You know the standard approach. First, identify your business’ weakness and then do everything you can to fix it. Practice at it relentlessly, feed you team (and yourself) with constant affirmations. Do anything you can to dive deep into your weakness and fix it once and for all. If you can’t fix it, then go to Plan B by burying the weakness in hopes that none of your prospects or competitors find it.
Well, here’s the dealio: the business down the street that is naturally strong at the same thing at which your company is weak, and it is working just as relentlessly to improve their strength. While you are fixing something that’s broke, they are getting better at something that already works. While you may improve your weakness, their strength gets better too. At the end of the day they are still ahead of you. You lose. That is unless you know the power of spin.
Turn the TablesInstead of trying to fix weaknesses, smart leaders will turn the tables and make their weakness or even an industry weakness a competitive advantage. A wonderful example in the restaurant industry is Dick’s Last Resort. Like all restaurants who struggle with the occasional rude waiter, Dick’s could have tried to fix this industry-wide weakness. Instead they turned the weakness into their greatest strength. Known to have the “most obnoxious waitstaff in the word,” Dick’s built a whole system around exploiting an industry weakness. They hire and train people to be obnoxious (while the competition tries to fix it) and Dick’s has grown explosively.
I too have found that exploiting a weakness can draw droves of prospects. As an author, the ability for a reader to pronounce your name is a big deal. If a reader can’t pronounce it, she won’t talk about you to others. Kiss your word-of-mouth sales goodbye. In fact this is true for any form of “celebrity” exposure. Musicians change their names (John Mellencamp became John Cougar), actors change their names (Norma Jean Morteson became Marylin Monroe), and so do authors.
A Personal TakeWith a last name Michalowicz, I was in deep doo-doo. I mean look at it. There is no way you are going to be able to pronounce that behemoth of a name. Even though changing my name to something cool like Mike Blood or Mike Rock was awfully tempting, I made my weakness my biggest strength. I noticed that people struggled with my name so much that once they understood how to pronounce it, it was almost a badge of honor. They would correct others.
Realizing this, I set up all my marketing, including my website, to make fun of my name in a million different ways. I set up a series of ridiculous mispronunciations of my name. A favorite among fans is that “Riverdancers call me Mike My-Clogging-And-Splits.” It gets way more absurd. Just click multiple times on the speaker symbol on my homepage for small-business owners to hear what I am talking about.
And with that, my weakness has become my strength. People have so much fun making fun of my name, that they naturally want to learn the proper pronunciation of the name and start sharing all the above with others. You can do the same.
So, let’s do it with your weakness. Here are the three simple steps you need to take:
Step 1: Know what your (or your industry’s) weakness is. The process is simple, ask your customer and prospects what they don’t like about your industry. Ask more customers the same question. Very soon you will know exactly what weakness they see.
Step 2: Instead of brainstorming ways to fix it, brainstorm ways to make the weakness absurdly weak: Can you make fun of it (think Mike My-Clogging-And-Splits)? Can you make it the core experience for your customers (think Dick’s Last Resort)? How can you make the weakness a good thing?
Step 3: Now that you have a new-and-improved weakness, let the world know all about it. Market it to your prospects, inform you customers and even leverage all that work your fiercest competitor put into highlighting your weakness in the past.
The process of spinning a weakness takes courage, and that is exactly why it works. It is likely you have been afraid of doing this in the past, and it is highly likely your competitors are just as afraid too. If you have the courage to spin your weakness into an uber-weakness (a.k.a. a big time strength), you might just blow your competition out of the water once and for all.
Mike Michalowicz is the author of the "entrepreneur's cult classic (Business Week)" The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur and his newest book, The Pumpkin Plan. He is the author of a popular blog for entrepreneurs at MikeMichalowicz.com/blog. Also, Mike is CEO of Provendus Group, a consultancy that help companies grow.