This post is a cross between an observation and a rant.
The observation: How often businesses get trapped in the “but how about?” type discussions. Note. “But how about this?” is just another version of “why shouldn’t we build/service/do this?”
The rant: It is amazing how often the question is generated by one of two things:
1. A new trend or fad or publicized widget need that someone in a flash of brilliance says “hey we can do that!”
2. It is available as an opportunity with the appearance of possible sales (possible profits but that is another discussion that still amazes me).
Well. Point 1 is particularly dangerous because chasing trends/fads is like chasing the Roadrunner <and you are Wile Coyote>. You won’t catch it. oh. And if you do, your plan won’t most likely work anyway.
Point 2 is particularly complex because product extensions, innovations and a whole mess of internal twister-like maneuvers shouldn’t <in general> be dictated by external stimulus.
Regardless. Constantly bringing up the question is wasted energy <the majority of the time>.
Here is the core issue at hand.
Too often businesses struggle to find their sense of self. And it’s kind of nuts because, with regard to this discussion, business is actually pretty easy.
Decide who you are and what you are good at.
Oh. And that doesn’t mean saying “we are a nice company with values and we are good at everything.”
My main issue with this topic is that if I can set up guardrails, or, at minimum, recognize that direction guardrails are important, why can’t businesses? Its nuts.
Look. I am going to use myself as an example because, as noted above, I don’t easily deal with guardrails … I often find them constricting.
Yet. I get paid more often than not for simply saying “no” to “how about?” Yeah. I get paid to stay within guardrails <go figure>. And I am not smarter than the average bear (yogi bear reference).
My strength is identifying and creating creative solutions to challenges-problems. I can do it in my sleep. Any time. Any business. Any where.
What that means is my weakness is staying the course – staying on mission-vision-whatever you want to call it. (Note: sorry folks. No one is strong at everything. If you have a strength identify it and you can always identify the related weakness. Don’t worry. You can always compensate for it. ). I envision, using hindsight, that because that was my strength when I was younger I probably went out of my way to create challenges/problems to solve (which most likely drove some of my groups nuts). This didn’t mean I created work … but rather sifted through a lot to uncover a ‘situation/problem’ to solve. Probably out of dumb luck I created some viable issues to pursue and inevitably my groups were known for proactive innovative thinking (hey…I found the silver lining).
Anyway. In recognizing my weakness I compensate by having a strong process for identifying the core positioning-mission-core competency. By doing that I can leave my strength – solving this issue – unfettered. It revolves around the process but the solution is not driven by the process. Now. My process may allow a little more latitude than some others (think of it as designing a five lane autobahn versus a one lane drag race track) but it sets up guardrails.
And that is what is frustrating.
Because, once again, I can set up guardrails, or, at minimum, recognize that direction guardrails are important, why can’t businesses? <fill in your own answer here because I don’t have one>.
And then because businesses cannot figure out this sense of self then some brand-voodoo-magicians <i.e., consultants> come along and use sleight of hand bullshit that only confuses businesses.
Thought for everyone. Don’t be confused. It is simple.
A company owns its character, core competency and crap they sell. Consumer owns the brand. Therefore as a business you focus on what you can control. It’s the guardrail thing I mentioned. I promise companies if they stay within their guardrails that buyers will inevitably forge a brand that is within the guardrails. And dealing with “how abouts?” becomes incredibly easy because while some bonehead is presenting a whizbang prezi presentation (with augmented reality to really wow you) outlining all the sales reasons a company should do something it comes down to the guardrails. Because (and I have told dozens of companies this – albeit some listen and some don’t) if the dollars and cents reside outside the guardrails it becomes a gamble. It becomes the Kentucky derby of business decisions. Which sucks because most companies don’t breed racing horses.
Anyway. Having been around the block a couple of times here is why I believe a sense of self keeps getting missed:
1. Lazy thinking. “We are good with retail business” is a prime example. Lazy, lazy, lazy thinking. Because not all retail is the same. A franchise retail is different than a corporate retail. A grocer retail is very different from a cellular retail. A one location retail is different from a 1500 location retail. The list goes on. Anyone can select a big bucket to sit your ass in … and it is a waste of time in terms of actually being meaningful in terms of truly understanding your ‘self.’
