Stuck in the Middle

Stuck in the Middle 150 150 Ben Coker

Stuck in the Middle

Last week I was in a workshop with Peter Thomson and Roger Bradburn discussing two things.

The first was the difference between the offering and the offer and the second was about differentiation.

Let me translate the biz-speak here.

‘Differentiation’ is as you might expect, how you make your business, or yourself, ‘different’ from all the others around it or you.

People get confused with ‘offerings’ and ‘offers’.

The offering (noun) is the product or service that you or your business offers (verb) for purchase, and the offer (noun) is the combination of price, terms and conditions, delivery and so on that are applied to your offering when you take it to market.

You can have different offer versions of the same offering for example.

In Chapter 7 of his groundbreaking book ‘Think and Grow Rich’, Napoleon Hill talks at length about the ‘selling and marketing of services’.

Now you and I might think that this has something to do with marketing ‘services’ as an offering in a business sense – ‘My business provides services’ – but Hill, being a good 50 or more years ahead of his time in 1937 was talking about something else.

What he meant by marketing and selling services was not in a business sense as we might understand it but about marketing ‘personal services’ or in other words marketing one’s self for the purpose of gaining employment.

Remember this was written just after the Great Depression in the USA and having employment, having a job, was at the forefront of people’s minds.

The thing is that differentiation and the offering and offer are not just about ‘business’.

The principles involved are applicable to you and I, as individuals as well.

WE are our own ‘offering’ and we have to define what that is in any context of our lives, indeed in all contexts.

For those in the ‘employment market’ Hill’s words are entirely relevant but need to be added to by considering their ‘differentiation’. How is one person, how are you or I, ‘different’ from all the other candidates for whatever post we are aiming for.

And that doesn’t have to be a job, it could be applied to any form of business or personal relationship.

What is our personal ‘offering’ and how is it different from everyone else?

Which brings us to the ‘offer’.

What are the ‘terms of engagement’ that we ‘offer’ to those with whom we wish to connect, those we would like to work with or be with?

Our ‘offering’ is us, you and I, but our offer relates to how we wish to engage with another person or business entity.

Which brings me to what Roger Bradburn was talking about – differentiation.

How we can be ‘different’ and why, if we’re not careful we can get ‘stuck in the middle’.

You see ‘differentiation’ is actually in the eye of the beholder.

You and I might believe we have a brilliant offering which is different from everything or anything else that might be available, but if the people we wish to engage with in any way don’t see it like that then we have a problem.

Many people and businesses forget how and why people engage with them or purchase their offerings.

Most people make choices when they purchase, and that can sometimes be between completely different offerings in entirely different sectors, or similar things in the same sector.

Business spend a lot of time agonizing over the ‘competition’ not realizing that the potential purchaser may be choosing between buying a new car and going on a world cruise.

The ‘competition’ is not always who we think it is! And that applies in every domain of life.

Now here’s the’ big mistake’.

Most offerings in any field tend to sit in the middle of the spectrum or scale they inhabit, good ‘middle of the road’, products and services or as individuals ‘normal’ and not too ‘wide of the mark’ in either direction. Neither here nor there.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not ‘different’.

You and your offering don’t stand out from the crowd, maybe you’re not ‘attractive’ or ‘intriguing’ enough.

And then there’s your ‘offer’.

What ‘investment’ does the business or person you wish to ‘engage’ with have to make – in terms of money, time, emotion, whatever.

It could be ‘low’ or it could be ‘high’ or it could be ‘somewhere in the middle’.

It’s an interesting fact that the more someone needs to invest in a particular ‘engagement’ the more likely they are to persist with it – whatever it is – with just one caveat.

The offering must sustain its differentiation against other options – it must continue to be what the ‘purchaser’ was looking for in the first place – or something better.

The converse is that those who invest very little are more likely to try something else ‘next time’ – whenever that may be.

You end up ‘stuck in the middle with a bland offering and a run of the mill offer. Nothing special.

The more ‘different’ your offering is, whether that’s you yourself or the products or services you provide then the more likely it is that people will engage with you on a long-term basis.

Tom Watson of IBM said that the more courageous, outrageous and even ‘crackpot’ you are with your ideas or offering, the more likely it is that you’ll attract the attention of the people with whom you wish to engage. (A bit of paraphrasing there to get the meaning across)

Think about you, your offering of you, and the offer you’re making to those (business or personal) you wish to engage with (or remain engaged with).

Be different, be special and attract those who you would like to engage with you.

Don’t be ‘better safe than sorry’ and end up stuck in the middle!