While running a business often requires wearing a thousand hats, at its core, the secret to success is surprisingly simple. Yes, every entrepreneur and small business owner needs marketing, and ambition, and support. We all need systems to keep our businesses going and reach our customers. But at the end of the day, fundamentally, success in business begins with one thing—the intersection of meaning and marketability.
As a small business consultant, branding expert, and business coach for entrepreneurs, I’ve seen this proven over and over. You can have a business idea that is deeply meaningful to you, but not what the world wants right now. If that’s the case, you’re facing an uphill climb that may never result in success.
On the other hand, you can have an idea that doesn’t hold any personal meaning for you but is extremely marketable. You may well be successful with this, but the success may be short-lived, or it may feel empty to you.
The secret to fulfilling and lasting success is a business that’s profitable and that means something to you. Leave out one or the other, and you’re missing the mark.
A case study in marketability
When Patricia inquired about my Small Business Branding program, she described what she did as “disposable underwear for women.”
You read that correctly.
I have to admit, my first thought was, “Huh? Isn’t that already being done? By, like, Poise? For incontinence?” But what I saw on her website didn’t look anything like my notion of disposable underwear. There were sexy bikinis and thongs on beautiful young women. Patricia explained to me that she creates stylish, sexy disposable underwear for women to use in a variety of circumstances. They’re perfect for when women are on their period, or are going to the spa, the gym, or camping. You can wear them if you’re going for waxing, or throw them in a suitcase without worrying what happens to them.
That’s when I said, “Oh, so these are for when women don’t want to ruin the good stuff!”
Patricia said “Yes!” She explained that’s where the name Ohhs Underwear comes from--when people get it, they all have the same reaction: “Ohhhhhh!”
As Patricia listed all the circumstances that a woman could need Ohhs underwear, I said, “Geez, women’s lives are complicated! As a man, we don’t have any of these issues.”
We realized the brand message is that women’s lives are complicated and Ohhs Underwear simplifies them--at least in this regard. Patricia’s idea was clearly marketable.
Tapping into the meaning
The marketability was definitely there for this new take on disposable underwear for women, but what about the meaning? As Patricia opened up to me about her life, that became clear as well. You see, Patricia is from Uganda. Her father was murdered, leaving her, her mother, and her siblings homeless.
Despite the difficulties of moving from place to place and seeking temporary security in shelters, Paricia’s mother was determined. Through sheer determination she managed to get herself and her kids to the U.S. One day, when Patricia was complaining to her mother about ruining her good, expensive underwear, her mother said, “Then create something to solve the problem.”
Patricia created Ohhs Underwear to do just that. As she researched, she discovered that many girls in other countries routinely miss school because of that “time of month.” Patricia also realized how close she had come to being one of those girls. Now, a portion of her sales goes to nonprofits supporting menstrual resources for school-aged girls.
That’s the intersection of meaning and marketability.
Dig for your story
Crystal reached out to me at a time when she wasn’t sure which direction she wanted to take her coaching. As a brand message consultant, it’s my job to find the intersections of meaning and marketability for my clients. So I dig for stories.
Crystal told me about her father. She described him as a good man and a wonderful father who also had his challenges in life. For a time he lived with Crystal and her family, and sadly passed away at a young age. One day, Crystal discovered his journal in a drawer. At the top of one page, her father had written the words, “Why am I here?”
The rest of the page was blank.
It broke Crystal’s heart to see that her father didn’t know why he was here. I told her, “There are other people who don’t know why they are here. You need to help them fill up their blank page.”
Crystal’s brand message now is “What’s on your blank page?” She challenges and supports people in understanding why they’re here and filling their blank page with clarity and purpose. For Crystal, this is a perfect and powerful combination of meaning and marketability.
Where do meaning and marketability meet for you?
My challenge to you is to take a look at where meaning and marketability meet in your business.
Are you passionate about your idea, but struggling to get the business you want? Chances are you haven’t connected your meaning to your customers’ needs. You can get that business by tying the idea you care so much about to what people want right now.
Or maybe you have a super marketable idea that people just aren’t getting. It’s possible you haven’t given them a reason to care about your idea. You can help them get it if you connect it to something that has a compelling meaning.
Whatever your idea, look for the intersection of meaning and marketability in your business. It’s the simplest formula for success.
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