Clarity Win$ with Steve Woodruff

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TSP 203 | Clarity Win$

Episode Summary:

We are at the age of information that it becomes too chaotic to ever come out of it and offer something that stands out. Helping you to cut through the noise is the King of Clarity, Steve Woodruff. He lays down the three ways that can break through in a world where everyone is listening to so much information, allowing you to log into their brain and memory; he breaks down having a story, a symbol, and a snippet of information. Proving how, as his book is called, Clarity Win$, Steve shows the importance of arriving a clear identity, focus, and message in order to be heard, remembered, and referred.

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Clarity Win$ with Steve Woodruff

TSP 203 | Clarity Win$

Clarity Win$: Get Heard. Get Referred.

Our guest is Steve Woodruff. He’s known as the King of Clarity. In a world full of noise and distraction, he helps businesses craft a message so clear that they can be heard, remembered, and referred. With over 30 years of business experience, he has consulted with companies ranging from solo startups to the top five pharma and he’s got a book called Clarity Win$. Steve, welcome to the show.

Thanks so much for having me, John.

Take us back as far as when you started to realize that communication and clarity was something that was not happening and that you wanted to own this niche.

Several years ago, I’ve had an interest in marketing and branding for a long time. Working with a couple of small companies, I got to wear a sales hats, some marketing hats, and branding hats. Many years ago, I started my own business which was a matchmaking referral business in the pharma training industry. What I was doing was helping my pharma commercial training clients find the best and the optimal outsource training vendors out of a selection of dozens and dozens of agencies, companies, providers, and consultants. A lot of these providers did not have a good brand message at all. They were throwing the bullet points against the wall and seeing what sticks. The biggest complaint that I would hear is they all sound the same. I don’t know which one does what. That’s why I started my matchmaking company was to help deal with that problem.

I started sitting down with these companies and spending some hours, sometimes a half day, sometimes a full day. I found that within that relatively short time, I could help them arrive at a very clear identity and a clear focus and a clear message. Sometimes these are companies that had been in business for decades and never had a clear identity. I could fix that in a few hours because I was an outside voice looking in. That began my fascination with achieving clarity. At first, I called what I was doing brand therapy, but I realized I’d be competing with every ad agency on the planet if I emphasize the word brand. What I was helping people do, not only companies but also individuals, was to get clarity, get a clear understanding. That’s why I embraced the word clarity and decided that I’m going to own that term.

You and I were having a chat about how some people resist being pigeonholed. I always like to say that the riches are in the niches and it seems like you agree with that.

Clarity is snippets, symbols and stories. Click To Tweet

I quote that in the book. One of the things that I put forward and is probably my most provocative thought in the book is that you’ve got to learn to love your pigeonhole. Most businesses and people have this instinctive default resistance. We don’t want to miss any opportunities. We don’t want anybody to pigeonhole. The problem is that we will be pigeonholed. People only have a limited memory slot for any given amount of information. No matter who you are, every listener, every customer, everyone’s going to pigeonhole you. Your choice isn’t whether you’re going to be pigeonholed but whether you’re going to define the pigeonhole and whether you’re going to be in the right place. A lot of what I cover in the book is how do you design the words around your identity, your focus and your message so that you can occupy the correct memory space in people’s minds, the pigeonhole, with especially this wonderful benefit to it. That means they can accurately refer you because they know what you do and who you do it for. If they’re confused about what you do, they can’t refer you.

The confused mind always says no and people won’t even tell you they’re confused. They will go, “Uh-huh,” and all the excuses come up. For me, I’m the Pitch Whisperer and I’ve used that enough and even trademarked it. If you google that, my name, website and book come up without you having to remember my name or the name of my book. This niche of being known for one thing and it also ideally generate some curiosity. People go, “I know what a horse whisperer is but what’s a Pitch Whisperer?” You’re often running explaining what that does and how that expands beyond just an elevator pitch to giving keynote talks on sales and all kinds of things. You talked about in Clarity Win$ that there are three-word packages that deliver results. Can you tell us what those are and maybe give us the story around them?

I see the best way to deliver a message is once you’ve got a clear understanding of who you are and where you’re going and what you do, you have to communicate that in three things. I call it snippets, stories, and symbols. Snippets are very brief. Typically, one sentence phrases that sum up precisely and clearly in human ready language exactly what you do, who you do it for, why you are differentiated. Those snippets are incredibly important for explaining yourself in any networking situation, in any sales pitch or in any circumstance. A lot of businesses do not have clear snippets. In fact, one of the biggest problems with that is there’s a lack of clear communication and alignment internally in the company because employees don’t know the snippets either.

