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How to Elevate Yourself from Better to Iconic with Scott McKain


What does it mean to be iconic?  


Along with epic, iconic is a word that might feel overused. People say it all the time — like ‘he or she is an iconic business leader/musician/athlete, etc.,’ but it has become a word that seems to have lost all meaning.  


Scott McKain is trying to change that. In fact, he wrote the book on it. 


Full disclosure, Scott and I go way back. We’ve been sharing stages around the world for three decades. That said, it was great to host him during one of our C-Suite Network Digital Discussions where we talked about what it takes to be iconic.  


Scott says it’s about more than just standing out from the crowd. He found four ways you and your company can wow and keep customers, all while reaching iconic status.  


Distinctive vs. Different 


One of the biggest mistakes most businesses make is  that being different translates to being better. While that might work for a while, it’s not a formula for finding repeat customers.  


Scott’s advice: don’t just separate yourself from the competition. Take it one step further, be distinctive.  


“Different is not better. If I slap every customer in the face, I’m different, but it doesn’t mean that they’re going to come back and buy from me. Better is better,” Scott says. “Differentiation just means I’m different than my competitors in the marketplace. Distinction means that the points that I’ve chosen to stand out have traction and meaning for my customers. If it doesn’t mean something to the customer, then it’s not going to be significant in the marketplace.” 



According to Scott, being distinctive means that you’re the go-to in your industry. You don’t have to be an enterprise-sized company to be the standard bearer. Scott used the example of being the stand-out insurance agency in your community, soaking up repeat and referral business. 


“Iconic is when I am so good at what I do I transcend my category,” Scott said. “In other words, I’m not only the best insurance agent in town (that) my clients wish their doctor ran his office like I ran mine. They wish their accountant ran her office the way I’m running my business. I become the standard by which everything else is judged, and so there are iconic businesses they are iconic within their community.” 


To prove his point, in his book “Iconic,” instead of writing about the usual business case studies like Nordstrom or Southwest Airlines, he picked an example from his backyard of Indianapolis, Indiana — the St. Elmo Steakhouse. 


If you don’t know much about St. Elmo, Google it. St. Elmo’s a must-stop for celebrities passing through town.  


In fact, on one of Rolling Stones’ recent tours, they planned two dates in Indianapolis because they wanted to eat at St. Elmo’s. Now that’s iconic! 


Four Cornerstones of Distinction 


Through his research, Scott found four cornerstones of distinction: clarity, creativity, communication, and customer experience. 


“It begins with clarity,” Scott said. “It sounds so easy, and it’s the hardest one for many of the four. Because clarity is not just what you are, it’s also where you’re willing to put your flag in the ground and say, ‘Hey, this is what we are not.’ Too many businesses think the safe way is to be all things to all people. One of the things, for example, I work with financial advisors is hearing them say, ‘Oh yeah, but I’m that too.’ Once you start saying that it’s the slippery slope to being generic. We are recognized for our differences, not our similarities.” 


Next comes creativity, which took him to Nashville. After having conversations with about 20 songwriters in Music City, he found a connection to clarity. 


“Creativity is the lifeblood of their business, and it has to be consistent,” Scott said. “Without exception, they all said, I got to get clear first before I get creative.” 


It makes no difference if you’re writing a song or running a business. You have to define your audience before you start. Once you do that, then the creativity will flow. 


“One of the songwriters said something that struck me,” Scott said. “Everybody talks about thinking outside the box. The problem is they don’t even know the box. That really hit me. If we’re not clear first, it’s really difficult to create meaningful innovation.” 


Get your act(s) together  


Next comes communication. That’s the story we tell about our businesses.  


“When it comes to communication, narrative is the key,” Scott said. “You can graduate from a very distinguished university with an MBA and never take a course on the customer experience. Never take a course on communicating with customers. 


Scott says you need to think of your business like a movie or TV show: a program with three acts. 


“Act one is the introduction of characters in conflict. In business, it’s not about you. It’s about the conflict your customers have. What’s the problem they need solved? What’s the issue that’s it’s really important to them?” Scott said. 


Act two is the search for resolution, the longest of the three acts. 


It all leads us to act three, the resolution. 


“That’s where we excel as business(es). Because the heroic resolution is not that we’re the hero, but the customer has made the decision to use our product and service to resolve their issue and resolve their challenges,” Scott said. 


Scott says one of the biggest mistakes businesses make is companies start their story in the second act. We have the solution. We hope it will lead to resolution before we listen to the customer’s story and figure out their conflict.  


“At the end of the day, our prospects are always going to value the stories about other customers, or they’re going to value the story about how great our product is or how great our services (are), Scott said. “We have to connect through the narrative with customers.” 


The Customer Service vs. Customer Experience 


This leads to the story we tell our customers, or what our customers tell about our businesses. So many times, you hear the terms customer service and customer experience used interchangeably. Scott says you should stop that immediately. 


“The difference between the (customer) experience and (customer) service, the experience adds the elements of personalization and emotion. Where service is: I smile, I do the transaction quickly and efficiently, tell you to have a nice day,” Scott said. “The personalization is what we can do to make the customer feel that it’s about them. It’s not about us. It’s about them.”  


Scott points to companies that contacted customers during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, not selling anything but just showing that they cared as a recent example of customer experience. 


Another part of the experience Scott points out is loyalty. Companies and customers need to understand that it’s a reciprocal relationship – like a marriage, there has to be give and take on both sides.  


I’d like to thank Scott for his insight and time. It was great catching up with an old friend and getting great advice at the same time.  


If you’d like to hear our complete conversation, including us swapping stories on how we proposed to our spouses and me messing up Scott’s name in a very distinctive way, listen to this episode of All Business with Jeffrey Hayzlett. 


If you’d like to participate in conversations like this and maybe even ask a question or two, become an Executive leader in the C-Suite Network . For less than the cost of a business lunch a month, you will gain access to the content and community to make you the most strategic person in the room. Click here to join us 

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