2020 Vision

(Listen to this post, here.)

I own two pairs of glasses: one for distance, one for reading.

The distance glasses are for driving and TV.

The reading glasses are for when I’m reading something in print for an extended period (for shorter things, squinting seems to work just fine).

Recently, though, I created a problem…

I buy my glasses at Warby Parker, a company whose simple web site makes it easy to narrow the choices and that will send you sample frames to try, for free, before you buy.

The problem I created is that when I bought a new pair of distance glasses last month, the only ones that both looked good and felt comfortable were the exact same frames as my other ones.

And yes, it quickly became a problem. 

I tend to leave the glasses all over the house, and so each time I needed one, I had to try it on to know which pair I had. A simple task, but one that got old fast.

So I decided I would leave each pair in its own special spot in the house. That regimen fell apart by lunchtime.

Finally, in a flash of “D-uh,” it dawned on me that a much better solution was to just mark one of the pairs. A thin piece of masking tape on the back of one of the arms and my (admittedly first world) problem was solved.

Simple rules save time and remove confusion

We all do this kind of thing every day – streamlining the world with heuristics (SAT word!) and “pigeonholing” people and things to help us sort out what’s what and who’s who.

None of us has the time (or interest) to investigate or remember everything.

When it comes to marketing and selling, some fortunate companies have managed to take advantage of this human tendency to oversimplify, effectively owning certain words or ideas in the minds of the general population:

Starbucks owns coffee.

Google owns search.

Viagra owns erectile dysfunction (or so I am told).

This is enormously powerful for any business. It’s a mental shortcut, one that separates them from the pack and makes them easy to remember.

In a word of mouth world – the world that all small companies and solos live and die in – it’s particularly critical. If nobody associates you with a specific situation or problem, few of those word of mouthy words are coming your way.

So, what’s the solution? Well, here’s what it isn’t…

… devising, memorizing and regurgitating at every opportunity a complicated, benefit-laden “elevator statement” that tells the world why you are so capable, experienced and gosh-darn wonderful.

Not because you’re not all those things.

Rather, it’s because nobody – and I’m even going to throw your mom into this category – is going to bother remembering any of it.

Humans oversimplify

Consider the example of Nike. This is how the company describes itself on its web site:

“Our mission is what drives us to do everything possible to expand human potential. We do that by creating groundbreaking sport innovations, by making our products more sustainably, by building a creative and diverse global team and by making a positive impact in communities where we live and work.”

(They left out the part about discriminating against female athletes and employees, but you know, you can’t include everything.)

As powerful as that statement may be, it’s not helpful to walk around saying it.

Instead, and if Nike, the company, were to suddenly take human form (looking, I’m guessing, like a cross between The Rock, a cheetah and a large container of fresh mountain air) and show up at a local business networking meeting, a better approach would be something like, “We specialize in making great sneakers.”

Is it an oversimplification? You bet it is.

Does it do justice to all that Nike has accomplished? Not even close.

But that’s not what matters. What matters is how you get and stick inside the head of all the mostly disinterested strangers you interact with every day. Your goal isn’t to impress them, it’s to be remembered.

Here’s the bottom line.

No matter how striking and comprehensive the description you provide of who you are and what you do may be, other people are going to boil it down to just a few words (if they remember it at all).

So why leave it to them to do the boiling? Why not just give them the hyper-condensed, oversimplified version that you want them to hold onto, right from the start?

At least then there’s a chance that when the time comes, they’ll reach for the right pair of glasses.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Did you click that Viagra link? Now you’ll start getting targeted ads. You’re welcome.
  2. How many pairs of glasses do you own?
  3. What’s the handful of words that you want others to remember about you?

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42 thoughts on “2020 Vision

  1. Garry Worger

    As a 15 year veteran of trips to Thailand, I will inform you about the best there is in that delightful country. Food to eat. Places to sleep. Things to do. Trips to take. Ethical dilemmas to ponder. Exotic culture to savour.

    I write great stuff about Thailand.

    Am I close to picking up what you’re writing about?

  2. Dianna Huff

    Two pair of glasses: one for everything and one for the computer.

    Words: We help small, family-owned industrial manufacturers grow through marketing.

    Great piece this week!

  3. Laura Long

    Hi Michael,
    I am very happy I subscribe to your newsletter…almost every one I receive (and read) shows me another idea or “what about that” question I ask myself about my own marketing. I have been off the wagon of writing for a while, but ready to get back on the train and move toward making money with clients. I have paid for and received a lot of knowledge through AWAI and your newsletter program. I am determined I want the writer’s life and know I will get there with perseverance and patience.

    Thanks again,

  4. Michelle Morris, CFP®, EA

    1. No

    2. At least a dozen. I read about a man cleaning out his deceased mother’s small apartment and he found 57 pairs of readers. I never thought I’d be one of those old ladies, but here we are.

    3. I help single women nearing retirement make sense of their money and their taxes.

  5. Stacey Shipman

    1. No!

    2. Right now 2 pair – sunglasses and regular glasses, both prescription, both progressive lenses. Also have contacts. Also planning to buy a new pair this month.

