The Elephant Dictionary of Digital Business
“What we call definitions are not definitions … they’re just hints that a person who already knows the concept can use to understand what’s really going on”
– Noam Chomsky
Active listening is the close study and ongoing analysis of ideas, facial expression, body language, and tone of voice. In the context of negotiation, consulting, and other important business activities, active listening is the most intellectually demanding activity available; it’s high-effort and requires extreme mental discipline.
Organizing group effort into small, iterative tasks to maximize efficiency and allow for flexible changes in plans
An anti-testimonial is truthful, balanced and critical. It begins with a doubt or objection that is then resolved. It may also include a wish for feature X or Y, or some minor unresolved complaint, as you’d expect when soliciting product feedback. Finally, anti-testimonials tend not to be published on the product/service website.
Anti-testimonials only work for valuable products and services; that being the case, they work much better than normal testimonials (100% flowery praise).
A type of human, conversational sales where multiple buyers collaborate to make purchase decisions based on their desire to acquire value
When the term was coined, comprised of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. Enormous tech firms like these exercise monopolistic and/or interest-conflicted control over markets, media, and government.
In messaging, something stationary and circular; not moving an idea or a message from one person to another; not moving someone to act.
A brand community includes not just company ownership and staff but everyone who touches the brand. Chiefly this consists of past, present, and future clients (the “audience”), employees, competitors, and partners.
An approach to marketing based on honesty, devoid of manipulation, and offering an authentic connection with a brand. Brand marketing assumes long-term relationships with the entire brand community – past, present, and future clients, employees, partners, even competitors. It prioritizes those relationships over converting to action now, per the standards of Direct Marketing.
Key phrases or words that put your positioning into use in business contexts.
Also see Messaging
Defines or redefines words and phrases that are important to a given venture (a movement, a business, a community, a nonprofit, an individual’s work, etc).
As a glossary it provides better understanding of content produced by the venture. It also asserts ownership over new definitions or phrases. Most importantly, a business dictionary is the core set of ideas that reveal the venture’s unique point of view on how to solve important problems.
In politics, a public declaration of principled policy aims.
In business, a call-to-action that responds to essential problems universal to a given audience.
Comprised of calls to fairness, changes in fundamental behavior, changes in standards, and promises of new benefits
The definition of all systems and processes that contribute to sustainability. It identifies not just what problems an organization solves and how – products and solution services. A business model must also document how it supports problem-solution behind the scenes, as well as how it generates value for all stakeholders, from owners, to employees, to community.
Also see Strategy.
A profitable persona projected onto a famous person through the media and news industries
Helping people solve their problems by offering about three solutions with your favorite in the middle
Providing iterative, expertise-based guidance and advice that improves the ability of another person, or team of people, to perform a specific set of tasks
The universal human condition whereby unconscious and irrational processes distort the way that we see the world.
Communications is roughly equivalent to the aggregate of marketing strategy, messaging, and PR but is also a form of context-signaling. The context is non-private sectors, such as nonprofits, higher education, NGOs. government, and especially politics.
It often means exactly the same thing as content marketing and brand messaging but signals more purportedly pristine motives than turning a profit. Meanwhile, Strategic Communications is a military and Fortune 500 concept that purports total control over all forms of messaging.
Consulting itself is too overused and therefore meaningless to attempt to reclaim. Instead, it’s useful to think about the following loose, overlapping categories.
Expertise Consulting Providing valuable services (eg SEO, product design, coding, etc) backed by strategic insight about industry/market/audience. (Also see Freelancing)
Productized Consulting Providing expertise as products: productized services, courses, training, or other deliverables that are tightly defined and priced. Productized consulting is sold and delivered in a standardized, low-friction way. Also known as ‘Product Entrepreneurship’.
Strategy Consulting Providing business expertise as a custom array of execution-optional, open-ended ideas, as opposed to specific recommendations, outcomes, services, or any other deliverables. Also known as ‘Innovation Consulting’. Similar to but not to be confused with Coaching.
Management Consulting providing analysis and specific optimization/efficiency advice and activities (such as accounting), as opposed to open-ended ideas and advice. Often overlaps with but not equivalent to Strategy Consulting.
Independent Consulting Owning – and marketing/selling – a business that provides the above forms of consulting, most often some form of Expertise Consulting or Strategy Consulting.
