I joined a technology company because I wanted to work with technology. One way or another, I ended up in the marketing department, which although might seem like I made a wrong turn on the corporate ladder, turned out to be a good thing as far as my writing and creative career is concerned. Prior to technology, I wanted to be a writer, but after years of training myself to think like an engineer, or at least a system administrator, the creative muscles in my head had atrophied and were no more useful than thinking up some memes or witty replies on Twitter. Marketing was like a Navy Seal bootcamp for those muscles. From the first day I had to write clearly and creatively. I remember my first assignment - introduce myself via email to the rest of the team. It was embarrassing. It was the authorial equivalent to stage fright. I didn't know what to say or how to say it. So I wrote something as dry and as bland as sand paper in the Sahara.
I'm happy to report that things got better. My writing started to come back to me, although I think I'll never be as good a write as I was in my 20s, maybe not in terms of content and perspective, but stylistically and poeticism. I learned a lot of lessons that year in marketing. And probably the most important lesson I learned was about the importance of differentiation. If the ABCs of selling are Always Be Closing, the ABDs of marketing are Always Be Differentiating. At the end of the day, whether your product is better or worse then your competitor is going to be almost a random toss up in the consumer's minds. But what you can do clearly is explain why you're different than the rest of the field.
To give you an example, my mentor, Tom Bressie, possible one of the best natural marketers I'll ever meet in my life, once drove me to lunch. He was driving a fancy Infiniti, although I don't remember which model. He told me that, in so many words, that Infiniti had missed the boat when marketing for that car in Texas, a state sweltering in it's own humidity more months out of the year than not. He explained that his model of Infiniti was the only car that had two independent air conditioning units under the hood, which meant that driver and passenger can have two completely different settings and, if you were so inclined, you could make the car cold enough, quick enough, to hang meat in there for a week. This wasn't saying the car was better than a Mercedes, it was a clear point of differentiation that was indisputable. Enough to make the average consumer take notice and began to create a case in their own heads for why they having two conditioners might be the make or break factor when deciding which new car they were going to buy.
Anyways, I told you that story so I could tell you another one.
Sometimes, actually, most of the time, success in life comes down to how well you can market yourself. This form of marketing also abides by the ABDs of marketing. How can you illustrate why you're different from the next candidate and then plant the seeds in the consumer's mind why they might lead to a benefit for them or their organization?
There are a number of ways to distinguish yourself from a group of applicants or other creative professionals, but probably the only way that will routinely win you new business or open the door to accolades, is the differentiation that comes from old fashioned perspiration.
Perspiration is the best differentiation!
Calvin Coolidge once said, "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent." Probably no truer words were spoken. Men will not, for the most part succeed on talent along, if that talent does not power the work required to become better and to create a body of work that demonstrates that talent. Maybe one can say that the body of work, the portfolio of a creative individual, is the embodiment of their talent, the physical manifestation of their creativity, their work ethic and their leadership. Sure, somebody can tell you they're talented and they've got great ideas and they can work autonomously and lead a team to meet the objectives of a project on time and under budget, but those are just words and promises, things that ultimately mean nothing to the bottom line. The portfolio, the body of work that one can show is the proof of those words. There is a chasm of difference between the two.
And how does one gain a body of work? By working. There is no other way. They sit down, take time out of their life and work on what ever their vocation is. In the case of a writer, they write. They put miles on their keyboard. They churn hundreds and thousands of words, trying new styles and combinations. Working from different perspectives. Diving back in forth between familiar and unfamiliar territories. And at the end of the day, what did they create, besides that substantial volume of work? Perspiration.
***On a side note, writing this post reminded me of a story when I went to buy a GM car and the young sales man walked me through a clear case of solution selling. Step-by-step he asked me all of the write questions, but it didn't work, in fact it quite turned me off to the experience. They missed that some percentage, usually the majority, is more emotional than practical, at least with most people.