I recently had an opportunity to see three of the planet’s most amazing marketers – in the same place and in succession. The morning session of the Fuel Cleveland 2015 event started off with Guy Kawasaki, insightful former chief evangelist for Apple, led into Jeff Hayzlett, high-energy author and host of C-Suite TV, and finished with Seth Godin, inspiring author and the world’s most-read blogger. While their talks were very different, a few interesting themes emerged. Each of them encouraged vision, boldness and purpose. But they also agreed on three key points, all of which seem to go against traditional convention and what we may have been taught. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Whatever you sell has to be both unique and valuable
If you ask Harvard’s Michael Porter, he’d say you must have either differentiation or low price. One or the other. Can’t have both. This has been the law of strategy for the last 30 years, covered on the first day of every business school. Kawasaki alters that black-and-white view by suggesting that winning products and services have to be unique and deliver high value. The nuance here is that high value does not necessarily mean low price. Lots of products are unique, but not valuable. Or, even worse, a service is valuable but not unique – leading to price wars. Instead, plan on being brilliant…and being paid for it. We all know Apple products aren’t the cheapest. But they’re usually very special and deliver exceedingly high benefits for the money spent. Godin built on that concept by explaining that specialized markets are now so reachable that niche offerings are not just more possible, they are far more profitable. “You need to be the only one doing something – tell a story, become a legend, create a myth,” says Godin.
In communications, how can we do a better job focusing on what makes us special?
2. Revolution destroys the perfect to create the impossible
Hayzlett loves to tell the story about his days as the CMO at Kodak, where he heard the story about the first digital camera. It was developed by a Kodak engineer who excitedly took it around to executives, showing them the very first digital photo. The engineer was told to “put it away” since Kodak was in the film business, earning 90 percent of its revenue from little yellow boxes. Unfortunately, nobody under 20 years old has ever seen the black canister inside that box. Kawasaki reminded us that 100 years ago, workers had perfected ice harvesting from frozen lakes and executives at Western Union thought the telephone had no future. 50 years ago the founder of IBM predicted the world would be filled with computers – exactly five of them. Kawasaki notes he has five computers in his own house. Who thought the perfect music CD would be replaced by downloading a file? Or streaming from the cloud would replace downloading a file? It’s natural to feel that what works so well now will continue forever as long as we make incremental improvements. Not so. “I learned from Steve Jobs that innovation happens on the next curve, not the one you’re on,” said Kawasaki.
In communications, how can we inspire customers (and our own companies) to look ahead, not back?
3. Some things need to be believed to be seen
Wait. How does that work? It’s the other way around, right? We have to see something to believe it? Wrong, according to three of the world’s leading marketers. New ideas won’t get far unless there is passion and determination. The title of Hayzlett’s new book is Think Big. Act Bigger. Kawasaki says he learned from Steve Jobs that innovators ignore naysayers. Both Kawasaki and Godin described engineers and entrepreneurs as artists. Artists lead with an original voice, embrace the modification process and care enough to make change happen. And don’t expect customers to help too much. If you ask them what they need, they’ll tell you they want “a bigger, better, faster, cheaper version of what you already sell them.” What customers can tell us are their problems, but it’s up to us to have the vision for solving those challenges. Finally, don’t expect to win all the time. “If failing is not an option, then neither is success,” according to Godin.
In communications, how do we explain to stakeholders that different will be better and worth the risk?
As communicators, we often find ourselves on the tail end of product development. We just have to accept, describe and sell what’s handed to us. We’re tempted to brush off the advice of Hayzlett, Kawasaki and Godin – even if they are best-selling authors. We might think we can’t influence the front end or drive innovation from where we sit.
However, remember that marketing also involves research and capturing the voice of the customer. While we often use that input to develop great branding and messaging, we can also use it to circle back to our organizations with input on what could – and should – be next. We really do have the power to influence the products and services we sell, not just promote them.
Hayzlett has a flair for the dramatic, to say the least. I’ll end with the text of one of his slides: “Adapt, change or die. Only the relentless win.” Guess we’d better get to it!