Publishing ideas primarily in writing but also via audio and video in a way that teaches and helps a specific business audience while building trust and mutual understanding
Systematically producing, organizing, and managing content in a way that supports strategic goals
The manipulation of user experience such that users of a digital interface are more likely to convert into customers or leads
Writing that is specifically designed to further the sales and marketing efforts of a business. Product of copywriting or thinking in terms of how words will be received
The ability to communicate ideas and feelings in an original, non-boring way, while retaining some individual personality or perspective
We think of creators as those who make art or content, but anyone who creates solutions to problems is a creator. Sometimes these solutions take concrete form and sometimes they are conceptual.
Contrary-wise, someone who makes things off of someone else’s instructions is a non-creator – even if the creation is virtual, digital, or conceptual. For example, factory workers and digital marketing interns are probably both non-creators.
Most people are both creators and non-creators in different walks of life.
Thus, anyone who makes art, content, or solutions that have economic value is a creator.
Also see Consulting
In the context of this dictionary, a definition is the single most important or useful perspective on the meaning of a word or term. This approach ignores practical lexicography.
Definitions provide clarity or insight for a specific group of people; as such definitions are business assets.
These can be either explicit definitions, such as this one, or explorations of meaning that form de facto definitions, such as this essay on ‘strategy’.
Outside the context of this dictionary, a definition:
- is theoretically the objective, true meaning of a word (which doesn’t actually exist, of course)
- a list of the most common meanings attached to a word through usage, as determined through lexicographic research (so rarely a single meaning)
- may not exist in writing but can still be a part of one’s lexicon
The process of digitalizing, specifically with respect to network connectivity, multiple, important parts of a business.
Uses psychological and creative techniques to pressure people into taking some kind of action as the direct result of engaging with content, trial, or samples. Similar to advertising but may not leverage paid advertisement.
In theory, The ability to recognize the perspective of a counterpart and the vocalization of that recognition. In practice, paying attention to another human being, asking what they are feeling, and making a commitment to understanding their world
A set of defaults and conventions that make it easier to build something more quickly, more standardized, and otherwise containing more valuable, than if you built the same thing without that framework. Most frameworks used in business are either computing frameworks or conceptual frameworks.
Reactively providing valuable services, specific outcomes, or other deliverables in response to requests from clients.
A freelancing practice may evolve into Expertise Consulting, which combines valuable skills and business expertise into custom services.
The positioning, branding, targeting, and publicity strategy that brings a new brand, product, or service to market. GTM is usually oriented around a launch date and consists of two primary phases: before-launch and post-launch. Because it’s an inherently challenging form of marketing, GTM usually (a) focuses on the ideal, early adopter segment of its total addressable market and
For many, the term is meaningless and nothing more than a synonym for digital marketing, of which it’s actually a subset. In growth hacking, relatively little effort goes into creating trust, establishing quality or expertise, or otherwise designing a long-term marketing strategy. Instead, emphasis is placed on iterative quick wins through generating hype and other direct marketing techniques. Growth hacking often translates to placing creative small bets (targeting influencers, hosting private events, guerilla/small-dollar ad spend) that spur adoption, downloads, or engagement; it applies typically to mobile apps or SaaS software.
The most visible unit of information in an area of focus.
Most commonly consists of words in a visual area-of-focus, such as the homepage of a website before-scrolling. Equally applicable to audio and video formats.
Also abstractable to concepts or feelings.
The emotional and intellectual process of merging data, feelings, thoughts and other memories to summon new ideas
In marketing and communications, impact refers to the purportedly meaningful results of a public good campaign or program.
It’s meant to distinguish the value of such activities from “income” and other purely monetary measures, ie., revenue, profit, etc.
Thus, a philanthropic org commissions “impact studies”.
In advertising, impact is…
“That quality in an advertisement which strikes suddenly against the reader’s indifference and enlivens his mind to receive a sales message”
– Raymond Rubicam
Everything you know in your head about your business but may not have put into writing, either as explicit definitions or as de facto definitions that amount to explorations of the meaning of a word or term
Using software algorithms, or algorithmic human processes, to make marketing decisions. Such decisions revolve around:
- when, how much, or how frequently to do so
- to whom the above applies to
- when to stop doing the above
Common types of marketing automation include email drips, outreach email marketing, display advertising, content personalization, customized interactivity such as daisy chains, internationalization, and retargeting.
Marketing automation is under-utilized but when it is utilized, it’s typically over relied upon. The more a business automates marketing, the more room there is for (a) mistakes at scale and (b) expertise-based decision making.
Messaging is the clarification of value using words, images, and other contextual hints, in order to impact how people think or feel about a brand, its products, or just its projects and initiatives.
If it doesn’t affect or reinforce positioning, it’s not messaging.
