November 12

Episode 09: Cultivate Breakthrough Moments with Ian Hameroff


In this episode of the Unstuck and On Target podcast, Mike O’Neil interviews Ian Hameroff to discuss how tech companies can bridge the gap between product innovators and their audience.

Ian Hameroff is the Founder and Chief Strategist of the Fulcrum Group, and he’s committed to helping his clients discover the “why” so they can create “ah-ha” moments with their audience.

In This Episode, You’ll Learn…

  • How to use reality-based marketing to reach your target audience and break through the noise
  • How to use storytelling to increase the effectiveness of your messaging
  • The five whys that you need to answer so you can clarify your message
  • How to create breakthrough moments


  • “I had this ability to wed my deep passions and desire and capacity for wrapping my head around complex things that technology often introduces, and marry it with my love of storytelling.”  – Ian Hameroff
  • “The way we create what I love to call ‘breakthrough’ moments is through storytelling — is through taking the essence of the innovation and crafting it in a way that is going to resonate and breakthrough to the audience that it’s meant for and that it’s trying to reach.” – Ian Hameroff
  • “The ah-ha moment that happens has been so consistent with companies that are just getting started or been at it for ten years.”  – Ian Hameroff
  • “They focus too hard on telling all the ‘what it is’ story and they tend to forget and remind themselves why it matters and why it matters to the audience they are intending to reach.”  – Ian Hameroff
  • “You’re going to end up running fast into a wall if you don’t understand who you’re trying to reach.” – Ian Hameroff
  • “Usually the symptom, the thing that brings me into the equation, is very tactical, but in the process of trying to deliver that is where the fun really begins.”  – Ian Hameroff
  • “There are so many narratives competing for our attention every day. Last year, or the year before, there was a statistic that said we’re exposed to 5,000 narratives, both in our personal and professional life every day.” – Ian Hameroff
  • “You have to work from the perspective of your target and work your way backward vs. the other way around, and that begins first by understanding your audience”  – Ian Hameroff
  • “Often your competitor isn’t necessarily another product or offering, it’s the status quo.” – Ian Hameroff
  • “Driving a reality-based marketing approach begins with understanding who you’re trying to reach.”  – Ian Hameroff
  • “We should never discount the small innovations because sometimes the small ones have a bigger impact than we even realize.” – Ian Hameroff
  • “Innovation is doing something different or attempting to change the status quo.” – Ian Hameroff
  • “Don’t make it hard for your audience to know why.” – Ian Hameroff

Links & Resources Mentioned…

Read The Transcript

Mike O'Neill: Hello and welcome back to the Get Unstuck & On Target Podcast. I'm Mike O'Neil with Bench Builders, and we're speaking with thought leaders to uncover tips to help you break down the barriers that are keeping you or your business stuck. Joining me today from Seattle is Ian Hameroff.  Welcome Ian!

Ian Hameroff: Thanks, Mike. It's great to be here.

Mike O'Neill: I'm looking forward to our time together. A little bit about Ian, he is the founder of the Fulcrum Group. It's a marketing company that helps bridge the gap between the product innovators build and the audience they want to reach. Brian Rutberg a future podcast guest recommended Ian, and I'm glad he did because I've enjoyed getting to know him prior to us recording this podcast.

I was also drawn to Ian in part by the importance to his firm, places in helping their clients create breakthrough moments. And I'm looking forward to learning how they go about doing that. So, Ian, let's just jump right in. You're in Seattle. I am in the Southeast and I have this notion of what life is like the business world is like in Seattle.

I know you've worked with some very, name recognized companies. The nature of your kind of work. Do you work a lot with the, companies that we associate with the Pacific Northwest, or do you go all over the country?

Ian Hameroff: Yeah. And while we are cloud city, both from the standpoint of having two of the three, actually now all three more or less are up here in the Northwest with Microsoft, Amazon, and Google all powering the internet with their cloud solutions and cloud technologies.

And we also have the cloud says, you know, our reputation, certainly  holds true, although not all of these. Well all throughout the year, it's quite beautiful here for many parts of the year. The companies I work with are all high tech, whether they're based up here in the Northwest, or throughout the country or even around the world, I primarily focus on business to business high-tech companies.

