I was on a client call recently, a team of folks from the financial services industry (whom I’ve been spending more and more time with lately), and we were talking over a concept that mattered to them and that they wanted to communicate.

“Can’t you do some clever marketing thing to, you know, message this?”, one advisor said.  

Hold up.

I had to remind her (gently, gently) that what we weren’t doing, ever, was trying to be clever. That marketing wasn’t, isn’t, a magic trick, and if you play it that way, you end up with gimmick, not substance.

And that the whole point of doing any messaging work is actually trying to find the heart of the message, the true, real, substantial thing—and that to find it, you had to dress everything down, not dress it all up.

But her misconception is common. Really, really common. We think that branding, marketing, messaging, whatever you want to call it, is about finding a fabulous hat to put on top.

In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s finding the very soul of the brand, the meaning of the work you do, underneath all the layers upon layers of stuff that you think you need (but usually don’t).

Marketing is either real, or it’s worthless.

As Seth Godin says in his latest book, This Is Marketing (and I recommend it strongly, especially if you THINK you hate marketing or are bad at it):

“Marketing is the generous act of helping others become who they seek to become. It involves creating honest stories—stories that resonate and spread. Marketers offer solutions, opportunities for humans to solve their problems and move forward.”

I talked about this, and my own process for capturing a powerful message, recently with my friend and colleague Julia Bruck, creator of the free How to Create Your Million Dollar Message summit—a collection of conversations with top industry leaders covering everything about business media.

In our conversation for the summit (which you can get here), I walk you through my steps for how to come at your brand messaging, which is what people tell me they struggle the most with—how to “wrap their brains” around it, how to get perspective, since they’re often just so close to it they can’t see it at all.

I told her, and I stand by this, that being good at what you do is table stakes. There’s nothing more important, above and beyond being able to execute on your trade, than being able to compel someone as to why they should care.

Without it, you just sit there and hope that someone comes knocking with their wallet out. And, yeah, that doesn’t work (trust me I’ve tried).

And the opposite holds true: There’s no point in having a great message if you can’t actually get behind it. Otherwise, you just get real good at lying (and you won’t be good at it for long).

Julia didn’t just interview me, of course—she interviewed a host of other experts and pros on messaging, including the Million Dollar Machine” coach Michael Burt, top internet marketer Heather Havenwood, Marketing Mentor founder Ilise Benun, Paleof(x) founder Michelle Norris, and Mr. Personal Power Mastery Douglas Vermeeren. You can catch ’em all here.

Make this the year you land your million dollar message. There are few things as critical. And of course, let me know if you need help!

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