A compelling point-of-view. It’s your firm’s central philosophy that can attract clients, and repel others. While the thought of repelling clients doesn’t sound ideal, you can actually drive away business by not having a point-of-view at all. Find out why having a compelling point-of-view so important and how can you go about articulating one for your firm.
About the Episode
A compelling point-of-view. Does your firm have one?
In the one year anniversary episode of Rattle & Pedal, Jason and Jeff talk about the importance of having a compelling point-of-view as a professional services firm. They start the episode by talking about what a point-of-view does and what it looks like. Then they close by sharing how firms can articulate their point-of-view or “mine” for one if they don’t have one and don’t know where to start.
“Prospects and clients pay us for our point-of-view. They want to know how and why we think a certain way about addressing our area of expertise or issues that they’re facing.”
“So to go out without a point-of-view does not give the market what it’s demanding from you. To those people in professional services who says, “I don’t want to alienate anybody. I don’t want to drive away any business,” you are driving away the business by not articulating and sharing a point-of-view.”
This episode is inspired by Rattleback’s article Effective Differentiation Comes Through a Compelling Point-of-View.
Other resources mentioned in this episode:
Jason Mlicki: Jeff I have some exciting news to share today. You want hear it?
Jeff McKay: Always, always.
Jason Mlicki: This is our anniversary episode. Do you realize it?
Jeff McKay: Whoa, well happy anniversary.
Jason Mlicki: Happy anniversary. This episode is scheduled, at least as of recording, to publish 364 days since episode one. Congratulations, you survived a whole year with me.
Jeff McKay: Do I get an award for that?
Jason Mlicki: I don’t know what it would be, Krispy Kreme donut maybe.
Jeff McKay: Maybe we should give the award to our listeners that have stuck with us for 365 days, or 364.
Jason Mlicki: Yes, exactly. Maybe that’s when the warranty runs out on day 366?
Jeff McKay: I got you. So does that mean we’re going to continue this or is this going to be our last episode?
Jason Mlicki: You know? I haven’t talked about it. I don’t know. I think we’re going to continue. Aren’t we? I don’t know.
Jeff McKay: I want to keep continuing.
Jason Mlicki: What’s your point of view on whether or not we should continue?
Jeff McKay: We should continue.
Jason Mlicki: Okay.
Jeff McKay: I think many of our listeners would say that exact same thing because they have the option to turn us off.
Jason Mlicki: Before they do that, let’s talk about what we’re going to talk about today. That was a little bit of a segue. We’re going to talk about point-of-view and the importance of having one, so why a firm needs a compelling point-of-view, what a compelling point-of-view looks like, and then we’ll maybe share some thoughts on how to go about creating one if you feel like your firm is lacking one.
Where do you want to start?
Jeff McKay: We’re talking firm point-of-view, not my personal point-of-view?
Jason Mlicki: God, I hope so because if it’s your personal point-of-view, it’s going to be really painful.
Jeff McKay: Okay, are we getting into politics and religion and.
Jason Mlicki: I think we’re talking about firm point-of-view, yes. I don’t think we want to cross into politics and religion unless… Aren’t those the two things they say never to talk about at dinner? So families listening to this over dinner, then we would just ruin their meal.
Jeff McKay: Yeah. Marketing ruins everything.
Jason Mlicki: Yes.
Jeff McKay: All right, let’s jump in.
Jason Mlicki: Actually, the question I thought you were going to ask, are we talking about firm point-of-view or practice point-of-view? I think that’s a little bit irrelevant in a way. It’s going to sound crazy, but I think it could be either, or because the idea of having a compelling point-of-view tied to a practice or tied to a firm, the mindset on that, the process for that, I would argue is very similar. It just might be a little harder in a diversified firm to develop a compelling point-of-view for the whole firm.
Jeff McKay: That’s a good point. I’ve been in firms where even the personal views within practices differ.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah.
Jeff McKay: The firm puts out conflicting messages about how to address a particular issue. The practice is fighting within itself.
