Means and Ends

When is an accountant not just an accountant?

When she sees that what she does is merely a means to an end, at least in the minds of her customers.

Starting at the end

That’s right. It may be humbling to consider, but your customers — my customers, his customers, everyone’s customers — probably don’t see what you do as an end. Rather, they see it as a means to an end.

That is, they have a certain goal they want to achieve — staying out of trouble with the IRS, planning to retire and go fishing, or even just learning a new language — and they see that you can help them achieve that goal a lot easier and faster than they can, if at all.

In the cold language of economics, you’re exchanging value: their money for your expertise.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before

Why is that important to understand?

Simply this: If you think you’re an end, you’ll talk to your clients and prospects all about what you do, but if you see yourself as a means, you’ll talk to your clients and prospects about why you do what you do, about your value to them.

Big difference.

You can see the difference whenever you surf the web, read your email or look at a solicitation that arrives in your mailbox. Often these marketing and sales efforts are all about them (the company), and not about you. (I wish I had a nickel for every time I read about a “disruptive” technology or “innovative solution” that never quite explained why they were either of those things.)

These companies fall down at the first hurdle: the ‘why should I care?’ hurdle. You have a busy life and get bombarded with advertisements all day and night. If a company wants you as a customer, they need to walk a mile in your shoes — or at least slip them on once in a while.

Your brand is the soul, your business is the body

Jim Stengel, in his book Grow, argues that all brands (businesses) should connect with one of five fundamental human values: eliciting joy, enabling connection, inspiring exploration, evoking pride, or impacting society. Now, perhaps we can argue with the specifics, but the larger point Stengel is making is that your company needs to connect with customer goals if it wants to rise out of the sea of sameness.

Where branding comes in is connecting your company story with fundamental customer values and fleshing out the day-to-day business implications for your marketing, sales, operations and business development efforts.

Imagine, for example, that you were the accountant I mentioned at the beginning. What if, instead of thinking of yourself as an accountant, you thought of yourself as a dream enabler?

Now, before you click away, think about this: Why does someone hire an accountant? And how does an accountant get repeat and ongoing business? The answer is one and the same: by helping customers to achieve their goals and dreams.

When your goal as a business is to help your customers achieve their goals, you’ll be working with higher-value customers who aren’t going to be too concerned about nickel-and-diming you on price. They’ll pay a premium because you’re enabling an experience they want — or even one they used to have but haven’t been able to replicate because of poor health, negative self-esteem, or so on. Suddenly you stop being a commodity and start becoming, yes, a dream enabler.

Going forth to create value by enabling meaning

Your homework assignment is to ponder this question: Is my brand (my company) about meeting a larger customer need and helping them to achieve meaningful personal goals, or are we just selling stuff?

If you’re just selling stuff, watch out — because your competition is about to eat your lunch.

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