“Find the biggest problem your employer faces for which you and your skills are the solution.”

– Robert Horton, Executive Recruiter

Anyone who has worked for a company for any length of time knows who the intrepreneurs are. They are the staff members who are always crackling with new ideas, finding solutions, taking on new initiatives and coming up with creative strategies for furthering the company’s mission.

We can define intrepreneuring as creating and maintaining the innovation and flexibility of a small business environment (an entrepreneurial mind set) within the confines of a larger institutional structure.

While we focus most often on those who start new businesses, it’s important to note that individuals can act entrepreneurially in several different contexts, even corporations.

Since most innovations have come from people in small businesses (entrepreneurs), it’s logical for many companies encourage a corporate culture receptive to new ideas. The good news is, intrepreneurship is catching on. Google has long been an advocate. Products like Gmail, Google News, and Adsense resulted from its “Innovation Time Off” program, in which employees are able to devote 20% of their work day to independent endeavors. Other organizations, including marketing and engineering firms, are following Google’s lead.

Would a program like this work in your company? With today’s mercurial workplace, we’re all expected to be entrepreneurs in order to stay competitive and promote our value to employers. Maybe it’s time to bring it up.

Here are some ways to practice your intrepreneurship:

  • position yourself as the go-to person
  • keep an eye out for ways you can save your employer money or increase profits in tough times.
  • volunteer for assignments
  • learn new software programs
  • speak up, stay positive
  • maintain high visibility
  • follow up with your boss to keep him or her informed of your accomplishments

Be the value add.

Anyone have an intrepreneurship story to share?

(this is adapted from, Indie Business Power by Peter Spellman)

The key to getting more and better gigs is positioning your act as a partnership with the venue, and then communicating the benefits your act will provide it. Your job is to convince the booker that it would be to the club’s advantage to have you play there. How do you do this?

First, emphasize the crowd you will draw. Even if it’s just fifteen people, let them know.

Second, stress the uniqueness of your music – what makes it stand out from the rest?  If you can’t answer this question, then you’re not ready to play live.

Third, let the booker know about your promotional plan for the show and all the free publicity the club will receive from your messaging, flyers, radio announcements and newspaper calendar listings.  Show them you are organized, professional and thinking ahead. This alone will set you apart from other, less organized bands.

Remember, a club is a business. It has to make financial sense for them to give you a gig. Bands that haven’t got any notoriety yet should get some college airplay in the vicinity of the clubs they want to play first. You have to respect the club’s position; if no one’s ever heard of you, how can they make money off the show?

Here are a few ideas for how you can work together with clubs to bring in larger crowds.

  • Hook up with local promoters; there are dozens of promoters that would love to promote a club once a month. Put your heads together to create an anticipated event.
  • Call local record labels, record stores (there are still a few left!), magazines, newspapers, radio and TV stations and see if they want to have a night at the club. Lots of radio stations promote clubs to their listeners and are always looking for new venue to affiliate with. Labels are always renting clubs to showcase their bands to the local media. Make sure all of these people have a copy of your latest recording.
  • Call all the above people and talk to the promotion departments, especially at radio stations. See if you can send them tickets to your show. Make it a habit of mailing them tickets. Seeing your name again and again lets them know you’re serious and enduring.
  • Bundle your show into a package. Team up with two other acts, come up with a theme, and then approach the booker with your ideas. The club gets a fully packaged night, along with the followings of each act and the revenue this brings. Done creatively, you can probably get your pick of the night if done enough in advance.
  • Set up a contest with the club, like a Legs contest (girls or guys), or during intermission announce, “The first person to the bar with red underwear gets a free CD.” Bands can donate CDs and vinyl; clubs can donate free drinks. The point is to give everyone a good feeling about that club and that band.
  • Run co-op ads in local magazines and newspapers advertising the show and the contest. Give the ads some pizzazz.  Include coupons for free admission or a free drink with admission. This will make your ad a hundred times more effective and bring in a lot more people. Also, put up fliers advertising the gig near the venue.

The lesson is: Don’t start until you’re ready. Make sure your vocals are strong, your arrangements tight, your equipment adequate and your promotion happening. Jumping the gun and taking gigs for which you’re not ready can take months – even years – to repair.

The saying is true: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Prepare and come out strong.

Check out the latest edition of Indie Marketing Power for a lot more ideas on increasing your band’s bookings.

