You’re Fixing the Wrong Thing

Danger was the last thing on my mind.

After all, it was a quiet, sunny day and I had just pulled out of my office parking lot on my way to lunch with my friend Will.

But as I stopped 50 feet up the road at the traffic light, the few inches of snow that had been happily sitting on the roof of my car since yesterday’s storm came sliding down onto my front windshield.

I couldn’t see a thing and there was clearly too much snow to use the wipers.

Fortunately, the traffic signal – which I knew to be a long light – had just turned red. So I put the car in park, jumped out, and stood there in the middle of the street pushing off the snow.

Problem solved.

But what if all that snow had waited another five minutes for me to get on the highway and then slid down onto the windshield?

Now, at 70 miles per hour (that’s six hectares per fortnight for those of you on the metric system) and no safe way to pull over, I’d have a much bigger problem on my hands … and the need for a much better solution.

Problems and solutions tend to be highly correlated (SAT word!). Big problems; big solutions. Small problems; small solutions.

Which is why when it comes to the marketing “problem” you and I enjoy as professional service providers – having enough of the right clients at the right time – the best approach is not to improve the marketing.

It’s to make the marketing (the solution) less important by improving the offering itself, thereby lessening the size of the problem.

The fire department doesn’t need marketing.

The restaurant with the six-month waiting list doesn’t need marketing.

The high school kid who can throw a baseball 100 miles an hour doesn’t need marketing.

These are all situations in which the business or person in question is so rare, so in demand, and so without peer, that people are lined up in the hope of doing business with them.

I know. I’m a marketing person. I’m supposed to suggest that you can wordsmith and special offer your way out of anything. And within a certain range, you can.

But, as my friend Tom likes to say, you can’t shine a sneaker. Improving what you sell is better than improving how you talk about what you sell.

(That last sentence was so important that I am going to wait here while you read it again.)

And yet, as professional service providers, when things aren’t happening the way we might like, the reflexive move is to “fix the marketing.”

For my money, that’s not the first place to look.

Instead, see if you can reduce the size of “the problem” by improving your offering. That’s better because…

All the people with whom you compete have access to the very same shiny words, quality logo designs, and cutting-edge website wonderfulness as do you.

Trying to differentiate based on those kinds of things is a never-ending arms race.

Differences – real differences – are much harder to copy.

When your offering is good, people talk about it. They tell their friends and colleagues.

The thing itself becomes the marketing – popularity breeds popularity (just ask Taylor Swift).

None of this is true about “pure marketing” activities. Not to say they are not helpful, but they don’t come packaged with this same (very powerful) self-replicating benefit.

When you improve your marketing, it can help your business. No doubt about it.

But while you may benefit, it does nothing to help those who hire you. They are still buying the same whatever it is you sell as they did before you made the marketing improvement.

When you improve your offering, not only do you sell more things more easily, but the people who purchase them get more value than they would otherwise.

The better your offering, the less effective your marketing needs to be.

And while few of us will ever get to the point where we can just do the work and pick from among the offers coming to our respective doors, to me, that’s the thing to strive for.

Either that, or you better get really good at shining sneakers.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven?
  2. Have you ever fed on yourself? Give examples.
  3. Ask and answer your own question here. (“Oh great, now he can’t even think of three questions.”)

Share your answers below…

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10 thoughts on “You’re Fixing the Wrong Thing

    1. Jessica

      Since the Autobahn is in Germany, It was probably 180 km Dave; unless you were driving an American car with odometer in miles… Still, even 180 km is scary fast. If it really was 180 mph that would have been 288 km/h which I doubt… That is race car speed.

  1. Dana Olson

    1. The fastest I’ve ever driven is probably 90-something mph.
    2. The only time I’ve ever “fed” on myself was when I had a terrible nail-biting habit.
    3. Two part question: a) What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done? Raise three kids. b) What is your proudest accomplishment? Same answer (though may need to be worded differently).

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Three kids on my end as well, Dana! We have lost track of how old they are at this point, but they are out of the house so we think they are fully grown.

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  3. Thomas Diseth

    Michael, I do not know if the picture of the car in this post is of your car? If you entered the streets of Norway with a car with that load of snow (on the roof and in front of the windshiled), you would most likely loose your drivers licence for three months if cought by the police. The reason: exactly as described: if this happened at the highway at xMPH you may have killed yourself or people in other cars. Next time: brush of the roof and the windshileld before you go driving. I do not know about you, but here north, we always have a sufficent brush in the car to do just that.
    You know Michael, there are tons of us that enjoy your posts. We do not want to loose you.
    So, next time, DO AS I HAVE TOLD YOU!!! 🙂
    Warm regards fro a snoww filled Norway,

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Thomas! Thank you for your concern – much appreciated.

      Believe it or not, that is an AI-generated image, something I have been using more and more. Often they create nonsensical elements but the tool is getting much better and it’s always fun to see what it comes up with (Chatgpt is what I use mostly).

      The real story is that I had just a couple of inches on the roof of the car. Even so, I totally forgot to brush the top off because for the past 15 years or so I’ve always parked my car in a garage. But on this day, I had to leave it in the driveway over night and it just never occurred to me, despite my 40 years in a snowy climate. Lesson learned for sure!

      Thank you for reading and writing.


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