A Messaging Map is an ideation process, perhaps captured in a document, that investigates and documents elements such as:
- Brand identity
- Sub brands
- Product lines/extensions
- Features, Benefits, and Value Propositions
- GTM strategy
- Target audiences
- Audience problems/fears
By taking stock of all of these elements in one place, and understanding their relationships, a messaging map becomes an approach to creating effective messaging.
Secondarily, it can create messaging uniformity across large teams and disparate sales and marketing campaigns, materials, etc. As such, it can be useful to capture the messaging map as a single document, such as a slide deck.
In common parlance, the attempt to alter the mood of another person by coercion or some other kind of subtle pressure (eg, “Why aren’t you smiling?”). In direct marketing, the presumption of how your audience feels, how it should feel, and how it wants to feel – with the goal of selling something.
The first version of a product or productized service that has value both significant value to the user and to the business providing the product. For a product to be considered MVP, if has to have enough value that users are happy to pay for it.
Commonly misunderstood to be the first version of a product that has some value to the user – usually not enough that they are willing to pay for it.
The exchange of emotional and material needs by which a group of people collectively agree (or attempt to) on a set of outcomes.
Negotiation is not:
- rational exchange
- quid pro quo bargaining
- reducible to economic interests
- a problem-solving situation
A person who is addicted to the thrill of learning how to use new products and services.
The neurological alignment of brains, as perceptible from brain scanning, that results from a mutual understanding of feelings and ideas. This understanding is created through good communication and observation of face, gestures, and tone of voice.
Neuroresonance is the physiological basis of empathy.
Omni-channel marketing, aka multichannel marketing, often materializes as a marketing-software Rube Goldberg machine. In these creations, a business constantly syncs customer data among multiple applications, platforms, or other data sources. The idea is that the customer experience is smoother, less given to redundancy.
More recently, this is also called ‘Layered Marketing’ or ‘Layered Media’.
A workplace-psychology phenomenon whereby it’s extremely difficult to de-promote someone once they been granted a promotion – no matter how badly suited they are for their new role.
Coined by Kevin Kelly:
a person in an organization will be promoted to the level of their incompetence. At which point their past achievements will prevent them from being fired, but their incompetence at this new level will prevent them from being promoted again, so they stagnate in their incompetence.
Selling in a non-conversational way by trying to either impress with features, benefits, data AND/OR by giving away discounts, creative ideas, and strategic ideas.
In digital marketing and communications, a space for reaching a well-defined, new, or larger audience. The term is used loosely; thus, a platform could be YouTube as a whole, a specific YouTube channel, or even just the YouTube advertising network. Platforms are assets, conceptually.
This definition comes from William Wordsworth:
I ask what is meant by the word Poet? What is a Poet? To whom does he address himself? And what language is to be expected from him? He is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endued with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the Universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them. To these qualities he has added a disposition to be affected more than other men by absent things as if they were present; an ability of conjuring up in himself passions, which are indeed far from being the same as those produced by real events, yet (especially in those parts of the general sympathy which are pleasing and delightful) do more nearly resemble the passions produced by real events, than any thing which, from the motions of their own minds merely, other men are accustomed to feel in themselves; whence, and from practice, he has acquired a greater readiness and power in expressing what he thinks and feels, and especially those thoughts and feelings which, by his own choice, or from the structure of his own mind, arise in him without immediate external excitement.
In digital consulting, content creation, software design, and other forms of contemporary entrepreneurship, a Point of View is an idea or set of ideas, about where, how or why value is created, or even how value is hidden or locked, in your marketplace.
Because of its linkage to value, others in your industry should find this idea impossible-to-ignore and should be likely to take action on it. A Point of View is often a personal and industry-specific take on some long-existing common wisdom. A Point of View is the prerequisite for Thought Leadership.
This term is used in three ways; the first way is the de facto definition of positioning:
- Perception. How an audience perceives your brand, as opposed to its alternatives. Perception includes how people think about it, feel about it, talk about it, and even engage with it, financially or otherwise. This is the actual positioning of your brand vs the desired positioning.
- Strategy. The strategic activity of deciding on the desired audience(s) and positioning of your brand. This is an iterative and nonlinear process since desirable positioning frequently changes in response to market changes, including audience changes. It is a semi-objective decision-making process to the extent that it hinges on basic market economics.
- Creative Expression. Orchestrating the transition from actual to desired positioning with creative output – ideas, words, images, sounds, or even experience. This is related to, if not identical to in many cases, Messaging, Thought Leadership, and Design Thinking.
The routine used by a creator to gain and express insight, design, art, or solutions.