Jason Mlicki: That’s a great point because I actually think that that is one element of a strong point-of-view, is that it should unify the practice, right. Everyone in the practice should agree that this is our point-of-view as it relates to the marketplace, and it’s what we’re going to lead with, in terms of talking about our practice or talking about our firm. To us that’s one of the central elements of a point-of-view, is that it’s the thing you lead with to describe how you see the world. If you’re not in agreement, that would be a major problem.
Jeff McKay: Yes, it would.
Jason Mlicki: When we talk about point-of-view, we talk about… There’s a couple ways we talk about it. One thing we’ll say is that it’s the, “Why should I hire you?” If the client is trying to understand the firm, it’s why they should hire them, or it’s a statement of why you do what you do, or how you see the world for what you do.
It’s the central idea that, I like to say, attracts and repels clients. So it’s the things that draws clients to you that are philosophically aligned with you that will make them want to work with your firm or with your practice. It’s also that idea that repels them, the one that people are going to reject and say, “Oh, I don’t agree with that. I probably would not want to work with that firm.” That’s okay, because that’s where compelling points-of-view exists is in concepts, ideas that will both attract and repel.
Jeff McKay: You’ve just made lots of people uncomfortable by saying that.
Jason Mlicki: Good, that’s my favorite thing to do.
Jeff McKay: Because firms don’t want to alienate anybody because they don’t want to turn away business. What you just described is having a clear point-of-view, is going to turn away business.
Jason Mlicki: Yep.
Jeff McKay: That is the first key point of the purpose of a point-of-view is to turn away business. You highlighted something, I think, is spot-on. One of my favorite things from Seth Godin recently… I don’t know if he discussed this in Tribes or where he said it, but I heard him speak. He said it in his presentation that your marketing message needs to be, “People like us do things like this.” It’s really built out of the philosophical worldview that you said, but also how we see ourselves. We’re not trying to convince people with our point-of-view to see the world from our point-of-view because it will never, or very seldom, happen. Just look at our political world, spend a few minutes on Facebook.
Jason Mlicki: That’s a great, interesting analogy though, but let me pause you for a second. Think about it for a second. We live in a world with two polarized political parties in the States, right.
Jeff McKay: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jason Mlicki: They’re both at philosophical odds with each other a lot. Now, if you actually look at the policies underlying what they actually do, they actually probably agree 80-90% of the time, but it’s that 10% of stuff on the margin that they are philosophically fighting over all the time.
Now, do you ever hear a republican leader or a democratic leader say, “Well, you know, we’re really not appealing to that other 45% of the marketplace. We really got to water-down that point-of-view we have on entitlements. We need to water-down our position on that wall.” Right?
Jeff McKay: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jason Mlicki: They never do that. Do they? Yet, to your point, firms all the time will water-down everything in an attempt to appeal to 100% of the market instead of slicing off 45 or 20% or 30% of the market and really philosophically aligning with those folks. Why is it so easy for it to happen in maybe the biggest game there is, running for leader of the free-world, yet we can’t make it happen in a practice?
Jeff McKay: You said we weren’t going to talk about politics.
Jason Mlicki: You kind of made me though. It’s just right there.
Jeff McKay: I would argue there are big philosophical differences between the political parties, and there’s very distinct worldviews and that there’s not agreement around that 80 or 90%, and that most of the messaging, particularly around election time, is directed at those people that are in the middle, that really don’t have strong convictions one way or the other around a given topic, that they have to make a decision between two extremes. The messages that come to them are more measured and segmented. We talked a little bit about that in Marketing Ruins Everything.
I think there are very clear points-of-view and approaches to governing in that.
Jason Mlicki: I don’t want to make you look bad here, but anyway… I’m teasing. All I was highlighting was how comfortable the leaders of those entities are in alienating and how uncomfortable a practice leader is at times. I think that that’s part of the problem why firms end up with not distinct points-of-view, is that they’re not okay alienating, and I think you have to a little bit.
If you’re going to have a strong point-of-view, you have to recognize that some of the things that you believe philosophically as a firm about how it is you do what you do, it’s just not going to align with certain clients, and that’s okay. You just have to say, “It’s going to be that way, and that’s all right.” I like that as the essence of what a strong point-of-view is, that’s all.