    3. I specialize in helping (insert target audience here) get their message across & build relationships to grow their business. (Will talk to you about the target audience next week!)

  6. Jennifer K. Cummings

    NIKE – in their mission statement…did they mean ‘sustainable’ not sustainably?

    1. No.
    2. 5 pairs of readers…they’re everywhere. I can’t bring myself to have them on a chain around my neck yet…
    3. Good listener. Friendly. Always ready to try something new. Great landscape designer.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I thought the same thing the first time I read it (although given how many man/woman hours and cups of coffee were no doubt burned polishing that, I’d be amazed if there were an error in it!), but I think they mean that they produce things in a way that is eco-friendly.

      I’m right there with you on #2!

  7. Carole A Cudnik

    1. No
    2. One pair of multifocals (unlined trifocals).
    3. I help professional service providers earn trust, build relationships, and grow their business through content marketing.

  8. Soph Anya Lundeberg

    Entertaining (and educational) article, as always! Perhaps the answer to my question is obvious, but would it be a mistake to turn down clients who ask for services that you can perform but are outside of your wheelhouse? I guess the answer would be no, don’t turn down those clients, just as Nike stores don’t turn away customers looking for hats, not sneakers.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I would consider it, depending on how far outside. The further it is from what you are particularly skilled at, the harder it is for you (so the more work required if you bill flat fee, which I recommend) and the worse the result because you’re not so good at it (so your clients are less happy). Of course, your particular circumstances impact how easily you can walk away from work, but the best work, the happiest clients and the most money live in your sweet spot.

  9. Betsy

    1. No
    2. Three: one for distance, one for reading/computer work, one – prescription sunglasses
    3. Capable, competent, comedic

  10. Maggie Schuette

    1. No, but I did check if it was a live link (in the name of research).

    2. Six.

    3. “She sure spoiled her dog.” Oh, did you mean while I’m alive? Still working on that one.

  11. Charlotte Davis

    1. Never!
    2. Too many to count – glasses in every room and every purse, backpack, office, etc.
    3. I help professionals communicate without all the usual BS. If I wanted to boil it down to one word, I guess I could say “I own clarity.” A pretty bold statement though!

  12. Allison Rapp

    1) No
    2) 3 (And BTW, all different, all make me look ab-fab, all live more or less where I use them. Just sayin’ — it IS possible.)
    3) Helps holistic practitioners fill their local practice and create a solid business foundation, even if they currently hate the idea of owning a business.

  13. Judy B

    Enjoy your newsletters and emails every time, Michael. 🙂

    1. Nope.
    2. Both prescription. One for inside or when it’s dark. And a pair of sunglasses. Donate previous frames … just so I don’t get muddled.
    3. I’m a CCC – Conversational Content Copywriter.

  14. Edward Beaman

    1. No. I’m not sure how I’d explain Viagra ads popping up (ahem) on different sites I visit to my loved ones.

    2. Three. I don’t wear them that often. I should.

    3. He’s gorgeous. And he writes great copy for professional service firms.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      1. I go with, “It’s for a friend.”
      3. Sadly, there are so few of us in both those categories.

  15. Gina Longo

    1) Nope.
    2) Maybe 4 — really, really weak reading glasses that I only use if my eyes are exhausted from researching and writing too much. Me, need glasses otherwise? Certainly not.
    3a) For my books/newsletters: I write dog-friendly historical travel stories with a cheeky twist.
    3b) For my coaching/training program: I help managers master managing Millennials. (This is a brand-spanking-new direction for me, and it’s all a work in progress.)

  16. Michael D Hume

    1. No.
    2. I have sprinkled reading glasses all over both of our homes. They still migrate to my wife’s nightstand, where they sit in a cluster. She blames me, of course. It’s in our pre-nup.
    3. “My business is writing persuasive copy to help promote YOUR business.” I say these words every Friday morning to the 100-or-so people in our BNI chapter.

  17. Stephanie Patterson

    1. No–I’m a woman!

    2. One pair of drugstore readers that I use only when absolutely necessary. I wore glasses from the age of seven until twelve years ago, when I had lasik. I was so delighted with the results that I’ll be darned if I ever wear glasses again if I don’t have to.

    3. Thoughtful editing of your non-fiction writing to make it clear and concise while preserving your unique voice–even if you’re not primarily a writer.

  18. Ira Bryck

    1) no 2) progressive transitions w glare and scratch proof (a purchase I freely pay for what I want, I have to look through them all day)

    I get business families communicating, planning, and deciding.

  19. Nicole M Bergstrom

    Michael, I buy Warby Parkers, I need two different pairs of glasses, there’s only style and color that I like on me, and I have too much hair to put a discreet tape on the back of an arm!
    But this post is a great reminder of what you taught us in the “5 Days” at AWAI, still applying, simplifying…revising my profile on linkedin is helping, getting all those wordy words out of the way…
    Thanks for your continued insight, guidance, etc etcetera, hope to see you in your eNewsletter course….soooN be well!


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