 

 

Each fall and spring I have the privilege of speaking to Berklee’s entering class about how to navigate a successful music career. Here’s how I usually begin my talk:

Who here wants to be a great musician? 

Who here wants to be a working musician?

Does one necessarily follow the other?

If only great musicianship guaranteed career success! The questions, of course, are designed to get these young musicians thinking about how they can turn their musical passions into sustainable careers.

But you know the answer.

Great musicianship will not necessarily result in a sustainable music career. Great musicianship must be combined with additional ingredients that may at times seem far afield from core musical passions. But are they really so far afield?

Why does one musician succeed while another struggles? From where I sit, here are some reasons favoring music career success:

• A keen understanding of the marketplace & a strong ability to communicate and engage with it. When you boil all marketing tools and tactics down to their essence, what you have is communication. Marketing is essentially communicating so well with your audience they want to know more about you. Even artists who don’t seem to give a hoot about “working the market” often have associates who are constantly scanning the landscape for touch points that will work for the artist’s career.

• Abundant self-knowledge.  Self-knowledge is important so that you don’t create any illusions for yourself.  It assumes you have put yourself through a review – what’s worked so far in your life, what you can do without, where your passions really lie. Self-knowledge is knowing who you are and what you want to do with your life, and this means committing to goals – defining them, planning them, knowing that with enough planning and dedication and hard work, you’ll meet your goals.

• The right combination of integrity and cooperation (knowing when to say no and when to say yes). Integrity means internal consistency based on decided values. Artists inevitably encounter opportunities or relationship that pull at their integrity. All partners in successful relationships know how to compromise when negotiating each other’s needs. They fully expect to give up some things and strive for fairness in those decisions. There is an art to negotiating the balance between these two things and those who can will grow their career assets more quickly than those who can’t (or won’t).

• Willingness of others to work with you (based on track record, industry reputation, personality, quality of the opportunity). Do you know what others think of you? How they would describe you? A reputation is built inch by inch over years. Each act of generosity and kindness will sow seeds towards a future harvest. In truth, it doesn’t matter how hard you work on managing your reputation, it will only ever be as solid as your actual character. Good character acts like a magnet. People are drawn to it. If you’re seen as a dreamer with little regard for clocks and calendars you’ll probably limit your musical associations; if, on the other hand, you’re seen as a clear-headed professional who shows respect to others and others’ time, you’ll magnetize the same to you.

•  An ability to raise necessary resources and support. This goes with the previous. The community of cohorts that grows around you becomes your network of support: support for ideas, for short-term projects, for creative alliances, and for long-term profit too. Forging creative alliances is key to building a multi-dimensional music career. Teaming up can multiply your efforts and move your career in an upward trajectory.  Teams share the burden and divide the grief.

The “working” part of the phrase, “working musician” should always be broadly defined. Especially in the early stages, a career musician will wear a number of hats.  You might be a Performer-Writer-Teacher, or an Arranger-Mixer-Editor, or, more likely, a Singer-AdminAssistant-Barista or Producer-Babysitter-Sales Associate. That’s appropriate; all of us have done it.

Musicians are often slow starters but good finishers if they stick to their knitting. Nurture these five qualities and you’ll go a long way towards thriving career success.

Avoiding Junk Thought

Aug 27 2013

If I were to ask you to concentrate real hard and imagine yourself growing an inoperable brain tumor, would you do it? Most of us would probably hesitate. Why? Perhaps because you believe deep down that your mind, or the way you think, can actually have an affect on your body.

And you would be right. Modern brain research, as well as quantum physics, are discovering that the mind is a form of energy that can affect all the energy around it. Depending on how the physicist “looks” at energy it can appear as a wave or as a particle. No wonder quantum theory has often been referred to as “deep magic”.

The point, however, is this: when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Let’s bring this down to earth.

Wrong thinking or, what I like to refer to as “junk thought”, causes us needless suffering and prevents us from creative exploration and living well. It is estimated that a person has about 40,000 thoughts per day. Junk thought comes in many forms. It appears as self-battering and self-bashing. It comes disguised as ‘objective thinking’ designed to mask our anxieties, doubts and fears. It comes as bravado, stubbornness and rage.

The thoughts that hamper and hinder us can sound so innocent! And the reason they sound so innocent is that we ourselves have made them that way so that we won’t notice what’s really going on.

I don’t…

I can’t…

I’m not…

These are habits of mind. They extend back to our childhoods. They grow and spread through our nervous systems, over our lifetimes, fashioned by relationships, experiences, victories, disappointments.