Jeff McKay: Yes, I agree with you on how you restated your wrong premise. So we can build on that.
Jason Mlicki: Okay, so we’ve described what a point-of-view does, right. It attracts clients. It repels clients. We like to say it’s the minority of things you disagree on because maybe the difference between politics and firm marketing would be that your firm, the firm next to yours, the firm next to it, you’re going to be more often philosophically aligned along a lot of things than you are not. But there’s going to be a handful of things where you really see the world differently, and that’s where you find a compelling point-of-view.
Jeff McKay: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jason Mlicki: Are we done?
Jeff McKay: That’s all right. It took me a while to learn this in my career as a marketer in professional services. But contrary to what we just talked about, about not alienating somebody with our point-of-view, is the fact that prospects and clients pay us for our point-of-view. They bring us in to hear our point-of-view. They want to know how and why we think a certain way about addressing our area of expertise or issues that they’re facing. They pay us because we’re experts and we bring a critical perspective. We say, “This is how we think and why we think this way.”
So to go out without a point-of-view does not give the market what it’s demanding from you. To those people in the professional services who says, “I don’t want to alienate anybody. I don’t want to drive away any business,” you are driving away the business by not articulating and sharing a point-of-view.
Jason Mlicki: That’s a great statement. We should underline it and bold it. The damage you’re doing by not having a point-of-view is bigger than the damage you’re doing by having one.
Jeff McKay: Yes.
Jason Mlicki: If you view it as damage, I guess, but of course it’s not. It’s a really compelling point.
Jeff McKay: But that’s just my point-of-view.
Jason Mlicki: When we first started digging into this notion of points-of-view, like a lot of folks out there, we came out of the Simon Sinek TED Talk and he’s got those three concentric circles. He’s got why in the middle and he’s got how after that and what on the outside. At least I think that’s the order he has them. But the way he frames it, which is really good, is just this notion that most… We align this to firm marketing.
A lot of firms will talk about what they do and who they do it for. That’s interesting, but it’s not really all that memorable or unique or even retainable. A great firm talks about why they do what they do. To us, point-of-view lives in that why zone a little bit, that more philosophical zone, the stuff that’s going to get people to remember and really retain and be drawn in.
To your point, that’s why you put energy into creating a point-of-view, is because it’s your way to really attract people into your firm, which we’ve actually spent a lot of energy talking about the risk of repelling. But maybe we should talk about, as you just did really, the importance of attraction and how really compelling it is to bring someone in that’s philosophically aligned. You bring a client in that’s philosophically aligned with your firm and that’s just going to really deepen the client relationship when it evolves.
Jeff McKay: Yes. You used a term that I would not use in describing the work of a point-of-view. You… And this is nuance… You and I operate in the nuance area a lot, I know. But you said why it’s important for a firm to create a point-of-view..
Jason Mlicki: Yeah.
Jeff McKay: In my experience, you never have to create a point-of-view. What you have to do as a marketer and as a business developer or just a firm in general, is to articulate your point-of-view because the point-of-view is already there. It may need some refinement, but it already exists. At least in my experience, that’s true. What the challenge is to strip away everything else that may have been piled on top of it, akin to what we just said, of accommodation type of language in qualifying so as not to alienate anybody.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah, I mean given that this our anniversary episode, I’ll take the moment to say you’re right. I made a mistake. The first time in a year you’ve been right about anything, so I want to give you credit for that.
Jeff McKay: Thank you.
Jason Mlicki: No, you’re absolutely right. We’ve always liked to use the language, which I did not use before, you’re really mining for the point-of-view, at least that’s how we look at it as marketers, is… To your point, you’re trying to strip back the stuff that’s gotten in the way, and figure out really what is a compelling central point-of-view that already exists and how do you frame it and tell it in a way that’s compelling. I used compelling twice. That doesn’t work. In a way that’s understandable, valuable to the audience, those types of things. Yeah, you’re entirely right.
You want to talk about how to do that, the notion of mining, how you mine for a point-of-view?
