The First to Market Myth

Sequels usually suck. But if anything, one redeeming factor from the "Get Shorty" sequel called "Be Cool" offered a line that is nothing short of profound.

Chili Palmer, John Travolta’s character pulls up in a hybrid Toyota Prius, and Danny DeVito’s character Martin Weir comments: "But what about speed?" To that Chili coolly replies:

"If you’re important, they’ll wait."

This is not a good review of a "whatever" movie; instead it is an insight that most startups in the "first to market" race often miss. The context of where they compete.

In rush to get to market, a lot of companies forget why they are rushing in the first place. In a connected world, your customers are looking for you and not the other way around. Their expectations are high, and as much as you can give them, they expect more. From you or your competition, it doesn’t matter. That’s the reality.

The only reasonable solution for a marketer is to build authentic relationships with their customers. Not positioning hype, not over-promised emotional connectors, not anything that is short of what the brand experience is actually capable of delivering. To deliver that, requires more than just a slick marketing effort, it requires careful orchestration of marketing, innovation and operations with sustainable satisfaction for all involved.

That takes time.

Gone are the days where you can just throw something out there with no infrastructure to respond to price wars, logistics, or sustainability mechanisms to weather storms while others play predatory or parasitic tricks on your brand. And that’s just dealing with competition!

Truth is, a systemic, connected brand is more than what initially appears on the surface. It must take into account longevity and sustainable innovation practices before it rolls out. The iPod took it’s own sweet time while MP3 players tested the waters for them in the marketplace, so did a host of other amazing innovations we marvel at today. That’s what it takes to be great, and that’s far more important than being first. To reiterate Chili Palmer’s words:

"If you’re important, they’ll wait."

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.

New Rules for Top Dogs in the Next Economy

Famous CEOs and Entrepreneurs continue to make headlines and probably always will. From Sir Branson to Mr. Jobs and Ms. Stewart and many others, you’d think that their celebrity is not only justified, but is essential to the brands they steward. You’d be right! But maybe not for the reasons you might think.

As brands become more about real value relative to expectation, the company delivering that expectation absolutely has to be about the leadership that is setting it. As differentiation becomes inseparable from innovation, leadership too must become much more than about PR management and covering your ASSets. Not understanding the interrelated dependencies between customer, employee/partner and shareholder satisfaction, and focusing only on who gets you ahead in the short term will cost you, dearly. The recent fate of Ken Lays, The evil bald dude from Tyco, and even our beloved Carly of HP fame should prove as adequate examples for now (I’ve got many more…).

Unfortunately, the past economy was predicated on top down control, and subsequently narcissistic personalities were, generally the right fit to wade through company politics (and deals) to the top. In the connection age however, that mindset hurts not only the bruised egos of the passed over VPs and the silent partners, it hurts the brand.

See, the narcissistic leader (to borrow from Malcolm Gladwell) embodies the following qualities (see if it applies to your leader):

Narcissists typically make judgments with greater confidence than other people…and, because their judgments are rendered with such conviction, other people tend to believe them and the narcissists become disproportionately more influential in group situations. Finally, because of their self-confidence and strong need for recognition, narcissists tend to "self-nominate;" consequently, when a leadership gap appears in a group or organization, the narcissists rush to fill it.

From the red state constituents to those who put Putin in power, the mentalities of leaders who embody this kind of thinking largely go unnoticed; but rest assured, their narcissistic actions absolutely affects their brand (or country as the case may be).

In an interconnected society the smoke eventually clears, and mirrors reveal all the stuff Botox couldn’t possibly hide. It’s time for leaders to admit mistakes (quickly), listen, and let true talent shine. If they don’t they’ll not only have no place to hide, their brands will have no competitive juice in the marketplace.

Can Dissatisfaction Help You Differentiate?

Jeff Einstein, a cool connection of mine once told me:

Ignorance plus Intent equals innovation

Though I find that to be true in my experience, I couldn't help but wonder what is it that really creates that intent? Sure, the thoughtful answer might be that it is curiosity, a burning question, a destruction somewhere else which creates an opportunity here, or that it is the drive of the individual who just can't let an idea stay that way.

But what creates that drive? Is it about survival, adaptation, self-actualization, what? Why even bother to look so deep, what will that reveal? Well, in a connected world it can reveal plenty. Specifically on how to do all of the above. Adapt, survive and create meaning in the marketplace that is integral to the fabric of our lives.

The way I see it is that it is ultimately about dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction is a required mindset for surviving in the connection age. As "differentiating" becomes about innovative authenticity and not about "positioning" in the mass marketing sense, how to fuel the creative forces that contribute to it is foremost on my mind.

