Uncovering Your Otterness: A Lesson in Branding and Messaging

otter business messagingAin’t this the question of the century:

Who are you and what is it that you do?

Today’s business landscape is crawling with consultants. Whatever — it’s also crawling with words like “landscape” and I use them because sometimes I just get lazy and don’t want to say “business world.” Don’t be judgy. Or judgey. Or however that made-up word is spelled. Maybe we should just set semantics aside and think about it this way.

If you’re going to be the almond in the jar of M&Ms, how do you (1) stand out, and (2) help people understand why the hell you landed in the jar of M&Ms in the first place, and (3) why they shouldn’t just either eat you alive or chuck you in the bin because you

Just. Don’t. Make. Sense.

*insert question mark*

Sure, it’s crystal freakin’ clear. TO YOU.

Every day, I work with teams to help client answer this question. But when’s the last time I asked it of myself? Yesterday, in fact. But it had been awhile.

And that’s because it’s crystal freakin’ clear what I do and for whom I do it. TO ME.

Which matters ZILCH.

I was reminded in pretty short order that we all walk around with this list of assumptions that have pitched tents and decided to camp out in our heads. We’re the only ones who know that those assumptions exist and those assumptions alone are the single greatest obstacle we have to growing our businesses in the direction we want them to grow.

We assume people get what it is we do, when the opposite is most likely the truth.

So here’s a process I went through last night that’s designed to help me take the ass out of my assumptions and get some messaging straight for myself. It’s the only way I’m going to help other see me straight and get some building for my business done in the right direction.

otternessUncover your otterness

Let’s just pretend for a moment that these otters aren’t in some bizarre National geographic-style 69. You know what you’re good at. What you love doing. What makes your heart sing like an otter with a fish-flavored prize. That’s your otterness — your innate ability to score. It’s why you get paid. Your bargaining chip.

The bitch of it all is that you have to be able to help people understand why they should care and what your otterness means to their business.

So first, you have to have in your head — in plain English — who you are, what you do, and why these people should care.

These is the most important part of that equation.

Because it’s only then that you can get to the how — as in how you’re going to help them get from where they are to where they want to be.

Think about your audiences. Plural. You don’t have just one. Not even a Chia Pet has just one audience. There isn’t a single successful brand that has only one audience so first, focus on you and your otterness.

Next, focus on the different whos that you enjoy working with most — or would like to begin working with (ah hah!).

And now, you’re ready to focus on expressing your otterness specifically for that audience, because one size doesn’t fit all. At all.

Otterness Erika NapoletanoThe Message: Deliver the fish

You’ve got who you are and what you do on lockdown, you aquatic mammal, you. And shit howdy, you’ve identified who needs your fish-flavored prize! Now it’s time to deliver the fish.

In the most rudimentary of terms, it sounds like this: “I am X (OTTER) and I help companies like yours do Y (OTTERNESS) so that you can Z (FISH: DELIVERED).”


Small print disclaimer: Verbiage in the X/Y/Z format as above is only appropriate in the company of colleagues or in the company of no one at all in your bathroom. Start simple (it keeps the bullshit buzzspeak out) and then sass it up as need be. Messaging that works (aka “delivering the fish”) is simple and makes the target audience do one of a three things:

  • SHITBALLS! I need that and where can I get it.
  • REALLY? You have my attention…go on.
  • BOLLOCKS! I think what you do is nonsense.

Either way, your otterness is clearly expressed. And I know the “bollocks” option above scares the shit out of some of you. But your target audience isn’t everyone. You’re not the slutty girl, so don’t start thinking like one.

Otter. Otterness. Deliver the fish.

Yesterday was a wakeup call for me, asked to explain my target demographics in an instant and how what I do makes them rockstars. Given my propensity for cute animals, it was only appropriate that I turned to the otter as a metaphor for working out what needs work.

Wherever you are in your business, you could be doing better. Yesterday, I reached out to someone in an effort to do better and got blindsided by a question that I answer for clients daily. So if we’re going to do better, the path of otterness is a pretty good path to get there, methinks. Not only are they adorable and not nearly as annoying as a rat dog nor angry as a honey badger, they know (as we should) that there is one goal:

Deliver the fish.

And the one thing that maddens me incessantly is when I don’t get what a company or vendor can do for me and why I should care.

Seems that since I can do this for other companies, the time has come to do it for myself — and make it an ongoing process. We have an onus to make it easy for our customers to understand what it is that we do.

It’s respectful of their time.

It’s attentive, as the customer always comes first and is the reason we’re allowed to be in business from day to day.

And honestly, it’s just smart.

Because when you make it easy for your audience to understand what it is you do for THEM, it’s a boatload easier for them to tell other THEMS why they should be working with you, too.

PS: I happened to find this via UnsharedTV last night on Pinterest — otters have to uncover their otterness just like we do.

can’t see the video? click here.


I'm in the middle of "The Bootstrap Bootcamp" offered by Jon Morrow and Johnny B. Truant and as usual, Erika's blog comes at just the right time. First, she kick-started my journey into entrepreneurship talking about owls, and not with the otters, she's prompted me to stop and truly think about “I am X (OTTER) and I help companies like yours do Y (OTTERNESS) so that you can Z (FISH: DELIVERED).” Thanks, you brilliant redhead. I swear there's something about you folks with red hair that makes you simply amazing. And I should know. I'm married to a red head who is one of the smartest guys I know.


That bit where the mom has the baby's back leg and is trying to drag him into the water? Exactly how I feel trying to drag some clients into conversational, in their opinion "pointless", posts. Thanks for the giggle. Great post - I'll be looking into my fish today!

Andrea Wilson
Andrea Wilson

"We assume people get what it is we do, when the opposite is most likely the truth."--Perfectly said and exactly what I needed to hear. Had an AHA moment earlier today. Had another one after reading your post. Thank you! ~ Another Redhead Who Rocks


AAAaaaaaaa!!!!  I've been looking for a sign all day and THIS IS IT!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  Unstuck.  Dammit I love redheads, you rock.  Now, don't anyone go look at my website for 24 hours, while I re-write the entire thing.

Bill Dorman
Bill Dorman

Otters are cute but they will bite the ever livin' mud out of you; they think you are the fish. Kind of like thinking panda bears are cute and you can just go up and pet them..... Good questions indeed; I 'sell' commercial insurance and that is how I get paid and it's not like there aren't already a zillion of us out there, huh? However, I explore all threats to the business and profitability and only about half of it is addressed through an 'insurance' policy. We are effective and held accountable through quantifiable results. HOWEVER, regardless of how you spin it, sometimes it is still blah, blah, blah.  Our successes are our best referral sources; when they are willing to pick up the phone and create an audience for us with one of their peers, that's priceless.  Insurance is sexy................not; but you save someone $250,000 because they buy into what you are doing for them, that will get you a lot of referrals, much love for all.  Sorry this was all about me but that was the only way I knew how to relate. Yes, I could do a much better job of letting people know 'exactly' what I do and what I can do for them. Most business owners know 'commercial' insurance, but it's at that level you have to differentiate.  I will go on record stating I do have the best job ever......just sayin'........:). That is all....