Jeff McKay: Sure. You want me to share my thoughts on it?
Jason Mlicki: Yeah, you go first.
Jeff McKay: “Hey Jeff, I just served that up for you.”
There’s a fundamental and philosophical question associated with how you go about doing this. We touched on this a little bit in our prep. It’s a chicken or egg thing in my mind. But how you develop a point-of-view really is driven by how you see its purpose, and does a point-of-view reinforce your brand’s positioning, so that the positioning already exists, and you need to substantiate it, or does your point-of-view drive your positioning?
Firms address that differently. Most firms probably think in terms of some kind of positioning, whether that’s horizontal or vertical types of positioning. I would argue that positioning could be purely worldview point-of-view, if you will. In terms of building it out, I think you have to start there.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah, I mean I agree with some of that. The idea… We’ve talked about this before. The idea that you could position a firm entirely around philosophy, I’m not going to say it’s impossible, I would call it rarefied air. Ideal, comes to mind. A firm that’s got its roots in product design and transcended that into a world that where they’re just known for their philosophy on innovation.
My sense is the idea that you don’t have to make a horizontal or vertical decision around positioning, you can exist at the philosophical level with a point-of-view that’s going to be so sharp that it transcends the way they’ve done, is probably unrealistic for most firms. Our experience also tends to be that if you’re going to try to develop a point-of-view really out of thin air, which is what you’d be doing if you didn’t have any horizontal or vertical orientation on positioning, that the likelihood that the point-of-view is going to be compelling is fairly low because ultimately, again, you’re positioning to the world philosophically. That’s pretty hard to do when you think about just the scale of the world and the scale of the economy.
We tend to believe, I guess, that points-of-view are more powerful when you start from a place of positioning and then look at it as a way to separate, rather than the other way around. Now, the interesting point to that is, I would argue, in terms of how it’s consumed by the client, it’s consumed the exact opposite way. So it’s consumed first at the point-of-view level, second at the positioning level. There’s an inverse relationship between how I would recommend thinking about developing or mining for your point-of-view and how it’s consumed.
Jeff McKay: Thank you for explaining that way because you made my thinking on it crystal clear.
Jason Mlicki: Still wrong?
Jeff McKay: No.
Jason Mlicki: Your thinking still wrong?
Jeff McKay: I believe point-of-view comes first, then positioning, particularly for smaller, younger firms because the point-of-view, the worldview, the entrepreneurial drive behind a founder, probably does more to shape the positioning and the culture of the firm more than anything else.
As the firm matures and you have established a positioning, the challenge is deciding which way to go. But I definitely think point-of-view precedes positioning, or there’d be an incongruence if you were to go the other direction, particularly culturally.
Jason Mlicki: I can see that from the entrepreneurial venture, right, that the firm has never existed and hence… A brand new firm tends to have no positioning at all. You’re just trying to get deals won. Yes, you’re starting with nothing, so your philosophy is the most important thing you have, is a different way of looking at the world. I could see that. I guess, I’m going to say, I could agree with what you just said.
For you and I, more frequently, we’re dealing with a firm that’s come out of that entrepreneurial stage, right, and now they’re at some level of scale and now they’re questioning all those decisions, right. They’re thinking about, “Well, wait a minute. We’re doing this type of work for these types of clients. Do I want to keep doing that type of work for those types of clients? Do I want to operate differently? Where do we go from here?”
They’ve left the entrepreneurial stage and now they’re looking at, “Well, wait a minute. Maybe we’re too diverse or we’ve lost the edge on whatever our philosophy was and it’s out of touch,” or whatever. So, interesting. I guess, my comment would be that my sense is that what comes first depends, right. It depends on the firm and where they are in their lifecycle.
Jeff McKay: The thing that’s important to listeners is you and I wrestle through this is you have to understand your starting point. Are you building from a point-of-view? Are you starting from some solidified positioning? Just know where you’re starting from, and that’s going to dictate really… The question you had asked me is, “How do you do this?” The first step is understanding from where you’re starting.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah.
Jeff McKay: I guess, that’s a long way of getting to where we just got to. I think that’s critical.
