Griffin is a Principal in Griffin + Skeggs Collaborative, a marketing strategy and communication design consultancy. Reach out to her to discuss the “dark arts of marketing” at firstname.lastname@example.org.