They are the mainstream of our mind patterns and what we need to do in order to become whole is to cut a tributary off this mainstream.

You can use the following three-step procedure to help re-program junk thought.

First, notice your thoughts and identify those that don’t serve you. This means growing aware of your linguistic tricks and understanding what your self-talk actually signifies. Sometimes personal counseling or coaching helps this step along.

Second, dispute those self-sabotaging thoughts. Our self-statements are often dodges, games, excuses, and defensive maneuvers, and it takes practice and courage to see them for what they are. You say – silently or out loud – “No, I don’t buy that!”

Third, you substitute a new, useful thought. These can take the form of an affirmation. Affirmations can serve as substitutes for our characteristically negative junk-talk.

Let’s play out the steps in three brief scenarios.

Scene 1

  • Junk thought: “I can’t possibly compose before breakfast; my rumbling stomach would distract me.”
  • Dispute: “Wow, what a wonderful excuse!”
  • New thought: “I can compose any time – morning, noon or night.”

Scene 2

  • Junk thought: “I don’t have the chops for a pit orchestra.”
  • Dispute: “I just haven’t been willing to put the practice time in to read better.”
  • New thought: “As hard as it is, putting in just an hour a day practice will help me get closer to this opportunity.”

 Scene 3

  • Junk thought: “I’m not sure I can handle the interview for this position.”
  • Dispute: “You just haven’t rehearsed enough”
  • New thought: “I’ll contact a friend and do some mock interviews to feel more ready.”

It can really be that simple. What you’re doing in these situations is re-programming your thinking with new possibilities. As Joseph Chilton Pearce wrote, “We live in a web of ideas, a fabric of our own making.” Making. See this as a new chance to create.

The energy we put into our inner thoughts affects the outer life we see and achieve. Call it “intention”, “visualization”, “prayer” or “the law of attraction” – it all adds up to actively using your imagination to fight off the junk and compose the kind of life you desire.

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.                                                                        -William Shakespeare

The Polymath Musician

Aug 05 2013

Are there any Leonardos out there? How about Ben Franklins? Or Jay-Zs? You may not be able to paint the Mona Lisa, speak French or father a child with Beyonce, but you do have multiple interests, a truckload of skills and a breadth of experience.

Sometimes your many interests feel like a bunch of beads with nothing to string them on. That’s normal for those with manifold passions and diverse skill sets. The challenge is figuring out a way to bring all of this together into a career that isn’t so scattered as to be useless, or that repels whispers of, there goes a jack of all trades, but master of none.

The polymath (i.e., people with multiple passions and interests) also smacks up against a lifetime socialization that includes the innocent (though loaded) question: What do you want to be when you grow up?  As if there is a single job waiting for us we will perfectly fit into. Maybe once upon a time, but no more. What the question doesn’t allow for is that most of us cannot answer it with a singular response.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as I meet more and more “non-traditional” students at Berklee College of Music who, a) may already have a degree (or several years of undergrad courses) from another school, b) have a few years of work & travel experience, or, 3) simply love to dabble in multiple subject areas. One student I met has a Neuroscience degree from Brown University; another spent ten years building and then selling a software company, and still another just got back from two years of observing and participating in the Arab Spring sweeping across the Middle East. Oh, and he also has a B.S. in chemical engineering.

All of them love music and want to build a career around this core, but their passions traverse numerous other areas as well.

I can relate to this. My background includes 4 years of theological study, 2 years working with drug-addicted teens, a B.A. in history, 9 years touring with a reggae/rock band, 6 years managing a record label, 1 year running a booking agency, and 2 years writing book reviews for a scholarly journal. In addition, I’m a husband and father of three, with keen interests in softball, hiking and BBQ-ing.

For me, these strands didn’t braid until I was well into my thirties but, when they did, the result was a complete surprise in the very best sense of the word.

Sometimes it will take longer than the typical college/major/degree/job sequence, a sequence which itself is becoming a rarity these days.

In exploring this subject I realized too that part of the problem lies in a particular habit of mind we’ve inherited. For centuries we’ve been handcuffed by linear and categorical thinking, a thinking that silos life into “Art” or “Science”, “Public” or “Private”, “Non-profit” or “For Profit”, “Liberal” or “Conservative”, etc. It’s a mind pattern shackled by the “either/or” rather than the “both/and”, eventually becoming a habit hard to break (just look at Washington!). But the times we’re in, if nothing else, beg for people who can see things from multiple perspectives.

