November 24, 2011
The companies that make a real impact in the marketplace are not the ones that produce what people think they want, but rather the ones that produce what people will want but don’t know it.
The ability to know what people will want before they know it exists is not a result of intensive market research, focus groups, or telemarketing surveys. Knowing what people want is based on understanding the human condition: the motivating factors that move people from disinterest to action. Steve Jobs was unrelenting in this philosophy and it resulted in changing the computer, music, movie, and telecommunication industries and more significantly how people live, work, communicate, relax, and in some ways, think.
‘Make A Dent In The Universe’ – Steve Jobs
This is not an approach taught in business schools or self-help marketing courses designed for business neophytes. An entire industry of self-help consultants has exploded on the Internet, all designed to produce mediocrity, all based on rational analysis of what was, rather than what will be. Not many will buy into this alternate approach but that is what makes those who do, so special.
Conventional Wisdom Breeds Mediocrity
Inventing the next big thing in and of itself is not good enough for you to make that dent in the universe. Those who ultimately profit from innovation are not necessarily those who invent it. History is littered with sad stories of entrepreneurs who lacked the ability to implement and communicate their vision to the masses. You have to know how to execute, communicate, convince, and brand your vision in the minds of your audience.
Xerox may have developed the original concept of a graphical user interface and mouse, and they may have had the resources to dominate the future computer market; but they myopically saw themselves as a copier company, and instead chose to turn over the keys to the kingdom to Apple for a relatively small investment stake; much to the chagrin of the Xerox researchers who created the original technology.
The Xerox strategy was textbook business school think – stick to what you do. It’s not so much that the concept is wrong, it’s that the concept must be reinterpreted for a business environment where traditional corporate culture and methodology doesn’t understand, and can’t keep up with the pace of new technologies, and the new forms of competition they breed.
History Repeats But Some Never Learn
When Xerox realized their miscalculation they tried to capitalize on their original research by creating their own computer, but they failed because they lacked the vision needed to implement something that would spark the public’s imagination. Kodak, Polaroid, and the movie and music industries have all succumbed to the same lack of vision.
Where Xerox was run by professional managers who relied on conventional wisdom and traditional methods of operation and decision-making, the Macintosh division of Apple was run by a virtual cult leader who did whatever it took to bring his vision to market.
It’s not that Apple didn’t have the same corporate managers and engineers within the organization, they did, but their efforts resulted in the failed Lisa computer, leaving Jobs to lead his band of Silicon Valley pirates to something truly innovative. But the genius of Macintosh would never have made an impact without Jobs’ steadfast focus on excellence, and his Rasputin-like communicative powers.
The Board of Directors, all experienced corporate executives, even tried to kill the famous 1984 Super Bowl commercial that introduced the Macintosh. The commercial is not only regarded as one of the most influential commercials ever made, but just as importantly, it established the metaphorical language and positioning grammar of a revolutionary brand.
The Grammar of Communication
In order to make an impact and create an identity for your NBT (next big thing) you need to develop a written, oral, and visual language that expresses, explains, and describes the fundamental emotional value proposition your brand delivers.
Every aspect of your business from product, packaging, and logo design, to website layout, iconography, and copy, to photographic and video presentation must all speak with the same voice, the same style, and with the same enthusiastic visionary assurance. You need to develop a brand patois that says: this is who we are, this is what we can do to fulfill your desires, and this is why you need us.
Finding Your Brand Communication Mojo
Tom Derresteijn, partner in Studio Dunbar writes on his website visual-communication dot com about a variety of concepts that help focus marketing attention: inside-out thinking, paradox, and fragmentation.
Inside-out versus Outside-in Thinking
What we have been describing thus far is what Derresteijn refers to as inside-out thinking as opposed to conventional corporate outside-in thinking.
Most business professionals have been educated and trained in the pseudo-science of business management, always looking for rationality in how people behave, when in fact people most frequently respond to emotional triggers of psychological desires. As a result most corporate managers do not understand the impact of imaginative design and creative marketing communication.
Corporate executives worry more about next quarter’s stock market results than they do about the products or services they provide. As a result they play it safe and give people what they say they want by relying on market research.
Ad agencies are quick to adopt the approach because (a) rationalizing decisions on research was an easy sell compared to explaining clever creative, (b) agencies could charge big bucks for the research, and (c) if things went wrong they had a built-in scapegoat, the research.
The underlying problem is simple, people don’t know what they really want until they see it, so you can play it safe and wait for the competition to bury you with something bigger, better, and cheaper, or you can follow your instincts and work to make a dent in the universe. It’s business, there are no guarantees no matter what approach you take, so you can aim for something special, or you can aim for mediocrity.
The ‘Think Different’ slogan used by Apple in the 1990s for the Macintosh was brilliant in its duality. Not only did it position Apple against IBM’s “Think” slogan, it conveyed the complex, conceptual conflict found in human nature: the desire to be different and the same simultaneously. The Macintosh was convivial, an easy-to-use machine for the masses, while at the same time it was an alternative to the establishment Big Blue for those who thought of themselves as different or special.
The “Think Different” mantra in its simplicity of presentation, and complexity of meaning, helped create the most loyal customer base of any mass-market company. The Apple world-view is one of alternative solutions available to everyone.
Websites, social media, print, broadcast, and guerilla marketing efforts must all speak with the same voice and the same point-of-view. They must all present a unified front. Spreading the responsibility for each and every marketing venue destroys the brand message by creating multiple personalities and brand confusion. Entrepreneurial SMEs (small medium enterprises) cannot afford to jump on every fad venue like Facebook and Twitter, without knowing if their brand sensibility is conducive to those venues.
On paper, the sheer volume of users would seem to make these venues perfect for communicating a marketing message, and for some this is in fact the case, however for most SMEs, fragmenting their marketing voice over multiple venues, each with their own character and culture can be a major waste of resources with little to show for it. Smaller companies already have the perfect focused venue for marketing communication, it’s called your website.
The Last Word
Playing it safe may be the right strategy for someone interested in clawing their way up to middle management in a bureaucratic environment, but for those entrepreneurs who truly want to make a dent in the universe, the path is more intuitive. Success in business has always been a risk-reward scenario.
Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design and marketing firm that specializes in Web-video Marketing Campaigns and Video Websites. Visit http://www.mrpwebmedia.com, http://www.136words.com, and http://www.sonicpersonality.com. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone (905) 764-1246.