And these days, especially startups through the scale-up size companies that I predominantly partner with there is some aspect of cloud, some aspect of the software as a service model that is baked into what they're offering

Mike O'Neill: You work with primarily high-tech companies. If you were to describe what differentiates high-tech companies from other types of companies, what are some of those things that you notice are most different?

Ian Hameroff: It's a great question, because really today, what company isn't a technology company, or maybe putting in a different way, what company can sustain and grow without being a technology company. Now, I think there's a very big difference between say, a Microsoft or a Google or an Amazon, or even smaller size companies, many of which are the clients that I work with who are dedicated to developing, building marketing, supporting high-tech solutions, that often become empowering tools for other businesses, regardless of whether or not they consider themselves a technology company.

So at the end of the day, we're all technology companies. and in fact technology makes it possible for you being in the Southeast corner of the country and I being in Northwest corner of the country to even have this conversation to begin with.

Mike O'Neill: It's pretty amazing as I kinda think of products, my mind automatically goes to making it's a actual product, but we're talking about high tech And when I introduced you, I was describing, how you take, a product that might be a little bit hard to describe.

It could be an app or the like, and how do you make known the availability of that to the target audience is that the kind of the niche, the Fulcrum Group tends to focus on.

Ian Hameroff: And in fact, it's my biggest area of passion. And part of it comes from my, own sort of career path and experience. You know, I started on the product side, went to school for engineering.

And unfortunately I wrote a bunch of code that wasn't particularly good. So they said, "Hey, why don't you go over to the marketing side of the house?" Because I had this ability to wed my deep passion and desire and capacity for wrapping my head around complex things that technology often, introduces and marry it with my love of storytelling.

And this is why I've always gravitated towards product marketing or roles related to product marketing, because we uniquely sit between those innovations that are built and the audiences that are meant to be the consumers of them. And it can be difficult for either side to understand each other, without someone like myself who often comes in and helps bridge that gap, as, you mentioned earlier on

And the way we do that, the way we make that sticky or we create what I love the called breakthrough moments is through storytelling is through, you know, taking the essence of the innovation and crafting it in a way that's going to resonate and breakthrough to the audience that it's meant for and who it's trying to reach

Mike O'Neill: As I'm listening to you and I'm trying to imagine, as you're working with a client, it seems to me that it could be very, clear in the client's mind of what is it they offer. But if they can't convey that to their audience, then are they essentially stuck?

Ian Hameroff: Yeah. In fact, the aha moment that happens is been so consistent with companies that are just getting started or have been at it for 10 years.

And for me, I have found it's really easy for innovators to get wrapped around the details wrapped around all the facets and functionality, because you're very close to it.

And you've probably put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into creating the innovations you have. So there's a common trap or, you know, tarpit, or, an area that they can get stuck, which is they focus too hard on telling all the, "what it is" story.

And they tend to forget and, remind themselves why it matters and more importantly, why it matters to the audience they're trying to reach. So my methodology, the approach I take is always starting from that prospect of, okay, I get, you got cool stuff and believe me, I'm a complete nerd when it comes to all these different types of technologies, which has been an awesome aspect of working as a consultant is I get exposed to such a wide variety of technologies and spaces and markets.

But remember your audience doesn't have the time or nor has spent the time to know your technology, to then figure out why it's applicable to what they're trying to solve, what they need.

This is why I am always coming in and asking the question, why do you exist for whom?

What is it that you're solving for them?

And what should they expect as an outcome?

Because you cannot expect the, client, the prospect to do all that calculus on their own, because they just don't have the time. And if you expect them to do that on their own field, it's going to go somewhere else or just not do anything at all.

Mike O'Neill: You know, you described how you can come in and you ask the why.

And when you find that they've called you in, maybe because they realized, Ooh, this is not going according to plan, perhaps we're stuck or it's real clear in our mind, can you help us? As you were working with the client, particularly early on, what are the feelings that you are seeing them have when they are stuck as a client?

Ian Hameroff: It's interesting. What I have found in many cases is I get brought in for something pretty tangible and tactical. Hey, we need help with our narrative, or we need help with some content to be able to scale our story. Something as simple as a presentation, all the way up to a whole range of supportive materials enablement and the like, or even just, you know, help figuring out how do they go to market.