In my opinion this inherited mindset does great damage to us spiritually as well – it divides, fractures, and wreaks havoc with the seamless web of knowledge, leading to an impoverishment of wisdom down the road.

So I tend to encourage polymath musicians to indulge their varied interests to the highest degree possible. Think of it this way: Replace linear and categorical thinking with “symphonic” thinking, a phrase Daniel Pink coined in his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. The author explains:

Symphony, as I call this aptitude, is the ability to put together the pieces. It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.

It’s no accident Pink borrows from music. Consider the conductor, the composer, the songwriter, the performer. This is familiar territory for musicians blessed with a knack for joining disparate pieces (written or played notes) into a whole (composition or performance).

I would go even further and say musicians are optimally suited for symphonic thinking owing to the unification of brain hemispheres sparked by musical activity.

Music calls on both the analytical “left” brain and the intuitive “right”. In fact, studies reveal that musicians’ brains are, on average, larger. Musical activity seems to exercise the physical brain. Increases in gray matter (size and number of nerve cells) are seen, for example, in the auditory, motor, and visual spatial areas of the cerebral cortex of musicians. Still no word on what’s up for drummers. Nyuk, nyuk.

So what does this mean for musicians with multiple interests trying to forge meaningful careers?

• First, accept that you have lots of passions. With this, give yourself permission to not have to pick one profession. Resist the mind set that pigeon-holes human talent. That’s 20th century thinking. Most of us aren’t uniform in our talents: our creativity is most evident in a several domains so don’t ignore it.

Simply understanding that we don’t necessarily have to pick a single career or work in only one field – that we are never boxed in by education choices or early career decisions, and that we all have mobility – can lead to multidisciplinary success.

• If you’re a student (hey, aren’t we all?), fill those curricular gaps and discretionary hours with explorations outside your major. Read a magazine you’ve never read before, on a topic you know nothing about. Spend an entire day taking pictures—from before dawn until after dusk. Walk home a different way. Audit a class. Volunteer your time for a community project. Try “shadowing” a careerist for a day who you admire. Attend a free lecture on a subject you’re interested in. Look through a microscope. Go spend some time with young children, then with someone twice your age.

Creative excursions from our usual routines help broaden our vision, deepen our sympathies and expand our mind.

• Recognize the growing music footprint in the world. Music is branching out, becoming a subject of study in fields as diverse as biology, physics, cognitive science, anthropology, astronomy, paleontology and forensics. Opportunities are opening up for musicians in all these areas as a new generation of researchers employ the latest technologies to study the relation of music and sound to just about everything. Remarkable things are being discovered and music is often at the center.

• Look for unusual applications. In her book for liberal arts majors, Katharine Brooks reminds us, “the more you know about different disciplines, the more you are able to create innovative solutions to problems. Your mind is able to wander into many territories. Your knowledge of chemistry, for example, might improve your thinking in the field of biology. Or your understanding of poetry might make you a better therapist” [or, musician].

Cross disciplinary thinking lifts us out of the trees for a better look at the forest, and betters our chances of discovering an “adjacent possible” – tools, ideas and technologies that can be lifted from one realm and applied to another. Check out this earlier post for a cool illustration of this.

Being a polymath doesn’t necessarily mean being unfocused . The key is to lead with your strength. Let your focus be discovering the valuable connections between your varied interests and how this can apply to a world of need.

That’s a worthwhile endeavor.

Some good reading on the subject:

Help for “Scanners”: Refuse to Choose!: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love by Barbara Sher.

Help for “Slash/Careerists”: One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success by Marci Alboher.

Help for “Renaissance Souls”: The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with too Many Passions to Pick Just One by Margaret Lobenstine.

Media coverage remains one of the best ways to get your signal through all the noise out there. As we daily battle with “data smog”, people are finding themselves gravitating to reliable media sources for news, for information, and for point of view. So media in all its forms remains a valuable channel for exposure and promotion.

Today there are more media than ever before and they all need content: stories, leads, unique events, news of local business alliances, etc. Whether its the New York Times or a micro blog out of Cody, Wyoming – every media outlet is open to fresh content appealing to its audience.

Fortunately for us, 75% of what we read in magazines and newspapers is “planted.” That means it came to the media from outside, from people like you and me. Media publicity, therefore, provides an open door for even the most neophyte publicist to explore.