Jason Mlicki: We wrote an article on this a while back. Actually Jason Sutton, our account director did, as he has done a fair amount of this work with our clients, mining for point-of-view with them. What he did, which I thought was interesting, is he grouped into four themes. He said, “There’s really four themes to a compelling point-of-view.” A lot of times, we’ll use those themes as exercises with clients to help them mine for what they believe.
He grouped those themes into four buckets, the idea that there’s this theme around forecasting. It’s mining for what you think is happening in the marketplace and where the marketplace is heading. There’s a theme around today’s trends, so it’s mining for what’s happening today and what you see as maybe wrong with what’s happening today. There’s a theme around delivery, so how you do what you should do and the way you think clients should do the things that you do for them or the way they’re getting those things wrong. There’s a theme around purpose, which is about why a firm exists, what it cares about, what it believes, its relationship to the broader social landscape, if you will.
Usually, we’ll start from those four themes. This is how we did it. We’ll start from one of those four themes and we’ll build exercises around those themes just to get the practice leaders and partners or whoever engaged in a dialogue and try to pull out of them what their true beliefs are that, to your point, have been lost somewhere, though they’re not exposed publicly through marketing for anyone to consume.
I’m sure there’s more than that, right. I’m sure you could probably come up with tons of themes, but those are just four starting places that we found are good ways to dive into a discussion. It’s really an empty whiteboard really, at the end of the day, right. I mean, you can, to your point, you can believe anything you want to believe.
Jeff McKay: That’s another podcast. I like those four. As I think about those, I would say that those four align with buying levels. Your first one, you’re forecasting the future as would be geared towards a sea-level mindset. If you’re talking sea-levels, that would be the type of point-of-view that you would want.
The delivery… Now, you said the trends. Trends is more mid-level types of people trying to have a longer term perspective on things. Then, the how to is very much, I think, a doer type of mindset. How do I get this done in my day-job? You’re not thinking about your last one, the philosophical dimensions of it. You just got to produce a result. But I like the way you think about those.
Jason Mlicki: I really like what you just laid on top of that because I can honestly say I had never thought about it in that context prior. It’s a really smart way of looking at it because then it ties back to, like you said, who’s the client… As you always say, all goes back to the client, right. Who is the client we’re trying to connect with? That’s both an organization and an individual. You narrowed in on the individual.
Really, the point-of-view is probably first and foremost about attracting the individual inside of the client organization you want more than anything, which is contrary to positioning, where positioning, oftentimes, is more focused on organizations. What types of organizations are we trying to do business with for what services? It’s a really thoughtful answer.
Jeff McKay: Then your fourth one-
Jason Mlicki: We call it the purpose, so why the firm exists.
Jeff McKay: It goes back to our earlier point about the pure philosophical view of the world, the rarefied air that you described. You mentioned Simon Sinek. He’s in that, I would think because he doesn’t have any horizontal or vertical positioning. He built it all around the why.
Jason Mlicki: Yeah.
Jeff McKay: Seth Godin would be another one of those, whether that’s Permission Marketing or just being the id of the marketing mind. Yeah, that’s good. Look at that. That’s why we’re 364 days in. That’s why we’re doing this. What a tag-team.
Jason Mlicki: I hate to say it, but I do think we have to make it a wrap. We have to say goodbye to the anniversary episode and look forward to the first episode of the next era of Rattle and Pedal, which will be next time. My sense is, and we can change our mind on this, but my sense is maybe the next logical place for us to go is to talk about the models and frameworks that wrap around the point-of-view from a brand perspective and how point-of-view fits into the greater effort from the branding, from the brand strategy of a firm or practice.
Jeff McKay: I’d encourage our listeners, if you have the time, go out to Rattleback and look up this post that Jason did on differentiation and a compelling point-of-view because there’s some really good thinking in that, that we didn’t get to, that is worthwhile, particularly about how you can tell if you have an effective point-of-view. I think you’d find it really useful.
Jason Mlicki: All right, well thanks Jeff. Look forward to talking next time.
Jeff McKay: See you buddy.