Knowing who you are drives everything: An interview with Ian Smith

Knowing who you are drives everything: An interview with Ian SmithIan Smith believes that your business is either remarkable or invisible. He founded the Portfolio Partnership to help owners assess which of these categories their business falls into, and help them become – and stay – remarkable. The practice operates within the niche of scaling businesses.

Ian is also the author of the popular Smith Report blog, which provides advice to small businesses who want to scale, not just grow. The number of subscribers to his blog is growing at a steady rate, and his email notifications of new posts maintain a consistent open rate of around 15%.

Recently, I had a chance to meet with Ian to discuss his thoughts on content marketing, how it has impacted his business, and how he thinks it will evolve in the coming months and years.

The importance of good storytelling

“We’re drawn to the idea that communication is easy, because we have so many channels,” he said. “But we’re actually not very good communicators. Channels are just tools, after all. We need to learn how to tell better stories if we want our communications to make any kind of impact.

“Good storytelling can and should drive all your marketing and sales efforts,” he continued. “It’s is a skill that’s relevant across all companies and industries.”

When he works with clients, one of Ian’s main priorities is to help them sharpen their storytelling and communication skills, and he shared some of his tips with us:

  • Pick an area to focus on, and set out to gain traction in that area.
  • Say less, not more. Paradoxically, it can be more difficult to write a shorter piece. But the more concise you can be, the better.
  • Don’t get too hung up on making it perfect. Imperfections can actually make your communications feel more genuine, and therefore more compelling.
  • Start with the drama. There’s rarely a need for a lot of backstory. Drop your reader right into the middle of the “action”. (In other words, get to the point right away).

The “Holy Grail”: Knowing who you are

“Knowing who you are as an organization drives everything,” Ian said. “It’s the Holy Grail of positioning, and helps you stay focused and precise in all your communications and interactions. It affects everything from sales and marketing, to recruitment, to finance, to measurement. That said, aligning your entire company with your story can be extremely challenging.”

So how do you determine who you are as a brand or company? Ian suggests starting by asking questions like:

  •   What exactly does my company do? (Less is more).
  •   What makes me credible at this activity?
  •   What is the unique story I want to tell?
  •   How do I improve the lives of my customers?
  •   How can I articulate this in all my communications?

Next, find the intersection between who you are – your story – and what people want.

Finally, focus your communications on results and outcomes for the customer, rather than features of your product or service. Whatever you choose to write about, make sure it’s relevant, and always bring it back to your story. For example, Portfolio Partnership’s story is that they help small businesses scale, not just grow. So Ian makes sure that he brings every communication back to that story. This keeps things consistent for readers, and continuously reinforces the Portfolio Partnership brand.

Social media as amplifier

It’s important to have a well-developed brand story before you execute a social media strategy.

“Social media amplifies or exaggerates how well – or how poorly –  you know yourself and/or your business,” Ian said.

So be sure you know yourself and what you really want to communicate before you get going.

Ian suggests keeping it simple by sticking to just a few social media channels. Pick the ones that are easiest for you to manage and resonate with you the most, and keep your efforts focused there.

Blogging is the new brochure

Your blog is a body of work – a digital footprint that Ian calls an “ongoing credibility statement.” This can eliminate the need for more traditional marketing materials like brochures.

He recommends posting 1 – 3 times a week to build up your body of work (tip: keep a backlog of posts for those days when you feel like you’re out of ideas). He also suggests commenting on other blogs and guest blogging where you can (Ian occasionally blogs for and Equifax).

When it comes to sales, content marketing is crucial, but it’s not the only thing

“There’s a school of thought out there that you can rely on inbound marketing alone for sales leads,” Ian said. “But this is simply not true. There is absolutely a lead nurturing element to content marketing, but be sure not to neglect your prospecting, cold calling, and other lead generation activities.

“Think of it this way,” he continued. “Marketing tells your story, but these days sales teams need to allow their prospects to tell their story. That connection is what underlines successful content strategies in today’s networked world.”

To learn more about Ian Smith, check out his blog, The Smith Report, or visit the Portfolio Partnership website. 

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