How do you think about their partner strategy?

How do they think about launches?

So usually the symptom, the thing that brings me into the equation is, you know, very tactical, and tactile rather. But in the process of trying to deliver that is where the fun really begins. And that is going through and helping them understand and letting a lot of the minutia details sit to the side until we've answered some very fundamental questions.

The other thing that I've found extremely helpful to help, not only my clients get unstuck, but even myself in the journey of working with them to create those breakthrough moments is the application of the five whys.

And that is, you know, okay, so you've created this. Why?

Well, why is that important now?

Why is that important? Why will that mean?

And just going through that process, is so illuminating and you really do get down to that top-line value proposition. The key thing that's going to pick the lock of your prospects interest. Which then gives you time to go through and tell them about all the details on how it works and, the bits and bites that usually my clients are most excited about when I first engaged with them and want to figure out how to tell that story.

Mike O'Neill: Ian, you mentioned that top-line value proposition, and we talked about this role of storytelling. To be able to take once they come to the understanding of what that top line value proposition is. Is this when your super power comes really into play?

Ian Hameroff: Yeah, it's, really fun. Thinking through how to tell a story.

But amazingly, what I tend to use most is not my past experiences, you know, writing or developing content, or, you know, all the things I've done as a full-time employee, or now as a consultant, which people often associate with marketing or product marketing.

Instead, I actually lean in very heavily to one of my other passions, which is photography.

And what's interesting about photography is you don't have the benefits of the thousand words that you're trying to convey in a, photo, in a photograph.

Instead you have to do a lot of work to help the audience know where to look. And that, to me, separates a snapshot from a photograph and in many respects, that same notion of you've got to focus in and help the audience know where to look in your story is what I bring into the conversation.

As we're trying to craft that narrative, as we're trying to utilize storytelling to bridge that gap between the innovation that they've developed and the audience they're trying to reach. And I also constantly remind my clients, even myself. There are so many narratives competing for our attention every day.

Just last year, the year before, there, was a statistic that said we're exposed to like, 5,000 narratives, both in our personal and professional life just every day. And it's going to be really, difficult for anybody, regardless of the context, to hear yours, if you're the 5001st.

But you make it really hard for them to know why they should listen, at all. And again, that comes back to not only storytelling, but making sure that top-line value proposition of all the things you can do. What is that most important thing that's going to break through? Because then you'll get the time to tell them the rest.

Mike O'Neill: I loved your description of how photography kind of has informed you. It's informed your consulting practice, and this is a little bit over simplistic, but if they can develop a mental picture of what is it they can offer then increases the likelihood that you can help build a mental picture for their clients.

If I'm understanding that correctly. And so you are using some unusual gifts. Your your technical ability, your engineering ability, your storytelling ability, your photography, in a very unique way.

So when you're dealing with a client that recognizes "Golly, we are 5,001". What might you find? You mentioned those breakthrough moments, what might be the way that you go about really getting that aha that can really differentiate them so they can be seen out there in a very cluttered environment.

Ian Hameroff: Yeah, I call this reality-based marketing. it's just another way of saying you got to start from the perspective of your target and work your way backwards versus the other way around. And that begins by first understanding your audience, understanding their needs, their desires, their concerns.

What, keeps them up at night, because, you know, often your competitor. The, person or the thing that you're competing against isn't necessarily another product or offering it's the status quo.

We all have enough on our plates every day. We don't necessarily wake up in the morning and go, we got to change something or it's that evident in every case.

So the ahas come from really understanding, who are you for? Why do you exist and who are you for? And what, is it you're solving? and it can be quite stunning sometimes that a client doesn't really think of it that way. Primarily because, you know, they've thought about a cool innovation, and that innovation certainly has applicability.

They're not just to build building things in a vacuum. In fact, most of them have started to solve problems they had for themselves. But you also have to remember, you're not necessarily the customer after you've gotten something that you're about ready to market. So, you know, finding those ahas. Driving a reality based marketing approach begins with understanding who you're trying to reach.

But that's, to me, the second question after you answer the first one, which is why do you exist? And you can say they're, very close, but I'm very deliberate and starting with that and then working down the path towards, okay, why do you exist for whom and what should they expect to get? And it seems sometimes like an over-simplification of the situation that a lot of these innovators find themselves in, but it's also very freeing once you understand that.

