Much to the surprise of nobody who’s ever heard me try and pronounce the word “drawer,” I grew up on Long Island.
It was a nice place to be a kid, and while I confess I don’t have a clear recollection of the details, I have good reason to believe I had a happy childhood. Spring, in particular, brought with it many things worth smiling about – bike riding, tree climbing, and stickball in the street, to name just a few.
None of these things, however, compared in wonderfulness to the biggest springtime thrill of all: The annual return of the Ice Cream Man.
It never occurred to us to wonder where he went during the winter (thinking back now about the man himself, I’m guessing either prison or Congress), but it didn’t matter. All we knew was that come mid-May, daily afternoon ice cream was back on the menu.
Back then, the Ice Cream Man sold nothing but ice cream. His truck was a big freezer on wheels.
Fast forward to the current century, and you’ll be happy to learn that my neighborhood also has an ice cream man. With a few important differences:
First, he’s not always a man.
Second, he traded the jingly bells for a blaring, circus version of the theme from The Sting (for his peace of mind, I can only hope Scott Joplin is still dead).
And finally, he sells much more than just ice cream. There’s gum. And candy. And soda. And Slim Jims. It’s like a mobile 7-Eleven, minus the disgusting bathroom (I’m hoping).
And yet – this is the point – we still refer to him (and sometimes her) as “The Ice Cream Man.” Is it an entirely accurate moniker? No.
What it is, however, is an oversimplified, easy to say, effortless to remember, if you had to pick one thing, description of reality.
Now let’s talk about you. Are you The Ice Cream Man or are you a 7-Eleven?
Are you the Ice Cream Man?
In other words, when somebody asks you about your business, do you launch into a rambling “blah, blah, blah” that differs from day-to-day covering the entire scope of what you have done and can do?
Or do you provide a deliberate, oversimplified few words that sacrifice accuracy for unforgettableness? I hope it’s the latter. It’s also worth noting:
1. A broad scope is hard to remember
The contents of a 7-Eleven are so unremarkable (and so random) that the store decided its most distinguishing feature – consequently, the one which it should be named – is its hours of operation.
The Ice Cream Man, on the other hand, owns “ice cream” in the mind of every 10-year-old on the block. Kids (and some adults) chase him down the street.
2. A narrow description doesn’t preclude you from selling other things
The modern ice cream man sells all kinds of other products. But we still call him The Ice Cream Man.
Similarly, just because you narrowly describe your focus, it doesn’t mean you can’t sell other things. I tell people, “I specialize in email newsletters,” even though what I do is much broader.
Nobody but you is paying attention to you
We’re all busy, and we’re all preoccupied with our stuff. With a few notable exceptions (Hi, mom!), when it comes to being remembered (which leads to sales), you have two options: simple or nothing.
Here’s the bottom line. I know you’ve done a lot in your professional life. I know you’re capable of that and much more. But if your description of your work doesn’t fit easily on the side of a truck, the odds of my understanding it – much less remembering it – are exceedingly low.
Remember, if the way you describe the work you do doesn’t feel like a painful oversimplification, you’re not doing it right.
Michael Katz is Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping professional service providers talk about their work in a way that is clear and compelling. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here.
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