Dollar for dollar, hour for hour, publicity may very well be the best investment you can make for you marketing and promotion program. Think of it like this: if you were to purchase space for a “6 x 8” one-time display ad in The Boston Globe, you’d pay about $2000 (on top of the costs to design the ad). But if you get a story written about you in the same publication, and it takes up the same amount of space, you’re $2000 ahead of the game!

Publicity is more credible than paid advertisements too. You can make any product claim you want in an ad, and consumers know it. A journalist or reporter, however, doesn’t have to feature you in their publication and, by doing so, lends more credibility to what you’re about. Of course, the downside is you don’t control the message when you don’t pay for it.

Here’s a tip for generating publicity: hook your project (or event, or news) to something that already has momentum. For example, take a look at the calendar. Can you tie your story or event in with a holiday or other special day?  What about Earth Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentines Day? All of these already have momentum and media attention. How can you hitch your wagon to them?

And don’t just limit yourself to the standard calendar everyone knows. Sometimes the more far-fetched the better. Check out some of the more unusual calendar dates too.  For example, did you know March is “Music in Our Schools Month” and March 9 is Barbie’s Birthday? August is “Foot Health Month”; October “Hispanic Heritage Month”. February 26 is “Tell a Fairy Tale Day.” There are thousands more.

You and your team will have to do some brainstorming on this but it’ll be worth it. Try finding a common ground, a resonance point, where you can tie in with what’s already happening and then pitch that to the media. It’s fun, creative and economical.

Plus, it can generate some valuable buzz for your project.

-Peter Spellman

Especially in the early stages, a career musician must wear a number of hats.  You might be a Performer-Writer-Teacher, or an Arranger-Mixer-Editor, or, more likely, a Singer-AdminAssistant-Barista or Producer-Babysitter-Sales Associate. That’s appropriate; all of us have done it.

Some have called the current times we’re living in the “Age of Ambiguity,” an era of “boundaryless careers,” where career development manifests through lateral and horizontal as well as vertical movement. Pretty familiar to musicians whose work tends to be of a freelance nature within “flexible work arrangements”.

Creative people don’t feel the need to stamp out uncertainty. They see all kinds of inconsistencies and gaps in life, and they often take delight in exploring those gaps – or in using their imagination to fill them in. Again, there are things to celebrate all along the way, if they are met with a flexibility of mind.

Write your goals in stone and your plans in sand.

When asked about what advice he had for young players, pianist Ahmad Jamal once said: “Prepare yourself to have options. Many of the greats were lost because they didn’t have options. If there is one exit door when a fire breaks out chances are you’re going to get trampled to death. You can conduct, perform, teach, arrange, produce, go to an institute of higher learning and get more options, and avoid the exit door.”

• Practice patience/Stay humble. Since success paths today have multiplied, musicians will experiment with more career-building methods and try a variety of relational constellations before the most resonate ones are found. This takes time and time is the new scarcity. Being in the Waiting Room will try your soul. But hurry and strife will just breed the same. A shortcut is often the longest distance between two points. Successful musicians are constantly reviewing their steps to ensure movement towards their goals. It’s a journey and, as the sage once quipped, the journey is the goal.

On this, it doesn’t hurt to remember the former jobs of famous musicians: Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) was an environmental inspector for an oil company, Vocalist Chad Kroeger of Nickelback sold phones; Gwen Stefani scrubbed floors for Dairy Queen, Philip Glass was a cab driver and plumber, Jack White an upholsterer. Even P Diddy cleaned toilets. Humility is a big part of the dues-paying phase of music careers. The key is staying humble and not overpaying your dues.

• Cast Your Net Wide. It took a coffee company and a computer manufacturer to teach the music industry how to sell music in the digital age. Non-music businesses everywhere are seeking creative ways to add music-related services to their mix. This means that you needn’t be dependent on the traditional music companies for music career success.

Think of companies you already resonate with and try brainstorming ways you can link up. Consider ones with a similar demographic to yours. Start on a local level. It might be a gift shop, skateboard arena or arts organization. It may even evolve into a full-fledged sponsorship for a tour or recording project. Finds ways to add value to what these businesses are doing with what you have to offer.

• Forget jobs; look for the work that needs to be done. A colleague shared about a music production student with perfect pitch who found plenty of work in recording studios by providing his skill as the “last mile” on auto-tuned vocal sessions. What special skill do you have that can be used as a door opener?