Mike O'Neill: You described innovators, and if you were to compare and contrast, innovators from others, what makes an innovator?

Ian Hameroff: It's, you know, it, maybe innovator is a phrase that gets overused. Maybe it's a bit diluted. I would consider an innovator anyone who's trying to do something different, and innovations could be massive or they can be very small and we should never discount the small innovations because sometimes the small ones have a bigger impact than we even realize.

So for me, innovation is doing something different or attempting to change the status quo. Which is quite a mountain to climb, or maybe it's just the foothills. Regardless, it is important to recognize that you are going to end up running fast into a wall if you don't understand who you're trying to reach.

Mike O'Neill: I appreciate your clarification because innovators could mean some huge idea or it could be a slide improvement on that idea, but that slight improvement, it can make all the difference.

Ian Hameroff: It's really both.

Mike O'Neill: You said something that kind of caught my attention and that is you characterize status quo in a way that I have never heard described before, but can status quo be another form of being stuck?

Ian Hameroff: Oh, certainly And, sometimes it's easy to forget that you're asking someone to change, and just ask yourself, like, how easy is it for someone you don't even know who maybe doesn't even really know you that well, that comments saying, "Hey, Mike, you're doing it all wrong. You've got to change it."

Right. And that's a recipe for inertia. and if you're able to help them understand that there is a better way and what that better way could be, you can overcome the status quo. But, often that is your biggest competitor, whether you're a new innovator or you're a company that existed for a long time.

I mean, that was a really interesting aha for me when I worked at Microsoft, for example, in the Microsoft office business. As new technologies or other, vendors were coming into the forefront, like for example, like Google, you know, does it go there's, our big competitor, there's Google, they're coming up with their own thing.

But, yeah, more of them than not our competitor wasn't necessarily Google. It was a previous release of, office. and it's, not just a, Oh, that was good enough. But the behavioral change to move from one thing to another isn't necessarily any better or worse from doing nothing at all.

And doing nothing at all, especially these days where we have to really winnow down what we focus on, given everything that's happening around the world. It can be even tougher for innovators to insight and catalyze a change from the status quo regardless of what their technology does.

So just don't make it hard for your audience to know why. Once they understand why you've got a better shot of helping them consider it, that they will.

Mike O'Neill: You know, I've been kind of intrigued as you described very well using words. I wish we had the opportunity for you to use pictures as well.

And words to kind of describe the process that you kind of follow, but it sounds as if you really stay very, focused on who is our audience, but before you can even answer that, you have to answer who are we.

And what is it we can do for those audiences. And if I understand correctly, how you can bridge that in a way that's meaningful, you use the term reality-based marketing.

Is that a common term? Is that something that you have kind of adopted.

Ian Hameroff: It's a good question. I don't know of others who have used maybe that particular phrasing, but it's another way of saying what others speak about when they say, you know, customer-centric or outside in thinking, I, think reality-based marketing is a good way to, summarize all of that because it's not one or the other, you know, you marketing in, reality means you have to appreciate the outside in thinking, but also the inside out, you have to understand why you exist as much as why anyone would care about what you do.

And, you know, not to oversimplify it, but that's certainly the, tip of the sphere. And I have found that once you've. Help someone get unstuck there the rest of it becomes a much more meaningful in easier conversation.

In fact, one of my clients, not too long ago, wanted to focus deeper down the path and, had very specific tactical things that they wanted to solve.

But by pulling back, you know, almost literally grabbing the yoke and pulling up to a higher altitude and thinking about these fundamental questions. I know it was, it's so rewarding for me when I'm able to help someone literally get unstuck in that scenario.

And they themselves have said, "You know what? You've made it so much easier to make business decisions, because I have a check in my mind that says, This is outside of why I exist, or this is not helping reinforce why it exist." And it's, extremely exciting for me to see those aha moments happen and, truly watch them get unstuck sometimes just from themselves.

Mike O'Neill: Clearly comes through, that you have a passion for what you do. And it seems to me that you are using your unique skills and aptitudes and ways that really are helping clients.

