Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Essence of Clarity

"I love the smell of Wikipedia in the morning"

ESSENCE: The attribute or set of attributes that make an object or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity.

CLARITY: The property of being clear or transparent; one's ability to clearly visualize an object or concept, as in thought, understanding, and the "mind's eye"

Deep within each business is a brand essence that may or may not be expressed to its full potential. Key to unlocking that potential and drinking from the fruit of that vine is clarity. But, clarity often comes with a cost, usually in the currency of unvarnished truth.

"So what do you and Darren plan to be when you grow up?"


Those words, which came crashing down about a year ago, still echo in my brain, as my partner and I travelled more than 3,000 miles and invested mucho danero plus a week of our lives, searching for brand clarity. However, the investment and the sting felt by a provocative question was worth way more than the price of admission. In fact, there are times when Darren and I still get intellectually tipsy over what we learned on our jaunt to America's 28th state.

Reason I'm bringing this up?

As it turns out, I have been in no fewer than four meetings this week with business owners from various backgrounds and experience levels, attempting to "pick my brain" on their most pressing issues. Inevitably, the conversational pattern begins with a focus on the message and tactics currently used to deliver their products and services. However, message and tactics are a shaky way to begin unless they are based on a sound business strategy and that strategy is much more effective when its built on a foundation of clarity on what their brand represents and who it matters to.

An example of a clarity question: Is the goal of advertising to be liked - or is it to sell products"? In other words, in order for a brand to stand for something that matters, it will automatically repel those who don’t like it. But far too often, business owners meekly sign up for batches of vanilla-sounding ads that get lost in the "white noise" of the market, with mindless messages that speak of "quality, selection and service you can trust from our friendly and knowledge staff". Can you picture this conversation ever happening?

"Holy dogshit Margaret, cancel the dinner plans. We're pulling over and heading to Happy Harry's right now. Can you believe they have friendly staff to go along with their everyday low prices and on the spot-financing!"

Let's be clear.

Ad speak stopped working on audiences more than a decade ago but the persistent echo of blah-blah-blah still pours from car radios because few business owners take time to consider the real cost involved. The customers who cost you the most are the ones you never saw. Why? Because nothing you said or did caught their attention. Weak, predictable messages are predictably ineffective because so little thought is given to what needs to happen first.

In our experience, owners need to spend far more time focused on acquiring clarity and developing strategy (working ON their business) as opposed to jumping in with new, clever, different messages and tactics in a desperate effort to acquire more customers (working IN their business). How will you be able to know what to say or deliver to a potential customer or employee if you don't know who you are - if you haven't yet discovered your brand essence?

And where is it written in the marketing gospels that you need to advertise at all?

Starbucks, The Running Room and Costco are several examples of companies that have based their business strategy on an unmistakable, uncompromising, brand essence. And nothing would stop you from following that formula. For example, in a recent edition of Atlantic Progress, brand essence was literally oozing from its pages while profiling Halifax optician Doug Gaudet. Reading about his splashy, sharply tailored wardrobe, complete with polka-dot tie, pointed shoes and designer eye wear, spoke volumes. Doug's look is 100% his own and I don't think it's a coincidence that all other optical shops pale in comparison. Customers walking into Gaudet Optical are greeted by a riot of bright colours, original artwork and a guy who believes “Eyeglasses are art for your face”. Some of the more outlandish or funky styles are not for everyone and as Gaudet explains "Sometimes people walk in the door, look around, and leave. They know right away they’re in the wrong place, and that’s fine.” You can digest the entire article at

Your confidence in your brand and its subsequent strength will be in direct proportion to the clarity you possess on what constitutes its essence. Want to avoid or delay the pursuit of clarity? Whether its on a personal or business level, just be prepared to suffer and deal with the apocalyptic consequences. One of the best teachers on this matter of clarity is a man they call "America's Business Philosopher". Here is Jim Rohn sharing his insights on clarity.

Jim Rohn has influenced the careers of many in the personal development industry, including Anthony Robbins, Mark Victor Hansen, Brian Tracy, and Jack Canfield. He has addressed over 6,000 audiences, 4 million people worldwide and is the author of 17 different books, audio and video programs. Jim is also fond of saying, "If someone is going down the wrong road, he doesn't need motivation to speed him up. What he needs is education to turn him around."

If your firm is on a treadmill to nowhere, fancy-schmancy messages or clever tactics are useless without taking time to gain clarity on brand essence and business strategy. In my experience, clarity often comes from following the lonely path of self-education. Being alone with nothing more than your thoughts and a good book. One of the more remarkable, self-taught professionals I know is Dan Martell, instrumental in launching Spheric Technologies out Moncton with clients that range from Warsaw to Washington. And, coincidentally enough , Dan e-mailed me this morning to share his latest nugget called the Top 77 Business Books . It's an intriguing list but I would add to it selections such as E-Myth Revisited, by Michael Gerber, Good to Great, by Jim Collins, Purple Cow, by Seth Godin, Talent is Never Enough, by John Maxwell, How to Sell a Lobster by Bill Bishop and the Wizard of Ads trilogy by Roy H. Williams, along with his weekly flavorings at

What about your own business education and professional development? Has a lack of clarity been holding you back? Are you having difficulty distinguishing between "busyness" and "effectiveness"? Do you get mired in the muck of messages and the tyranny of tactics? Are you able to sit still long enough to reflect on your brand essence as you sip from the glass of clarity?

Before you can enjoy the aromas and bouquet of success, you have to be able to "see" it. Your business will only ever grow according to the size and scope of your vision.

Are you beginning to see how the high cost of clarity is but a small fraction of the price of ignorance?

“People who are creative in business have a compelling vision or mission. They are successful because they love what they do; they seem to live directly from Essence, without the static from a false personality” DOUG GAUDET, Halifax NS – Progress Magazine, May 2008

p.s....if you're curious to know even more about clarity and its impact on business results, this story was written especially for you. I was there to watch it happen.

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