Project work, outsourcing, contract work, and short-term assignments are becoming the primary way of doing business today.  So it no longer makes sense to think only in terms of jobs with fixed “job descriptions.” Instead, as a creative worker, you will have a constantly fluctuating mix of responsibilities –  “packages” of “deliverables” for which you will need to continually upgrade your skills.

Some musicians like the variety and make it an asset in their portfolios. “The key to a successful indie career is diversifying your income,” suggests singer/ songwriter Kyler England. “I write country songs; I do session singing, licensing, and I help others on their gigs. That’s the key – diversifying.”

• Be Entrepreneurial in Body & Mind. Kyler is the entrepreneurial musician in action, scoping out market opps and providing service solutions wherever they’re found.

French economist, Jean-Baptiste Say, who lived at the time of the French Revolution, invented the term entrepreneur to describe someone who unlocks capital tied up in land and redirects it to ‘change the future’. He was one of the first economists to introduce the idea of change and uncertainty as something normal and even positive. The entrepreneur sees gaps to fill, pain to alleviate, needs to appease, and is often driven by a passion to do so. But it is also often done without a clear path. Indeed, entrepreneurs often blaze their own path.

The one who runs straight bumps harder. – Anonymous

Adapted from, Musician 2.0, 3.0, 4.0…Developing Music Careers in Uncertain Times. Get the whole enchilada here.

Put on your marketing hat for a moment.

As any serious business owner knows, a key element of their strategy will be the positioning statement. Popularized by Al Ries and Jack Trout’s seminal work, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, “positioning” refers to how your offering is differentiated among similar ones.

As the Ries/Trout title suggests, positioning isn’t just a position in the marketplace, it’s a position in peoples’ minds. That’s where you want to position your self, your company, your brand, your specialness.

Market position is often related to niche. The “mass market” has given way to a market of niches. The music market in particular continues to segment and each segment has beome a “world”, a cultural/economic portal, through which niche companies can create value and success.

Maybe your specialty is tube amps, or Latin jazz arrangements, or songs with a nautical theme. Whatever it is you can create a niche from it, a distinctive offering that stands out in the marketplace of useful things. As the saying goes, ‘Dig a hole an inch wide and a mile deep,’ and work it.

You’re an entrepreneur of your own talent. What is entrepreneurship? It’s seeing an economic/social/spiritual need and then creating business forms to meet that need. It’s finding a gap in a seemingly saturated market and creatively filling it in with your unique offering.

In order to help you strengthen your distinction, here are ten questions you should ask of your market positioning strategy:

  • Is it relevant? Relevant means applicable, connected, germane. The distinctions you create must be valued by a sufficient number of fans and customers.  Your distinction needs to connect.
  • Is it different? Being different for the sake of being different isn’t enough. Offerings must be genuinely different. What compelling reason is there for customers to switch their attention from existing brands to yours?
  • Will they care? Your point of difference must be truthful, authentic. Truth cuts through the clutter. Claims must not be empty, otherwise your audience will see through your ‘spin’.
  • Get emotional? Customers and fans must make a lasting emotional connection with your brand.
  • Are you the best? Superior quality alone is not enough to ensure market distinction, but it’s crucial. Quality is relative to consumer expectations. Raise expectations by delivering the best.
  • Can you say it? Every aspect of promotion should contain your differentiating idea presented in an easily digestible form. Creative concision is challenging but always effective.
  • Who are you? You are ultimately offering a human experience to fans and customers. Define your brand’s values, identity and personality in light of the experience you want them to have.
  • Are you innovative? Competitors will think nothing of stealing your ideas and calling them their own. Pre-emptive positioning based on innovation cannot be easily copied.
  • Can they afford it? Can buyers afford to pay for the difference? Improvements to products and services can be costly, but value is what you’re after and value transcends mere “price”. People pay for uniqueness.
  • Can you make a profit? The reverse of affordable—there must be sufficient profit margin once you have created your differences. After all, this isn’t a hobby you’re involved in – it’s your bread and butter!

Run your own positioning strategy through these ten questions and see it get stronger.

For more great food on this topic see, The Collapse of Distinction by Scott McKains (2009) and Career Distinction: Stand Out By Building Your Brand by William Arruda and Kristen Dixon (2007).

First of all, let’s define ‘value’. In this context, value is the full-spectrum impact your product or service has on your customer or audience. Value should not be equated with price. Price is merely one aspect of the total value you deliver.