Ian, as we've been chatting, we've covered a number of things, but as we talked prior to hitting the record button and in our previous conversations, I wanted to make sure that the folks who are taking the time to listen in that they kind of have heard what you want to make sure that they have heard regarding this topic.

What might we have not covered that you want to make sure that our listeners hear?

Ian Hameroff: I think we've actually touched on the key points.

You know, first it's about thinking of the journey, right? Breakthrough moments is not a, I got that done and then move on. They take place throughout the customer journey, whether it's on the buyer side all the way through, they're an active customer and beyond.

In fact, my philosophy extends from the four phases that I define as awareness acquisition, driving usage, which is incredibly important, especially for a lot of high tech products. And then you know, retaining how do you retain a customer? and those breakthrough moments can happen all throughout that process.

And you know, just going back to the, main point I've made is, you know, it really does start from having clarity about your, why. And you know, I'm certainly not the innovator there. I have to give a lot of credit to the likes of like Simon Sinek and others. But I've found and really gravitated towards, many of the premises that are outlined in those philosophies and crafted it into my own.

And I know from application how effective it can be, and it is incredibly. Exciting and you're right. I'm very passionate about helping folks find that, because once they do it actually makes my job easier and most importantly, it makes their job easier and what they're trying to achieve, and again, creates that gap filling or closer closure of the gap between those amazing innovations that they've built and the audiences are trying to reach.

Mike O'Neill: You are very articulate. I'm enjoying listening to you describe you on more than one occasion made reference to looking back at yourself as much as you're challenging your clients do the same. You've encouraged your clients to ask the question. The why, ask it and answer the why.

Might have you done the exact same thing for your own business and perhaps for your own self personally.

Ian Hameroff: Certainly, in fact, when I made the decision in 2019 to go off on my own and start this business, I spent a lot of time asking the why. And I think I got myself stuck because I probably focus more, not probably, I certainly focused more on the, what I could do and how I could do it.

And you know, it actually just took going out and talking to folks and saying, "Hey, I'm thinking about doing this thing." And inevitably I get the question why, and you know, it's a little bit of the what's the old line, you know, the cobbler's children have no shoes. Well, my own business was suffering its own, challenges that I help others.

And in fact, you, mentioned Brian, earlier, Brian was one of those early folks that I had the opportunity, you know, certainly back before the restrictions were in place, to actually break bread with Bryan and, have that conversation. But if anything, it's only reinforced the importance of clarity on that, because once I figured that out, through the help of with folks like Brian and others, it made it so much easier to then figure out what I was going to do and how I was going to position it.

So yes, 100%. And I think one of the benefits I absolutely bring coming into an organization is a little bit of those two, three, four steps removed from the day to day and combining my, capacity and passion for technology is super important for me as well, because it means I can get in deep and what I have to say up to cruising altitude really quickly on what these technologies, these solutions, these offerings are, which then makes me even better of a sparring partner for my clients, because I can understand from a perspective beyond just simply an outsider's view,

Mike O'Neill: This has been excellent.

Ian, if folks want to get a hold of you online, what's the best way to connect.

Ian Hameroff: So you can come visit my website, and from there you can learn a little bit more about a lot of the things we've talked about here. I also have a blog up there that I called the Breakthrough Moments Blog, where some of the things we've even talked about today there's deeper articles on, and then you can very easily click and get, with me. and I really looked forward to the opportunity to hear from, viewers of, and listeners to, of this, of this episode.

Mike O'Neill: So let me encourage my listeners to do just that I have, and I have enjoyed my conversations with Ian.

I'm looking forward to continued conversations. So thank you, Ian. I appreciate your willingness to share time with us to share your insights and perhaps more importantly, your passion. Thank you.

Ian Hameroff: My pleasure.

Mike O'Neill: I do also want to thank our listeners for joining us for this episode of get unstuck and on target.

We've lined up great guests like Ian, and I'm sure you enjoy getting to know. We are uploading the latest episode every Thursday, and we hope that you'll subscribe to this podcast and invite other leaders to do the same. The easiest way to subscribe is to go to your browser and type again, or you can go to our website,

So I want to thank you for joining us. I hope you've picked up some tips to help you Get Unstuck & On Target. Until next time. Take care everbody.

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