“A rigorous, proscribed regimen with the intention of elevating the mind or spirit to a higher level. Its goal is to achieve success in one’s field but also union with something greater than oneself.”
The seller-side art and science of determining the amount of money associated with a given item of value, be it a service, product, or combination thereof.
Pricing considers both the amount of money to be exchanged between buyer and seller as a matter of profitability. It simultaneously factors in the brand messaging value of an item’s price.
The messages coming almost verbatim from clients and/or client’s end customers about painful problems they experience. Problem messaging is also the way you reiterate these problems in a way that can be used in your marketing, as in the case of the Anti-Testimonial.
The propagation of points of view, perspectives, and/or facts that are false and misleading. Propaganda attempts to create unanimous consent among its audience while benefitting a relatively small portion of it. Propaganda tends to favor the status quo over its replacement.
Understanding the people in your market by assessing long-term emotional realities, values, opinions, mindset, interests, and lifestyles
A thought process and business practice that consists of closely examining a word we use in our business, deciding that we want it to have some new meaning, committing to the redefinition that comes out of that process, and publishing it in our marketing materials.
The practice attaches a 2nd (or 100th, as the case may be) definition of every word, term, or phrase that is important to one’s business.
In the context of independent consulting and creative work, research is small-scale, non-academic, and typically qualitative as opposed to quantitative. Thematically, it’s both specific and general. Its primary goals include reducing client risk around making decisions and generating new options/outputs. It is both an activity – materials-gathering – and a type of structured thinking.
Used interchangeably with remarketing, retargeting tracks a person’s visit to a website (via a browser cookie) in order to subsequently show ads to that person on other parts of the Internet.
For example, you visit a web page which details a book you are interested in. Then a month or even six months later, the book seller shows you an ad for that book on Instagram, or anywhere else on the Internet.
You can think of retargeting as “reminder advertising”.
Rich is the subjective experience of a set of feelings, freedoms, and specific financial realities. As with success, rich varies from person to person and must be defined for oneself.
For some independent creative and technical people (the author of this dictionary, for example), being rich combines feelings of security, happiness, and abundance with de facto freedom of association and movement, along with earning power and acquired wealth that lets one do the kind of work one want for whomever one wants.
For such a person, rich might not mean, for example, extreme wealth, freedom from work, or freedom from routine.
The ability to educate, cultivate, and inspire a group of individuals in the art of selling to another group of individuals
The systematic arrangement of words, messages, slogans, and concepts that support a sales team
Also see B2B Sales
A cohort of professionals, with and without sales roles, with a unified understanding of positioning, value offer, and unified messaging
The creation of a new category of business that applies only to your own brand. This can be either an industry category, a capability/expertise category, or an audience category.
Self-categorization is both a brand identity exercise and a positioning effort. Its meant to influence how your audience thinks about your brand by preventing comparisons to competing brands in more generic categories.
It’s also meant to highlight a special trait, such as a special capability. As such, a self-categorization often becomes a brand’s de facto tagline.
Making content appear near the top of search results.
Forms of SEO include text, audio, image, and video. SEO is practiced on multiple platforms in addition to Google search, such as YouTube, Google Images, Pinterest, Bing, Quora, Reddit, and Facebook.
Acronym of search engine optimization.
“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” Clay Shirky’s words – Kevin Kelly coined the term.
The target for this principle is the big nonprofit industry, major corporations and organs of government (to wit, the “Military Industrial Complex”).
But the Shirky Principle is conceptually (if not literally) applicable to independent expertise businesses. People who run such institutions are subconsciously inclined to amplify or exaggerate the problems they solve. For organizations like these, the workaround the Shirky Principle is to be diligent in recognizing non-problems.
Storytelling was originally an advertising technique but is now associated with brand strategy. It is also called, for added polish, Strategic Storytelling. This is a concept and a professional practice, as opposed to a copywriting technique. As such, it is a form of Strategic Consulting.
Strategic storytelling calls for creating stories about how people experience a brand. Thus, things like features, benefits, and UVP are revealed through characters’ experience with them in a brief story rather than through, for example, bullet points. Story characters could be customers, constituents, employees, owners, execs, etc.
Other common business-world synonyms include the slightly more abstract concepts, Narrative Messaging and Strategic Narrative.
An umbrella concept under which all forms of communications, from messaging to advertising to publishing to “talking points memos”, are supposedly guided and united by strategic imperatives. Largely used in the context of the military, corporate manufacturing, and Fortune 500 in general. More closely related to Propaganda than to the term Communications by itself.