Everybody’s saying different things and it’s like looking at an elephant blindfolded from the front and the back and the rear and getting different descriptions.

That’s incredibly common and that stories are crucial as well. I know you have an affinity for stories because the human brain is hardwired for stories. People are not hardwired to memorize bullet points, but we are hardwired for stories. When we tell illustrative stories that show what we do and who we do it for, that’s far more memorable than if we try to give factual explanations. The most powerful thing ultimately is the symbol and the symbol is that shortcut into memory. It’s usually a metaphor or a simile or some word picture. Pitch Whisperer is your symbol, King of Clarity is my symbol. When I was starting out my matchmaking consultancy in pharma, I’m having some difficulty explaining it to people until I finally said, “I’m the eHarmony of pharma training.” Lights came on immediately. I didn’t have to spend two hours explaining it. They know what the eHarmony is. When we can come up with these little brief things that hang on the memory hooks in people’s minds, we win. If we use vague, foggy and jargony language, we lose.

I have two examples I’d love to get your opinion on. One is I’m a cofounder at a startup that’s involved with a real estate in the blockchain. As the CMO, trying to get their messaging out to internal, external investors, the press and everything else has been a bit of a challenge because each of those industries is fairly complex. What we’ve come up with is, “QuantmRE is all about equity freedom where we helped turn homeowers into homeowners.” People go, “I don’t understand what that means but I’m intrigued and I want to know more because I have a mortgage. I am a home ower because I don’t own my house outright.” That little buzzy thing that’s slightly new with one letter being different, ower to owner.

Those little phrases, those little suggestive things, if we can get into people’s interest level, get into something that’s relevant within 30 seconds. If you started with blockchain, it would all be over. You have to move to something that people understand. I do something similar when people ask what I do with this clarity stuff. I say, “They call me the King of Clarity and I help individuals in businesses with the two moments of truth.” The first moment of truth is what we’re in right now where somebody says, “What do you do?” In a very short time, you’ve got to explain it in a way that makes perfect sense and that somebody gets it. If you do it right, that leads to the second moment of truth. When tomorrow I’m talking to my neighbor and they say, “I need someone to help me with my pitches,” and I say, “I know the Pitch Whisperer,” I can make a targeted referral if we can win at the first and second moments of truth. We can win because referrals are the best way to build business and the way to activate it is to get those word pictures into the minds of others.

If you want to be known for 3 things, you are known for none. Click To Tweet

You and I love doing that for people. I was on the phone with a client that’s hired me to come to speak to their sales team and they’re in the healthcare business. They had this new product that gives the best pricing of all the equipment that they have to buy. Before this product existed, I got them to describe what was life like before? They said, “We would just hope that we were getting a good buying discount, but we weren’t sure what the industry standard was and all this stuff.” They were trying to explain to me this. I said, “Just tell your prospective clients that imagine a surgeon was trying to operate in the dark. The lights went out.” That’s what it’s like trying to guess if you have the best price or not, “Our product comes along, the lights are on and you can clearly have laser beam focus on exactly where this price is compared to what other hospitals are paying.” They went, “Now we understand stories, analogies and symbols and how we need to start talking in our presentations with those as opposed to how it all works.” The other thing that I am interested in is you have a brain science practicality of why we need to be pigeonholing and that there are four marketplace dimensions. Please talk about brain science and the marketplace.

The brain science part is what is crucial to understand because our audience is the human brain. We’ve got to play by the rules and there are certain rules that the brain works by. One of those rules is that the human brain has to filter through a vast amount of sensory input every moment of every day and it’s growing. The amount of noise and distraction and input is growing every single day. It’s exponential. The thing that keeps us sane as human beings are this wonderful function called the reticular activating system, the RAS. When I give a talk, I often ask people if they know what that is and almost nobody ever does. I think, “What an opportunity we have here,” because once you know what the RAS does, you have the key, the secret to get in.

