Food For Thought

(Listen to this post, here.)

I’m no scientist, but when it comes to the relative temperature of various foods, I am happy to share the following facts:

#1. Oatmeal is the hottest consumable substance on earth. If your castle walls are in the process of being scaled by hordes of blood-thirsty enemies, this is the (food)stuff to pour on them.

#2. Nothing heats up faster in the microwave than quinoa. Five seconds on “high” and these once benign pellets will melt the roof of your mouth like nobody’s business.

#3. Pancakes retain heat the longest. Go back to the remaining pile on the breakfast table – after you’ve finished your coffee; after you’ve gone through the entire Sunday paper; after you’ve read choice segments of this very newsletter out loud to your spouse – and the pancakes on the bottom will still be steaming.

Three foods, each with a different strength.

And yet, each of which could also truthfully make the broad claim of being, “a leading provider of consumable heat.”

And that is exactly what these foods would do, were they typical professional service providers.

Rather than use plain language to highlight a narrowfact-based difference, they would pick something more general and try to make it sound important.

After all, as they might explain…

Oatmeal: “I don’t want to be pigeon-holed.”

Quinoa: “I’m good in many areas, not just rapid heating.”

Pancakes: “My brother-in-law (the waffle) has an MBA and he told me not to limit my options.”

But here’s the problem with this type of thinking…

  1. This is marketing, not reality. 

    We are not lying when we talk about our work, but we are not trying to describe the world as it is, either. 

    As Robert Cialdini says in book, Pre-Suasion“The main purpose of speech is to direct a listener’s attention to a selected sector of reality.” 

    A selected sector – not everything you’ve ever done or potentially could do. Pick something to become known for.

  2. People don’t have problems “in general.” 

    At least not problems they are willing to pay to have fixed. 

    Using broad summary statements to describe your work – “I’m a financial planner,” “I help mid-size companies improve productivity and raise revenue,” “I’m a leading provider of consumable heat” – may be accurate, even impressive. 

    But it’s not specific enough. Instead, you want your descriptive language to be closely aligned with what’s keeping prospects up at night: 

    “I need to stop the invading hoards.” Oatmeal can help; it’s super-hot. 

    “I’m always late.” Quinoa is the solution, it heats up quickly. 

    “I’m going on a long car ride and I hate eating cold food.” Stop whining. And have you considered pancakes? They stay warm for hours.

  3. A narrow focus doesn’t limit your opportunities. 

    You know what does limit your opportunities? No clients. 

    And the solution to that existential problem is to be narrow, not broad. Particularly if you are just starting out and don’t yet have a reputation, brand or momentum. 

    As for your brother-in-law, the waffle, the best thing in the world that could happen to you would be for your name to become synonymous with the solution to a particular problem. 

    Whether that’s geeks who want to get in shape but are intimidated by traditional gyms; companies that need white papers written; or left-handed people who are tired of living in a world built for righties.

    In all three cases, if you become known as the person or firm who specializes in solving these problems, you move to the front of the line.

Here’s the bottom line.

I understand the urge to be broad. It feels easier, smarter and less risky.

Unfortunately, it’s none of that.

The quickest way to jump-start your marketing is to get narrow by positioning yourself as the obvious solution to a specific – dare I say, burning – problem.

Don’t make me come over there and pour hot oatmeal on you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who do you think would fare best in a street fight: Oatmeal, Quinoa or Pancakes?

  2. Do you think a waffle could really get an MBA? Become an attorney, sure, but MBA?

  3. Are you concerned with being too narrow in your work? Why or why not?

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18 thoughts on “Food For Thought

  1. Barry Wilson

    1. Oatmeal all the way…it’s relentless and sticks to your ribs until you beg for mercy.
    2. A waffle would be hot at the beginning of an MBA program but would cool off too fast.
    3. The biggest problem I have is wanting to focus on solving before the potential client is comfortable that I understand the problem. Need to be wore of a pancake…stay warm until the client is ready.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      1. You might be right. I was thinking maybe pancakes since they always travel in packs, but I agree on the ribs idea.
      2. Well played.
      3. I know what you mean. Very tempting to just jump in with a solution without really listening!