A form of Messaging which focuses on human characters experiencing emotions related to a brand. The experience may be implied rather than described; a plot isn’t necessarily required.
You could argue that its synonym Storytelling is more concerned with creating narratives with an actual plot arch. In practice though, storytelling, strategic storytelling, brand story, and strategic narrative are largely interchangeable in business.
In business, success is the creation of financial and non-financial value for everybody involved: owners, employees, contractors, customers, partners, community members, fellow citizens, etc.
In a nontangible sense, success is also the regular attainment of a “flow state” as you work.
Whereas Empathy is more like a personality trait, Tactical Empathy is strategic negotiation behavior. It’s probing deeper and quickly – understanding the feelings and mindset of another at the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase your influence in all the moments that follow. It’s bringing one’s attention to both the emotional obstacles and also getting an agreement done.
A phrase that communicates all or most of a brand’s unique value proposition. Narrower remit than a slogan.
Respectively, these acronyms stand for Total Addressable Market, Serviceable Addressable Market, and Serviceable Obtainable Market.
When talked about together, the idea being emphasized is that your theoretical market size and your actual market size are never the same thing – the latter is always smaller.
A theory coined by Kevin Kelly holding that an artist or other content creator needs just 1000 enthusiastic customers to forge a career. The simple math employed in this widely cited and influential article reckons that the enthusiastic fan will pay $100/yr, yielding net revenue of $100,000/yr for the creator.
Whether the specific math is right, or whether it be 100 fans or 2,000 fans, is not the point. The point is to focus on cultivating small, targeted, niche audiences.
This theory is mis-applied to consultants and entrepreneurs; they have customers, not fans. Thus, they may need far more or far fewer than 1000. For example, a healthy consulting services business has between 8 and 12 customers a year, for a total of perhaps 100 over a business-lifetime.
The act of leading the thinking of a significant group of other people. Specifically, presiding over one or more public platforms from which one’s Points of View influence the thinking, vocabulary, and business strategies of the majority of people in your professional community. Thought leaders have a greater exertion of influence on professional peers but also influence clients.
[Often mis-used to mean “popular” or “interesting”]
These acronyms stand for Top of Funnel, Middle of Funnel, and Bottom of Funnel. Useful for thinking about a content marketing strategy in terms of its audience’s readiness to engage with a business or even transact financially.
A variant of Brand Marketing that emphasizes authentic connection based on trust; trust is built by providing ample proof of value and by giving away value for free
The gap between the potential usefulness of a feature and people’s ability to use it.
Having a feature but people can’t use it
– Jakob Nielsen
Also see Value Gap
Ultimately, value is the net positive emotional experience something creates and sustains.
- Value is subjective
- All kinds of value constantly fluctuate
- Value is usually primarily expressed as a monetary quantity
- But value is unquantifiable
- Value is similar to, but never exactly equivalent to, financial profitability
- Value often carries an element of surprise
Thus you can define value as the price you pay for something, or the profitability it creates – as long as those aren’t entirely defined monetarily either.
An unexpected, hidden, or deliberately layered-on side benefit
Usually, this benefit is for the buyer or end-user of the thing, but it can benefit anyone connected to it – maker, seller, investor, partner, etc.
The gap between the potential value of a solution and the actual value it creates.
Also, see Usability Gap
Setting a price for a thing based on the value it creates for the buyer. A value-priced fee is typically X percentage of the value to the buyer of whatever they buy, such as 1% or 50%.
Value pricing differs from
- commodity-pricing strategies
- hourly pricing (aka “hourly billing”)
- various fixed-fee pricing approaches
Value pricing is determined through conversation and negotiation but is completely different from Value Selling.
Value selling is a Messaging approach in which features and benefits are mapped to distinct value propositions that help sell. These value propositions are in turn mapped to specific customer types and are essential to good Positioning.
In theory, value selling works better than simply “benefits selling”, let alone “features selling”.
For example, Box.com might say:
Box is a single, secure, easy-to-use platform built for the entire content lifecycle, from file creation and sharing, to co-editing, signature, classification, and retention. Transform your business with a new approach to content.
Where the value selling Messaging Map looks like this:
Features: “single, secure, easy-to-use, file creation and sharing, to co-editing, signature, classification, and retention”
Benefits: “for the entire content lifecycle / a new approach to content”
Value: “transform your business”
Note that in a given piece of actual copy, these elements may be completely intermixed, hinted at, or omitted, depending on what’s most effective. Value selling is applied universally though, allowing for variations in how companies use it in their sales and marketing.