The RAS filters for anything that’s new, anything that’s relevant and anything that’s funny or exciting or scary. It’s a fight or flight thing. This has to be great or it’s filtered out. Unless we can rise above the background noise, unless we can show very quickly that we have something new and interesting and relevant, we’re noise. That’s it. We’re not coming up against either a neutral or a sympathetic audience. We’re coming up against a filter that doesn’t want us, unless we can show that we’re worth listening to. That’s why the first fifteen to 30 seconds on a website or in a pitch or anything are crucial as we got to get through the RAS. That’s why I talked about snippets and stories and symbols because those are the shortcuts.

Those are the ways through the filter that get us into memory and that’s how the little guy can have the advantage over the big companies. They’re spending millions and millions of mass marketing dollars but are just plain making noise. Understanding a little bit of how the brain works, its filtering, its processing in a storage system. I tell people, “You can expect to get one pixel, one memory slot.” People aren’t going to remember five things. That’s why you’ve got to make it one thing. Even if you can do four other things, you pick the most important thing. Nobody can walk around and remember five different things about John, “He’s the Pitch Whisperer, but he’s also a copier repairman. He makes tires for large trucks. He also manufactures tissue paper.” If you’re trying to get known for three things, you’ll be known for nothing.

TSP 203 | Clarity Win$

Clarity Win$: People aren’t going to remember five things. That’s why you’ve got to make it one thing.


If you try to be known for three things, you’ll be known for nothing.

James Carville’s advice to President Clinton was something like that. He said, “If you try to say three things, you don’t say anything.” The big temptation in all businesses is they want to say, “We do this and we did this and we did this.” That’s the worst thing you can do. You’re now a commodity. You’re now forgettable because nobody has the memory space for that.

People want to work with experts and specialists these days.

I want to do what I’m best at. What clarity is strategically saying is, “This is my sweet spot.” The pigeonhole is my sweet spot. It’s where I do my best work, my most profitable work, my highest impact work. That’s the work I want and I’m going to say no to the other stuff. That’s the hardest thing for people to do, to say yes and no.

Someone said, “Who you say no to is more important than who you say yes to.” When you’re taking on new clients. Most people are like, “I knew I needed to say yes to everybody,” and I’m like, “No.” I remember I was talking to a graphic designer and he was like, “I can do pitch decks, speaker decks, websites.”

I don’t know how many of those websites I’ve seen and collaterals where, “We do this, or our specialties are,” and then there are twelve things. Nobody can specialize in twelve things.

It’s the same thing with actors. The joke is when an actor would go to an audition and they say, “Can you skydive?” “Yes.” “Can you roller skate?” “Yes.” “Archery?” “Yes, no problem.” “Ride a horse?” “Yes.” They go, “I’ll figure it out once I get there.” That’s not the way to make yourself get referrals. That’s for sure. What my big takeaway so far from what you’ve said is when we have clarity, not only do we get the brain space but we get people to log us in as a potential referral because it’s easy to remember.

This is one of the things social media has been good for is it introduced the concept of hashtags. Hashtags are what we call metadata, information about information. It was a software term before it was a social media term. The hashtag is simply the associated texts that describe something. What I’m telling individuals and businesses is if you’re going to be put in a pigeonhole, you’re going to be stored there with hashtags. People are going to remember you with a certain number of words and impressions and feelings. Those are part of the hashtags. What you want to do is very clearly understand exactly what hashtags you need to own in the marketplace. Those are the words and the concepts you talk about. Can you do some other things? Yes and I tell people, “I operate on my very arbitrary 85% rule.”

If you’ve got something you want to do that’s maybe 85% of it, that’s what you talk about. You don’t talk about anything else. This is you. This is your identity. This is what you’re seeking. You keep the 15% in your back pocket. Once you get in the door and you’re talking to somebody about your main thing and they’re now feeling comfortable with you. They’ve moved up the ladder that you’ve defined of the five I’s to where they’re more intrigued by you now. If they say, “Can you do that?” You say, “I’ve got this in my back pocket.” If you try to make the back-pocket stuff equivalent to the 85% and add a few other ingredients in there, now you’re totally forgettable.

The confused mind always says no. Click To Tweet

One of the other chapters in your book that grabbed my attention was finding your superpower. Can you describe what a superpower is and how we can find it?

A superpower is the thing that we uniquely do best. I believe on an individual level, that we all have superpower. I believe that most businesses have certain superpower. Something they are peculiarly good at because of the types of people that they have, the track record of what they’ve done. One of the most crucial things we can do is get in touch with our superpower. It’s one of the difficult things because we assume too much about our own selves. We take for granted what our strengths are and we often miss the boat. One of my favorite pieces of artwork says, “You can’t read the label of the jar you’re in.” When you’re in the jar, either your own head or your own company and you’re seeing the forest and the trees. Many times, I have found people and companies underestimate what they’re best at. They don’t realize what their sweet spot is.

