Every author dreams of creating a bestseller, as does every business. And while 50 Shades of Grey may have worked out well in the fiction category this year, when it comes to business, a grey message will get you on nobody’s reading list.

What’s a grey message? This: “We offer end-to-end talent productivity solutions.” And this: “Training, Marketing, PR, Communications, Strategy, Logistics, and Kite String, all under one roof.” Or this: “Our Business is Your Business.”

In other words – We do something. Or everything. Just ask and we’ll give it a go. Will work for food.

Trading off a clear identity and a specific offering in order to grasp at any potential opportunity for revenue is like waving a flashlight with no batteries around in a fogbank. Not only do your customers not have a clue who you are, you’re not even sure where you’re going or how to get there. 

Throwing a bunch of bullet points against the screen and seeing which ones stick is shades-of-grey marketing. And it comes about from grey thinking – a lack of clarity around what your true value is, and a forgettable message that sheds no light on that value.

Here’s the rub – it is not your customer’s job to figure you out. They have a thousand other responsibilities. If you’re not clearly differentiated from the background noise out there, you’re just adding more shades of grey.

How do you move away from shades-of-grey marketing in order to differentiate from everyone else, and become truly memorable?

  1. Learn to love black and white. You must let go of the fear of clear definition. By leaving the grey fogbank, you are deciding that you will pursue only the right business for you; which means that you’re going to say “No” to everything else. We do this. We don’t do that. Interestingly enough, while this can be a bit frightening at first, it’s also amazingly liberating. Clear focus makes decisions on strategy and message much simpler!
  2. Get some help. No-one knows more about your business than you. And no-one sees it with less clarity than you. Other people can help you see where your true strengths are, and what your professional DNA looks like. Most people and companies can do 5 things, but should be doing only one or two.
  3. Settle on your primary offering. It is human nature to want to put people and companies in boxes. We all have to categorize in order not to become utterly overwhelmed. Whatever it is that you do best, the thing that is heading you in the direction you want to go – make that the focus of your go-to-marketing offering and message.
  4. Create your story. People are hardwired to remember stories, and often, people not only buy a service or product, but they “buy” the story that surrounds it. One way for an individual to do this is to walk backwards through your resume or LinkedIn profile, and bring forward the elements in your past experience and education that have led up to the direction you’re taking. A company can show how its offerings and client base have evolved to make the new direction a natural outgrowth.
  5. Distill your message. Aim for 10 words or fewer. Weave in one vivid image or analogy. Remember: Your potential customers only have a small mental box to put you in. Make it memorable and transferable – if they can explain you in a few words to their colleagues and friends, you may gain a referral. If not…you’re still in the grey.

The land of grey is where commodities dwell. It’s where businesses walk in circles, broadcasting noise into the void with the hope that a clear echo will return. Healthy business development begins by coming out into the sunshine and leaving all those indefinite shades of grey behind.

It’s a fantasy to think that you can be a bestselling entrepreneur without a clear and focused message. Draw bright lines. Paint vivid pictures. Differentiate, and let all your competitors stay in the grey.

So what do you think? How do you get out of the grey (and stay in the black). We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.