  2. Alison Stanton Picher

    Very timely Mr. Blue. I have resisted being pegged as ONLY a psychic for animals when I can also work with people. But once I committed to my url “” I started getting more clients. And psychologically it’s easier for people to pay to sort out their beloved pet’s issues, so it’s a great hook for helping them with their own issues later once they trust me and see what I can do. Most clients hire me later for treatment for themselves after they hire me for their pet (or the pet treatment becomes about them anyway!)

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That’s a great example. In some ways, the niche is just the front door. Once people know and like you (and see what you can do), they start asking for variations.

  3. Stacey Shipman

    I love all of your newsletters but this one is the best! I laughed out loud.

    1. Oatmeal for the same reasons Barry mentioned -it’s sticky! I like quinoa but to me it screams “I’m delicate”.

    2. I’m trying to come up with a pithy answer for this, but today I’m out of pith.

    3. Not anymore. I have an entry point now (helping technical/analytical folks communicate and present themselves better in all types of settings when moving into management). Once we do good work and build a relationship, they refer me to other colleagues or bring me in to work with their team. It works VERY well and it’s nice to be known for that one thing. So much easier for everyone involved!

  4. Mark Wayland

    Hi Michael, lately I’ve trying to avoid customer issues that are “known and spoken about.” Rather I get far more traction talking about issues that are “known and unspoken.” And that gets me far more attention. For instance, “I specialize in customized selling skills workshops held after lunch, and mid-conference.” Then the conversation moves to “how do you do that?”

  5. Mark Wayland

    Hi Michael, “Known and spoken about” are the common issues that classically revolve around time and money.. it’s where your competition is greatest. “Known and unspoken” shows the customer that you really know them and their business. Here’s one example,

    My accountant said, “You have a typical small business; you work hard, invoice clients, and incur expenses. But why do you always find that you pay yourself last? I’ll show you how to manage your finances so that you pay yourself first.” Boom, boom.

  6. Erik Kieser

    1) Pancakes. They beat every other food. (Along with their trusty sidekicks, butter and syrup.)

    2) Well, ANYONE can get an MBA – but could they manage a business afterwards? That’s the real question.

    3) I’m still fighting the concern of being too narrow, but damn the torpedoes, I’m launching my first newsletter this week anyway! 🙂 Narrow focus and all!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      You’re right about butter and syrup. They don’t harm others immediately but were a street fight to last 30 or 40 years, they would be champions!

      And good to hear about your niche – care to share with us what it is?

      1. Erik Kieser

        Per your webinars and our coaching conversations I’ve drilled down to helping managers fix conflict in teams. It’s made blog-writing and word-of-mouth marketing much easier.

  7. Beverly Matoney

    1) It depends on the opponent. Oatmeal against invading hordes, Quinoa against the Spanish Armada, and Pancakes against a Yukon snowstorm.
    2) I think a waffle would be better suited to pursuing a trade. With all those deep wells, it would make a fantastic beekeeper.
    3) I’m already in a fairly narrow niche helping vendors sell products and services to homeschoolers through content marketing. I’m wondering if I should niche down even more. My weakness is wanting to help them with EvErYtHiNg. I can see so many exciting angles, it’s difficult for me to focus on just one facet of their content.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Beverly!
      You definitely know your food items.
      On the niche, a key question is how much business are you getting? If you’re bringing in as much as you like and of the kind that you like, there’s no compelling reason to change. But if you’re having trouble getting enough traction, narrowing further can make a big difference.

      1. Beverly Matoney

        Thank you, Michael. As I am just starting out, I don’t have too much business. I do, however, feel I should get good at one thing before I try to “do it all” even though I absolutely love helping my clients find all the different ways they can increase traffic and sales. (Enthusiastic is the most common adjective I hear.) Particularly in trying to get new clients, I wonder if I offered a specialty if I’d get more interest, instead of being rather general.

        1. Michael Katz Post author

          Absolutely on offering a specialty to generate more word of mouth and become “famous” for something.

          Keep in mind as well that having a niche doesn’t preclude you from offering a broader range of things to people as the opportunity arises. It just means you narrow your marketing (which is not the same, necessarily, as narrowing your reality).

          1. Beverly Matoney

            Thank you very much for your advice! I’m off to find my “narrow way.” 🙂

            I think I’ll go with quinoa…faster than the Spanish Armada.

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