Corporations often spend huge amounts of resources into their "innovation" centers where ideas flow, open workspaces reign, and fresh flowers set the mood, but time and time again we see creativity drop off, and great ideas come in from garages and home offices of far less affluent (sometimes struggling) companies. Why?

Just as Peter Huber theorizes in the "Endless Well" about why conservation of the existing reserves of fuel "un-motivates" us to think up new ways of innovating energy use, the similar idea applies for general creative progress. When we try to harness the ideal conditions, or save existing resources to generate optimum ideas (i.e resource conservation, efficiency monitoring, etc.), it gives us little incentive to look for new and different ways of getting out of our discomfort.

We have the infinite capacity to create the next, but if we are overly concerned with maintaining the existing, we will never be able to do it. You can’t bottle or box a formula for creative achievement; the conditions have to exist outside it.

Think of it like this:

If you suddenly won the lottery, how good of a money manager will you make?

If you’ve never failed, what are your chances of true success?

If your job just required you to show up and nothing more, how good will you be at it?

I believe innovation is the result of a mindset that is constantly dissatisfied with the status quo. If you’re not, ask different questions so that you are. And as far as "ignorance" in the original statement goes, well isn’t that a part of forging your own path because you are dissatisfied with the "proper way to do things?

Does Becoming "Cooler" Make Marketing Cheaper?

"We must be the change we wish to see". Said MK Gandhi, and today it seems to be as profound in commerce for the connection age as it is in life.

As we enter a new realm of interconnectivity, the traditional view of increasing your marketing spending (advertising, specifically) as your company grows may just prove to be false. It might however, more closely reflect Gandhi’s observation as you consider the following:

As your brand lives and breathes, you are already a part of the connected economy that makes up the entire fabric of your customers. They are increasingly dissatisfied with positioned messages, have less retention of your "messaged" existence amidst the marketing noise that is growing everyday from discernible voices to a loud unintelligible droning roar. They are always on the lookout for the next, they fear missing out, and they need stories that make for substantial conversations when they run out of topics during the Sunday afternoon get-togethers with those they think they ought to fraternize with as friends. They are in constant "seeking the cool" mode.

Just like high school, you or your brand can’t ever be cool by trying to be. If you are "cool", it is likely because you’ve learned to be in touch with what inherently makes you unique. In the white noise of even the most creative advertising and promotional expenditure, people still seek out "unadvertised" gems. That’s how Google becomes a verb, and the biggest of global brands lose shelf space to "cool" local ones.

So what is this journey for cool, and how can your brand get you some? For starters, it is about being excellent. Excellence is not common simply by it’s own self-discovering process. Excellence creates authentic, truly compelling stories without you having to spend energy making them up. Excellence gathers momentum with others also on the same journey, and it likes company. It requires no promotion, because its very nature attracts. Excellence is a mind shift.

Can you make the shift? The real question might be what is the change you wish to see? Do you want to keep "positioning" a growing audience of savvy customers into your brand's early demise, or do you want to answer a fundamental market need in the most excellent way you can now and into the future? If the answer is the latter, then you’re already on your way. I think Gandhi would be proud…even though you’re just selling stuff :)

Open Accountability

Until now, corporations have been built on the assumption of continuity; so they focus on operations and efficiency. Control has always been a factor in ensuring accountability, but does that still apply in a connected economy?

Genetically, we humans are 96% identical yet our diversity is the core value each of us bring. It is a result of what sticks and what falls out that has built a biological system that basically is the same with some minor variance. In the connected age, we are interacting with a bionomic world economy, where open collaboration is rapidly becoming the norm and not the exception. In this case, where does controlled accountability really fit in?

As you are reading this, just think about the power of political blogs and their accountability over pre-packaged "talking point" intensive network news. The latter is accountable enough to have veterans like Dan Rather lose his job, where the emergent bloggers reign in the new order of authenticity. If a blogger bullshits, there are multiple others with valid research to discredit them almost immediately. This is very interesting indeed.

It seems that openness impels real accountability. From a control paradigm of the last version of the economy, this is often bothersome to the status quo, but real accountability it seems ultimately rests with openness.

Is it any wonder that everyone from IBM to even Microsoft is spouting opensource innovations, and GM now has a blog with podcasts being updated daily? It’s not only natural, it’s a wake up call to companies who think they can thrive while excluding themselves from participating from global discussions.

I believe real accountability is here, it thrives on openness, and it needs that 96% participation to create a global economy that can stand the test of time.

© 2006 GROW |