2. Everything to everyone. Well. Ok. Not trying to be everything, but rather in self reflection believing you are capable of everything. This is the infamous “We can figure it out when it happens. We always have.” Yeah. Well. Maybe. But probably not. The truth is if you really really think about it the business is actually good at something. There is something within the shit you pulled off (sometimes by the hair on your chinny chin chin) that provides a commonality that you should invest the time in figuring out.
Yup. It will actually help you do better in the future. And will help you hire better people (ok … it just may make you better at hiring the right people).
3. “I am going to miss something” (or the “moving sense of self” syndrome). Uh oh. As soon as you put a stake in the ground … it means someone will not want to plant themselves next to you on that ground. Why? They may not realize it immediately but the more they review the landscape they realize that they don’t want to plant their butts there. <Hint: that is okay.>
Next. A fact: it bugs the shit out of the ‘stake placer’ to be spurned (even if it is a bad match). As soon as spurning happens this company wants to pull up its stake and run around looking for a place to put the stake that would be appealing to the ‘spurner’ (i.e., for that one business opportunity).
The conclusion: Just put the stake thru your heart (or thru whomever cannot stay with the original good thought).
Ok. And beyond the silly business misdirection I imagine it, at its worst, could come down to 2 things (primarily):
- not defining the guardrails in the first place
- not believing in the guardrails that were established.
Both are quite solvable but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about the fact that the majority of businesses fall into 1 or 2 and invest a shitload of energy in “how about?”
In the end.
Beyond the stupidity comment … I could start a ‘who’s who’ list of companies who seemingly get seduced into discussing dreams or what ifs with regard to who they are <as a company> rather than insuring they know what they do and who they currently are. It is not only wasted energy but, even more importantly, potentially disastrous.
Oh. And please do not confuse this questioning with “whats next?’ because that question is usually a reflection of someone who is standing on some solid “this is who I am and what I do well” discussing what they want to do next.
By the way … advertising agencies are the absolute worst offenders of this issue … but … I am amazed on how many of all businesses fall into this discussion category.
Oh. The profit thing. I usually cut to the chase pretty fast on this one. Yes. Someone certainly knows how to make money on ‘x’ because they are doing it (and it appears they are making money). No. That does not mean we know how to do it and make money. There are a lot of business people who just say “we will figure it out if we actually get the opportunity.”. Well it doesn’t work that way. Or. Maybe better said it is more difficult than that simplistic point of view. Some things can be figured out (some not). Some things can be figured out but take time to do so (and what do you do in the interim?). But. A company needs to figure it out. A wise man once said this:
“Most agencies are in the same boat — from big ones to two man shops. They’re in it for the money and they’re scared. Scared the client’s going to walk. And because they are afraid they compromise their principles. They are so scared of losing the business they give the customer what they think they want rather than what they know he needs. And sometimes it works — for a while. But in the end it always backfires. You lose the business anyway and you wake up one day to find you’re a prostitute. So, in the end, stick to your principles. ‘to thine ownself be true.’ 0ver 200 years old but still good advice.” – Stephen Hawley Martin (founder of The Martin Agency)
Just to be sure my rant wasn’t too far off base I did find a study from Prophet <who I sometimes respect>.
New Prophet Study: Execs Understand That Customer Engagement Is Pressuring Brands To Perform Better — But Many Don’t Think Their Marketers Can Handle the Challenge
“The majority (55 percent) of participating senior executives in general management and marketing said that supporting business growth through a well-differentiated and relevant brand positioning was their most pressing concern,” said Mike Leiser, Prophet senior partner.
- Targeting customers in this environment is problematic; three-fourths of respondents said they’re not doing it effectively. Over 90 percent are targeting more than one segment, and over half of these do so with multiple positionings of a single brand. Importantly, however, those multiple positionings are similar – what’s different among most in this group are the tactics used in bring them to life.
“Adjusting to this changing landscape will be a process,” Leiser said. “Our findings show that marketers must adapt a more visionary orientation to more effectively guide their organizations through it.”
Gosh. Maybe I am not as dumb as I look.