Broadly Relevant But Highly Differentiated

Last night over drinks Jeff Hardison, drummer and Director of Biz Dev at McClenahan Bruer shared several interesting insights with me about Portland, about how to improve AdPulp and the need to clearly differentiate your firm’s offering to prospects. It’s this last bit that really grabbed me, given that I now run a creative services startup.

Hardison said he learned some important things about biz dev from Blair Enns, a B.C.-based biz dev consultant. Namely, that your firm needs to be “broadly relevant but highly differentiated.” I protested and said I’m a general practitioner. Hardison said don’t be.

This morning I see that Blair Enns will be publishing his manifesto next month and that the first chapter is available now for free on his site. Here’s an excerpt:

The world does not need another generalist design firm. There are enough full service advertising agencies and marketing communication firms. The world is drowning in undifferentiated creative businesses. What the world needs, what the better clients are willing to pay for, and what our best people want to develop and deliver, is deep expertise. Expertise is the only valid basis for differentiating our firm from the competition. Not our personality. Not our process. Not our pricing. It is expertise and expertise alone that will set us apart in a meaningful way and allow us to operate from a position of power.

We must recognize that as individuals we are inclined against the narrow focus that drives deep expertise, but we must also recognize that our business must have this focus if it is to succeed and to prosper. We must see our protestations, rationalizations and justifications for not facing The Difficult Business Decision for what they are: excuses.

Of course, I know what my specialty is. It’s content development. I’ve been working that angle hard for many years–five and half years (and counting) in this very space. Add to that my experience gained at BFG Communications, where I made the move from Senior Writer to Content Director, built a team and brought multimedia storytelling to life in a big way for one very big packaged goods brand, and there’s no doubt what my specialty is. So, I need to embrace my specialty more than I already have. When someone asks what I do, the answer needs to be clear and concise–I help marketers get into the media business.

I’m grateful to Enns and Hardison for helping to bring me around.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.