CNBC Guest Author Blog: Breaking Through the Mental Barrier by Peter Sheahan author of MAKING IT HAPPEN: Turning Your Good Ideas Into Great Results
The world is overloaded with offers, and if you’re selling something – a product, service, or idea – your first step should be to recognize that the default position of your buyer has become “no.” We already have too much to do, too much to think about and too many decisions to make to allow anything else to enter.
Our minds feel literally full.
Mental energy is what I now refer to as the third currency. Every day we trade money, we trade time and we trade our mental energy.
In order to break through the mental barrier of your buyer, you have to make your offer easy as possible—easy to understand, and easy to differentiate.
Easy to Understand
Take out a business card with one blank side and write your offer on the back of it. Then hand it to someone you don’t know, or who at least doesn’t know your idea, and see if he or she can understand what you are trying to offer.
To be perfectly honest, in the age of Twitter and Facebook, the back of the business card might be too much room. There is a new rule in web design that for your home page, you must communicate what you do in 12 syllables. Sounds simple? Try it. Try to say what you do and make sure it is obvious in 12 syllables. And not only that, but it must be compelling too. It’s hard.
The ‘back of a business card’ idea is akin to the elevator pitch. You need to be able to quickly and clearly communicate your value in a way that people can easily understand. In Hollywood, this pithy expression of your offer is called your logline. After the title of the movie or TV show you are pitching you need a logline that in one or two sentences captures the idea. I once heard that the logline for Speed was “Die Hard on a bus.” How easily can you sum up your offer?
"It will, in most cases, be impossible to separate yourself from your idea. Trusting and believing in you will be key in getting the buyer to engage."
Let’s take the example of Starbucks . How would you describe it? One way could be ‘Great coffee, anyway you like it. Fast!’ Or Virgin Airlines, in all its guises: ‘Cheap air travel made fun!’
What about your idea? Can you explain it on the back of a business card, in a way that is not just easy to understand but also compelling?
Keep in mind that the real test is not whether you can understand, it but whether other people can understand it. Ask people to cast an objective eye over your positioning. Demand that they give you their honest feedback and try to elicit it within seconds of showing it to them. In the real market, seconds is often all you have to state your value.
Easy to Differentiate
The second strategy for breaking through the mental barrier is to make you and your offer easy to differentiate from others in the marketplace.
This may at first sound like an easy thing to do, but it’s actually one of the hardest. How are you different? What is your X-factor? Why you and not somebody else? Why this idea and not one of the 20 others I have been pitched this week?
The key is to ask yourself a series of questions.
- How will my proposition be grouped? Who else is in that group?
- How is my product different from the other ideas in the same group?
- How is that point of difference valuable to the buyer?
- How can I make that obvious?
A good case-study comes from The Ideal School in New York City.
It was founded by Michelle Smith, along with passionate parents of children who are challenged in the predominant mode of schooling in the U.S. At the Ideal schools, they fundamentally believe in meeting the needs of diverse learners in an inclusive way. They have built a phenomenal school where classrooms include kids with Down Syndrome and extremely high IQ’s learning from the same curriculum, at the same time with the same teachers. They are building their point of difference on the idea of inclusion.
Note too, from the passage below, how they distinctly push the other elements outlined above:
Inclusion as an educational practice goes beyond placing students of differing abilities in the same classroom. At The IDEAL School, our model for inclusive education includes practicing collaborative team teaching, keeping class sizes small, identifying each student's unique learning style, tailoring lessons plans, and adapting curriculum to accommodate all learners. We have two head teachers in our homerooms - a general educator and a learning specialist.
There are few schools in the world who take this highly personalized approach to students of all abilities. If you were a parent of a child with tremendous gifts and requirements not well met by traditional schooling, an inclusive approach would be incredibly appealing.
Here are a few ideas that might get you started as you begin to identify where your point of difference arises:
- The idea itself: If your idea is, in fact, completely original, it may in fact stand alone. The Dyson vacuum cleaner was the first to use a cyclonic action to separate dust from air, meaning that you no longer required a bag or a filter. This truly was an innovation. Now, everyone makes cyclonic vacuum cleaners, and Dyson relies on legacy brand associations and quality design as its point of difference.
- X-factor: Dyson’s emphasis on quality design is the perfect example of the X-factor. Perhaps you want to start a coaching business. There are already other coaching businesses, but your point of difference lies in the personal quality you bring to the coaching experience through your personality.
- Price: Assuming that price is a factor, you could offer what you are selling for cheaper. The problem with this is that once you start on the discounting route, it is hard to get off, as your competitors may choose to do the same thing. On the flip side, you could differentiate yourself by being the most expensive. Countless experiments have linked price to a buyer’s perceived value.
- Quality: Your solution, idea, product may be better. You will need evidence and features that support this notion, but if it’s true, this will be a powerful point of difference.
- Speed: In today’s world, time is a premium currency. If you can save people time, solve their problems faster, this alone constitutes a competitive advantage. FedEx built an entire business on this promise.
- Brand: The personal identity that comes with being associated with you and your offer may be attractive to the buyer. Even if you don’t have an established platform just yet, there are ways to do this, such as partnering with other brands.
- You: It will, in most cases, be impossible to separate yourself from your idea. Trusting and believing in you will be key in getting the buyer to engage.
Attention is the battleground of modern business. Your job is to language and design your proposition in such a way that it will grab people’s attention and incite action. If you make your offer easy – easy to understand, and easy to differentiate – you’ll break through your buyer’s mental barrier and make it easy for them to want what you’re offering.
Peter Sheahan is the author of, MAKING IT HAPPEN: Turning Your Good Ideas Into Great Results