Maybe they think because it comes easily to them, it’s not valuable.

That’s what happens. I’ve sat down with countless people and we’ve talked for a couple of hours to surface their strengths and surface their capabilities through telling stories. I have had to say many times, “Do you realize how rare this combination is? Do you realize how phenomenally awesome it is to have somebody that can do operations the way you do?” Inevitably they go, “No, I just do it.” Many times, you have to have somebody from the outside walk you through and sit down and work through what it is that you can do best and then how does that relate to market opportunity. Sometimes there are things we can do great but there’s no market opportunity. Sometimes we’ve got some great stuff but we’re not aiming it at the right market or where we need to be in an adjacent market. That’s where our outside perspective can be incredibly valuable in opening up these new opportunities.

One of the things that you do that is so helpful for people is to talk about facing the enemy. The biggest enemy is all the noise that you were talking about. You’ve given us some tools with the stories, snippets, and symbols to break through the filter of the noise in our brain. Identifying and putting your empathy hat on, what are the two or three noisy distractions that keep you out of your particular customer’s minds? Can you give us a story of how you work with a client on that particular question and what insights came out of that?

There’s a commonality of noise that the main noise that we’re up against in at least the corporate business is the plain flow of tactical busyness. It’s the endless demands. You might have something that can help people but for some reason, you’re not in front of them at the right time and the right way. They’re not feeling that pain. There’s so much stuff going on. That’s the hardest thing. What I have found and I have changed my way of communicating.

Given the volume of information, the hundreds of emails that people are trying to process each day and all the other demands, I’m trying to keep my communications, whether it’s phone or email or whatever, down to one very simple point. I’ve made the mistake of being too comprehensive in the past. “Here are five things you need to think about.” Nobody’s got time to think about five things, even if they’re supposed to think about five things. Joining a very small piece of information with a very clear call to action is one of the best ways to break through and get some response. For a salesperson, that’s crucial. We all, as salespeople, tend to try to say too much and we become noise inadvertently. Everything we say may be great. It may be very valuable but it’s too much. More is less.

It goes back to the concept that people buy emotionally and back it up with logic. Many salespeople think, “If I give them enough information, they will buy from me.” I’ve even seen salespeople get a yes and then still keep talking about three more things the product does. I’m like, “Stop talking.”

I’ve seen that many times on Shark Tank, which is one of my favorite shows to demonstrate what it means to learn to speak human, to translate whatever your stuff is into human language, business language, and to differentiate. A lot of them can’t differentiate well. I’ve seen exactly what you’ve talked about. “Stop pitching. We said yes already,” they keep on going. Every single person that comes on Shark Tank should probably have a two-hour clarity session before they go on there.

Everybody’s saying different things, it's like looking at an elephant blindfolded from all sides and getting different descriptions. Click To Tweet

You’ve given us so much great information about how to break through the filter in our brain. How to do that with stories and symbols and snippets and get it clear and concise. These two moments of truth, that’s what gets us referrals when we’re that clear. The book again is all about clarity. Clarity in fact does win the day. Is there any last thought you want to leave us with?

It’s easy to get the book. I’ve made a direct link. goes right to Amazon, where people can order the book, either download or order softcover. I can be found at If people want to talk to me about having clarity sessions, half day, full day sessions for businesses and for individuals. What we do for businesses is the same thing that I do for people in career transition. It’s personal branding. It’s articulating a good message. It’s all the same process. Some of my best clarity sessions that I’ve done have been with people looking to change careers, who need an outside voice to evaluate their identity, to figure out their focus, and to figure out their message. I have seen remarkable results in a half a day with people that have walked in feeling utter despair. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. Nobody’s hiring me. Nobody’s interested. Nobody’s reading my resume,” and walking out and saying, “I know what I’m supposed to be doing now.”

You find their superpower for them.

Find their superpower, narrow the focus and say, “You need to pursue this exact position.” Not fish on the whole pond. Go to this particular place where the bass are and throw this particular bait out that they like.

Clarity Win$ is the book. Steve, thanks again for helping us all get a little clear on this episode.

John, thanks very much. It was enjoyable to talk to you and to hopefully help your audience.

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