Financial Post | Defining yourself in two seconds

By evoke
April 9, 2008

Rick Spence, a columnist for the Financial Post, attended an event we did for alumni of the MBA program at the Schulich School of Business at York University. The following is a column he wrote about his experience.

Duo invents branding theory for business. A few weeks ago, I urged you to become good at describing what you do in 30 words or less. Explaining what makes you special is hard enough, but getting it down to 30 words is a valuable exercise in focus and clarity.

So I was intrigued by an e-mail I received from Toronto marketing consultant Howard Lichtman questioning my advice.

“When I work with my clients,” he said, “I suggest that they need to be able to describe what makes them uniquely compelling in seven words or less.”

Seven words?

In his note, Lichtman said there would be a demonstration of this process at a meeting of the Toronto alumni of York University’s Schulich School of Business. So I crashed the event, to find out if it’s possible for 100 business people to position themselves in two seconds.

The theory turns out to be the brainchild of a two-person consulting firm, Blueprint Business Architecture.

“We help you hone in on what makes you remarkable,” says co-founder Ian Chamandy. He and partner Ken Aber — both media and advertising veterans — help organizations find their Inspiring Proposition, a statement that defines (and sometimes redefines) everything you do.

For instance, when they worked with a long-term care facility in Brantford, Ont., Aber and Chamandy came up with: “An oasis of acceptance, comfort and care.” Once that was accepted, the managers adopted it as both a slogan and a strategic objective. They immediately began looking for ways to make the business more of an oasis, by renovating the common areas and improving the food. “They started driving their new IP into every part of the business,” Chamandy says.

Sometimes the result are game-changing: Challenged to come up with an IP for a manufacturer of shelving for warehouse-style retail stores, Chamandy and Aber went through a long meeting hearing all about industrial shelving. Eventually, they discerned that their client’s shelving solutions can be installed in half the time competitors take. That led to the IP “Opening Sooner” — a benefit every retail client can grasp.

Your IP is not an elevator pitch. Sometimes it doesn’t even say what you do. It’s intended to arouse curiosity. When you brand yourself as “Causing Wow” (as Aber does with his IP), you’re not trying to explain everything. You’re building an emotional connection that inspires others to ask, “What does that mean?” Which gives you a chance to clarify what you do and how.

Once they’ve developed the IP, Chamandy and Aber create a “brand dialogue,” a one-or two-page sheet that guides you (and, ideally, your staff ) in helping people understand why they should buy from you. (“We develop shelving systems that can be installed in half a day.” “Neat. How do you do that?” “Our patented process allows us to…”)

Once they have the right IP, Chamandy says, “companies should incorporate it into all aspects of their business architecture,” including product design, operations, staff training, advertising and branding. The result is a reinvigorated organization that understands its mission and how to accomplish it every day.

When they started Blueprint three years ago, Chamandy and Aber weren’t hooked on “seven words.” They were trying to help companies plan better. But when they met with management, they found no one could ever answer the question, “Why should a customer choose you?” As they helped organizations develop mission statements, they realized the best were also the simplest. At seven words or less, Chamandy says, “they’re easy to understand and articulate.” And they’re short enough to remember — not just for the client’s staff, but for their clients, too.

You don’t need to hire a consulting firm to develop an IP, although Chamandy insists it’s not something you can do by yourself. The process involves reviewing rigorously — and from an outsider’s perspective — everything you do. “It’s the difference between what you’re selling and what the customers are buying.”

Here’s how the process can work for you: – Gather a bunch of friends of colleagues to help you come up with an inspiring proposition. Make it fun. Order pizza. – Look for evocative words and phrases that exemplify the customer’s experience of your product of service. Focus on the benefits — tangible and emotional — that you provide and the results customers get. – No sacred cows. No pre-conceived notions. – Be prepared to get brutal. Discussing what you’re good at, versus what you think you’re good at, can make for valuable, if uncomfortable, conversations. – Keep working till you get your statement to seven words or less. – Don’t accept something that doesn’t work for you. “You can’t force the seven words,” says Chamandy. “When they pop up, everyone will know it.”

Financial Post

Published: Monday, February 11, 2008

— Rick Spence is a writer, consultant and speaker specializing in entrepreneurship. His column appears Mondays in the Financial Post. He can be reached at

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