There are three questions I find very valuable for getting to the core of the values held by a business. There’s an endless diversity of responses that come from these simple requests, and the data gleaned by listening to responses is highly valuable to crafting a better brand identity.
The three questions are:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Why should I care?
The way someone answers the question “Who are you?” tells you an enormous amount of information about them, and not in the way they think it does. It can reveal their entire universe if you know how to listen. It’s not so much about what they’re saying as it is about how they make decisions about how to define themselves.
Whenever I ask someone this question, I’m looking for what they consider important, and what distinguishes them from other people. I’m trying to pinpoint the script they carry around with them that makes up their self-referential sense of identity in the context of their business. We are all composed of millions of bits of information in the form of memories, abilities, preferences, and tendencies that affect how we show up in the world. In that moment, when I ask a person to define themselves, they will self-select only the most important elements as they perceive them.
Your identity is nothing more than a series of thoughts you carry around in your head, some more important than others, many which we’re forgetting all the time, new ones we’re adding in, and ones we keep bringing back to life over and over again. When you ask someone who they are, they’re essentially just regurgitating the thoughts they consider important to the story that’s currently composing their conception of self. And that’s what I’m doing when I interrogate them in this manner: I’m picking apart what they consider important about themselves.
Out of all the infinite possible ways that they could put words together to answer that question, they might tell me about an important part of their childhood which still affects their thoughts and actions in the present. If somebody knows how to dance salsa, but they don’t immediately mention it, it’s probably because they don’t consider it an important part of what distinguishes them from everyone else. If it’s the first thing out of their mouths, it’s important to how they see themselves as an individual.
If you really listen when people talk about themselves, you’ll see they tend to talk in terms of subjective pain and pleasure – although they’ll very rarely actually phrase it that way. They’ll speak of past events which defined them in some way such as “Well I grew up in this city…” That’s history. Then they’ll talk about active principles, active patterns of change currently relevant in their life.
When they’re describing what they do, they’re talking about the vehicle through which value is delivered. What does this exchange look like? How does your vehicle combust gasoline to create forward momentum? Talk about the alchemy that goes into your ability to turn base metals into gold for the people who hire you. The next step is to take that ordinary factual information and spin it into a compelling narrative that actually gets people to listen.
Narrative is the answer to the eternal question, “Why should I care?” Most people have never had to seriously answer that question in a way that matters. It’s considered rude to question why someone should care about something else someone has shared. We are trained to automatically respect and give attention to other people when they talk. This is lethal thinking in the world of sales.
No one ever owes you an ounce of attention, least of all a stranger you are trying to convince to do something potentially injurious to themselves by giving you their time and money. The entitlement mentality we adopt in youth must be done away with if we are the succeed as entrepreneurial adults who earn the attention and respect of others with our identities.
“Why should I care?” is such a powerful question because it’s not one that people are used to hearing, and they don’t have a prepared response to it. That’s when they actually start to think about things, and they don’t just regurgitate the same old information on autopilot. It’s a bit rude, and that’s what catches them off guard. You may get several “Did you really just ask me that?” looks if you try this.
At first, most entrepreneurs will give terrible answers to this question because they are flustered and stumbling for an appropriate response that doesn’t make them sound weak. People’s first instinct is to defend their own ego and their appearance to the world. The unwillingness to look bad for even a moment is a major detriment to improvement. If they had a good answer to this question, odds are they wouldn’t need help in the first place. Why should your prospects take the action you want them to take?
If you are honest enough with yourself to get to the heart of what motivates your actions, you will also find it becomes a lot easier to sort out, among all the infinite business ideas you can pursue, which ones to follow. Genuine passion is what pushes entrepreneurs through periods of difficulty and uncertainty in the growth of their business. It is also what will make success the most emotionally rewarding beyond just the accumulation of capital. Knowing that you are making a very specific type of difference in the world is the most powerful incentive that exists for some people.
The answers you arrive at here are what will form the foundation of your brand identity and messaging strategy. When you understand yourself, you can hone your presentation in a way which generates action from others. You will appeal more strongly to others who share your ideals and reasons for doing what you do, regardless of the actual products and services you produce.