Value is essentially what your company (i.e., your brand) promises and the emotional connection and trust your customers and audience feel in relation to that promise.

That’s the basic value you deliver. But you can also add to it.

Adding value boosts your offering, making it more visible, more desirable and, ultimately, more sellable.

Adding value can also create distinction and differentiation for your offering in the marketplace.

You add value when you take the product or service you’ve created and then add materials, processing or services to create an even more valuable end product. You then offer the product in its value-enhanced form.

Value can be added by:

  • putting the product through an additional process
  • combining the product with other products
  • offering the product as part of a larger package of services
  • removing something to change the use of the product or
  • increasing levels of service.

Some examples of adding value:

1.  A student who operated a demo recording business expanded the operation by offering half-day recording seminars and special discounts to clients. Added value to recording services.

2.  A businessman bought large plastic cup lids, licensed CDs, attached them to the lids and marketed them as “LidRocks” at concerts. Extra value to concert drinks.

3.  A music instruction center for kids calls every client’s parent to check on the quality of recent lessons (and to promote additional services). Extra value to private instruction.

4. A record company creates an appropriate recording or compilation for a tie-in with an environmental organization’s benefit project. Extra value to recorded music sales.

5. Here’s one from the recent music press: The Marlin Hotel in Miami’s South Beach combines a luxury hotel with a state-of-the-art recording studio. Extra value to a hotel stay.

Here are some strategies for adding value to your current offerings:

1. Enhance: Take an existing product or service and think of an additional process, material or service that could be added to create a new product. For example, adding contact directories to a regional monthly music magazine.

2. Hitch-Hike: Identify a process or service which you could provide, then look for types of existing products or services which could be used as a base for your desired operation. For example, provide a compilation CD to an auto dealer to include with all new car sales in a month.

3. Add/Subtract: Find an existing product which could be changed into a different or improved product by adding or subtracting one or more elements. If additional elements are required, locate a source for these and develop a method of adding them. Conversely, if elements must be subtracted, find a workable way of doing so.

4. Gap-Filler: Find a customer group which has needs that are not being met by existing products and services.  For example, providing iPod owners with a service that loads their CD collections into their players so they don’t have to spend the time doing it themselves.

Get loads more marketing insights from the latest edition of Indie Marketing Power (2011) by Peter Spellman.

In my twenty years as a hiring manager, I have probably reviewed several hundred cover letters and resumes while hiring people for various positions.

I don’t have that much to say about the resume. I see the resume as a basic ‘catalog’ of your experience and achievements. Formats and styles vary, and there will be certain emphases and orderings of content depending on the target, but resumes essentially are the same inventory from one to another. An essential document but pretty basic.

(Of course there is a way to make your resume stand out too, but that will have to wait for another post).

The thing that always grabs my attention, however, is the cover letter and, more accurately, a certain feature of the cover letter. I call this feature ‘resonance’.

Resonance means ‘prolonged sound’ and what these letters do is prolong the sound of your name in the hiring manager’s mind.

How do you do it? Through a simple device.

Are you ready?

You communicate WITH ME.

Resonance is created when I get a sense the you paused to sit in my chair, walk in my shoes, and took a good look at the world from my perspective.

Resonance is created when you reflect back to me the language of my mission statement, the current goals of my company, and the values that suffuse my work.

Resonance is created when you articulate a match between what you have to offer and what I really need.

Creating resonance assumes you have gone beyond the job posting, beyond the words on my web site, beyond the “standard” understanding of the job position, to the ‘inner baseball’ about me and my company, and to a deeper level of understanding of my needs.

How do you get to that level of understanding?

1. Connect. Use your network of contacts to speak to people who have either worked at the target company or know others who have.

2. Research. Google the company name and the hiring manager’s name to see how they show up in third-party news reports, etc. Go even deeper by tapping into services like Hoovers.com and InsideView.com. Also, look for a discussion forum on the company you’re targeting. Although gossipy, these boards offer insights into a firm’s hiring policies and culture.

3. Reflect. Take a good look at your own list of assets (work experience, personality traits, values and interests) and think long and hard about how these match to the needs of the company. Write them down. Articulate them. Rehearse them. This is the essential value you can bring to the company and the position. Weave this into all your letters and job target communications.

I can tell you from experience that candidates who have done this have also gotten the interview.

That level of understanding shows distinction.   It shows differentiation.

It creates resonance.

Prolong your sound.