Stop spilling your Cheerios all over the floor!

Yeah, I know, the headline is an interesting one. How did that come to be?

I was on the phone consulting with a friend of mine who’s leading a tech startup. It’s pre-funding so very agile and chaotic as they try to zero in on the offering. As with most enterprises, the sky seems to be the limit with the potential making it extremely difficult to identify exactly what the company offers. How do you offer a few things when you can really do so many others? Isn’t that leaving money on the table?

While we were going back and forth debating the merits of each potential revenue stream and service line, my daughter – who’s 15 months old – started shaking her snack container around spastically causing her Cheerios to fly all over the place. I was in mid sentence with my friend when I suddenly exclaimed, “Hey, stop spilling your Cheerios all of the floor!”

I immediately started to pick them up thinking the friend would fill in the blanks with more thoughts and considerations. Instead, what I heard was “You’re absolutely right,” stated plainly in a serious, introspective voice. I asked him what he thought I was correct about. He replied that I was right in my metaphor about needing to focus.

It took me a bit of time to grasp what he was referencing. Longer than I care to admit. However, I ended up laughing really hard. I explained I had been speaking to my daughter and he joined in the laughter. When we calmed down, we did so with a pause. “Hold up though. It really worked as a metaphor and it really sunk in,” he said to me. I agreed.

Too often, leaders dive at the potential for what they can offer. While it happens in every industry, it seems to be easier to tout a new service than it is to launch a new product. With services, there really is unlimited potential as you create partnerships and connections. However, this is a caustic misstep more often than it is a good move.

That’s not to say line extensions don’t work and can’t help increase revenue. It is to say that doing too much, too soon in a brand’s life creates a struggle that many can’t overcome.

Early success requires focus, both internally and externally. That focus must be applied to a suite of features, processes, people and talent, and innovation. From there it must be communicated with focus. Both parts of this are critical, but I’ll focus on the communication part.

When a system has been built well, there are many applications. In the advertising and creative agency world, that looks like the application of services to any and all industries, or offering every creative service under the sun. It makes sense, design thinking is fungible and can be applied to any industry, and creative is rooted in holistic theories making it transferable to other discplines. However, we don’t live in a world with limited competition and we don’t live in a world where creative services are in short supply.

That means that clients aren’t buying based on a utilitarian motivation like “needing a logo” or “wanting a website.” Clients and customers today buy based on needs mixed with other benefits. Those benefits could be skill set applied to a specific type of design like branding, digital, or interiors. It could also be a focus on industry where the nuances, competition, and trends are already well known by a consultant or team making the world more powerful.

In this world, niched agencies and individuals offer something in high demand: expertise. However, that expertise is watered down with every “and” added to an explanation of offering. Touting expertise in restaurants, pharmaceutical, and manufacturing isn’t perceived as 100% expertise in each. Instead, it’s perceived as a percentage of 100% divvied up among the three. Furthermore, explaining benefits, applications, and offerings becomes less “sticky” with each “and” added. Diluting the perceived power of what you offer.

Each offering, industry, and application is a Cheerio, metaphorically speaking. As you add to the list, you start to spill your Cheerios all over the floor. What you’re left with is a confused potential client or job candidate, and a bit of mess to clean up.

So, stop spilling your Cheerios all over the floor, and start focusing on what you do best for the industry for which you’ve developed expertise. It’s more effective and most certainly cleaner.

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