Entrepreneurs face huge competition for customers' attention today. To cut through the clutter, grab the mic.
Effective competition has always been multi-dimensional. One-trick ponies and businesses that were strong in a single area (product, technology, sales or marketing, etc.) but weak in others rarely succeeded in the long run. By and large, there wasn't enough time to fix their shortcomings before the fast followers not only caught up but quickly provided solutions that were quicker, cheaper, easier to implement, or just better designed and more responsive to the real needs of the market.
The first-movers and pioneers often identified and defined a problem, developed early approaches and simple solutions, made all the early mistakes and basically set the table. Then, almost inevitably, an army of imitators rolled right over them and ate their lunch. One rule will never change: In the end, consumers never care who was first--they only care whose product, service, or solution is best.
Today I think it's an even tougher game because some of the fundamental terms of successful competition, especially for start-ups, have changed, and the winners (as always) will be the companies that catch on quickly and respond to the new conditions. Sometimes that means moving forward and sometimes that means getting back to basics. These days, we're in a world where there's plenty of capital, there are more than enough customers, and there's even a growing talent pool in many industries and areas.
The real competition today is for consumers' attention. For better or worse you're competing for that attention not only with your direct and indirect competitors but with everything that gets in the way of your message. Don't believe me? Check your phone (which we do on average 150 times a day) and scan your messages and news feeds. Family, friends, photos, ads, alerts, offers--it's unending, and so far filters aren't much help.
It's a fact of life that channels to the consumer are congested, confused, clogged, and increasingly costly, and it's easy for your message to get lost or drowned in the deluge. Media today is everything that gets in the way of communication. There's only one thing that could make the situation worse: spending money you don't have or can't afford to waste on pushing out a confused or muddled message.
In communicating with your customers and prospects getting your message right is even more important than getting it through. So here's the deal: One is the number. One message. One voice. One spokesman. End of story.
If you're the entrepreneur I'm hereby giving you permission to tell everyone else to suck on it. It's your show, it's your story, and it's your game to win or lose. It's about effectiveness, so bear these things in mind:
It's Never Everybody's Turn
I realize that a company consists of many people and that many of them make important contributions to the growth and development of the business. But I don't care about them or their hurt feelings when they don't get their turn on TV or in the spotlight. Find other ways to recognize and reward their contributions. Democracy isn't a virtue in effective messaging; consistency, image, clarity, and communication are all that matter. Let the whiners be co-captains of the company bowling team.
It’s Not Really About You
It's possible that you aren't the best spokesman for your business, or that you're not comfortable in the role. If that's the case, just find the best person for the job. I'm assuming that you're smart enough to know your own limitations and desires. (Of course, if you can't successfully sell yourself and your idea you might as well forget about being an entrepreneur anyway, although I do realize that the selling doesn't necessarily have to be done on TV or in the spotlight.)
The real point is that if you do sign up to do this job it's not an ego thing--it’s because it's hard enough to get a clear and concise message out there into the world. The more you can simplify the process, streamline the ideas and images, and structure the conversations, the more successful you will be. You could teach other people to do this, but it’s a waste of time in the early stages of the business to even try. Just do it yourself. It's faster and far more impactful.
And keep in mind that delegating your messaging to anyone else, especially outsiders and consultants, is a total disaster. The media may not know much but they do know the real thing when they see it. And messengers and middlemen just don't work anymore. Like it or not, entrepreneurs today are mini-rock stars and that's who the folks want to see and hear from.
It Really Does Work, Especially for MSM
Most mainstream media (MSM) outlets don't know anything other than what you tell them. They're lazy and time-constrained. The easier and faster you can make it for them (think one-stop shopping) the happier and more responsive they will be, and the more often they will be back. They need "go-to" guys and gals--experts and advocates--not inarticulate amateurs or losers who can’t clip on a microphone. They don't want a dissertation or a skull session, they want a sound bite. And they're just as grateful to get your message--quickly and easily--as you are to share it. Remember that it's not about education, it's about entertainment and selling suds and soup. You're just filler between the ads so they don't all run together. So make your message your ad: short, sweet, and smooth.
That's the drill. Just do it, over and over again every chance you get, obsessively and repetitively. Repeated messages are remembered messages. Stay on message--people take a long time to listen. Don't apologize, don't share the spotlight, don't play nice with others. Just get out there and get the job done. Even the wanna-be web stars in your company will eventually thank you.
HOWARD A. TULLMAN is the CEO of 1871 – Where Digital Startups Get Their Start and the General Managing Partner of G2T3V, LLC and of Chicago High Tech Investment Partners. He is a member of the Chicago NEXT & Cultural Affairs Councils and the Illinois Innovation & Arts Councils; an adjunct professor at Kellogg; and an advisor to many start-ups. He is the former Chairman and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy. Over the last 45 years, he has successfully founded more than a dozen high-tech companies. @tullman @tullman