Leading the Connected Brand: It's OK to Know That You Don't Know

"A thinker without paradox is like a lover without feeling."
— Sören Kierkegaard

For most of us brought up on the notion that business thinking is supposed to be logical and finite, just entertaining such an idea might meet with resistance. Perhaps that counterpoint is valid, but I urge you to consider the following observations and see if you still think that way after you’ve finished reading this.

The rapid increase in sales of business books today clearly makes a statement. We all seem to be looking for just the right answer in an unpredictable environment. But is there really a "right" answer? As variables increase in the global marketplace, at best we have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, and isn't that the best position to be in?

Why? because not knowing for sure, helps us avoid going in the wrong direction until we find that it is too late. The ability to embrace paradox allows us to accept our relative position relevant to time and place in the interconnected marketplace, and move as swiftly or carfully as required for survival and eventually thrival in any market opportunity.

Today, smarter marketers are already discovering that brand survival is based on both value innovation and referencing. Ideas that present a paradoxical situation even though the result seems clear.

"Value innovation" refers to a differentiating the business model by not accepting the current industry conditions. Jet blue did it when they asked why can’t passengers see live TV? Cirque de Soleil did it when they asked why does a circus need live animals? We are doing it at RezzLine when we asked why must reservations have markups and middleman merchants? You get the idea, but here’s the kicker.

Current studies showing today’s emerging brands that survive in the marketplace only innovate about 20% more than what currently exists. Why? That’s where "referencing" comes in. The VW Beetle worked because we already fell in love with the Bug from the 60’s and we have a mental reference. Hybrid and electric cars are barely coming into the market now after having existed since Bucky Fuller’s inventions from the 30’s. Why? Because most of us subconsciously still reference them as "toys" and not a substantial modes of transportation.

So here in lies the paradox. For not only the sake of human progress, but survival in a connected marketplace of "the next cool thing" seekers, we have no choice but to innovate new value. At the same time, we’ve got to keep things the same or at least similar so that people don’t resist it, or worse, don’t even "get it". What’s an enlightened brand leader to do?

The answer is clear if you’re comfortable with ambiguity.

If you were, the world could open up to so many possibilities:

Airlines are cutting costs everywhere, but no one yet is looking to cut airports out of the picture, even though that inefficient model of "going to the venue" rather than "the venue coming to you" makes much more sense in a border less world.

Take data management for instance. Servers are taking up space while hosting costs are being negotiated down, but no one yet has offered a solution where data perpetually lives in transit until requested.

We have technology that can split atoms, but yet we are still struggling with water conservation as we still prefer the "washing" of clothes to the more sanitary "de-particle-izing" of foreign elements from them. Maybe because the "reference" is too far removed from "dry cleaning" now?

There are even more ideas from me and the world waiting for paradoxical questions to bring them into existence…

See, in a interconnected world, we are dealing with opposing energies that always have a "sweet spot" for someone or everyone in a relevant time and place. If you believe that you can thrive while living with paradox, ambiguity and uncertainty you can make it work to your advantage. If you’re still struggling with it, you might feel that the chicken and egg scenario needs closure.

It doesn’t.

Even the concept of a "brand" was a mass-market paradigm based on securing a position in the customer’s mind. Most in the interconnected marketplace now know better, but we also know that without building a brand you’d largely go ignored and get lost in the marketing noise.

Now, how to build a brand where paradox reigns…well, that is a far more interesting question.

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