The last two books I happened to read focused a great deal on business leaders who got a second chance to do it all over again. The first one is Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul by Howard Schultz. The book takes you through the journey of Howard Schultz about how he rebuilt the company which lost its mojo in the eight years he was away from being the Starbucks CEO.
The second book is Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. The book dedicates a large section on how Steve Jobs came back to Apple and built a company from the verge of bankruptcy to being one of the highest valuation companies ever.
There are a few key things that come to mind when you read books and stories of this nature. First is the emphasis on how easy it is to end up losing the brand equity that is built with continuous labor over a long period of time and how hard it is to earn it back. It shows the impact of your mavens, your most loyal customers and partners, who believe in you till the very end. They are the ones who love you no matter what and they are the ones who critic you because they just can’t stand letting the brand be destroyed. They are in fact the backbone of a brand’s marketing. They are the early adopters, the loud backers and the selfless promoters.
The second is the difference an individual can make for a company. It is said that teams run a company and you cannot do it all alone. That is so true, but the most overlooked factor is that individuals build teams. An individual recruits other individuals to become part of a team. One of the hardest things in building a business is to find people who trust you, who share your vision, who can deliver and can put their all in for the sake of building the company. Even harder is to be cold enough to let people go when they are not at the right place. One individual can make a whole lot of difference in steering the company in the right direction.
This also speaks a great deal about the founder’s touch. The founder knows the core of the company. When you start the company, you have a vision and a mission you set for it. To build it sustainable and successful, you make hard decisions more often than not keeping the long-term view in mind. Whether you take a hiatus (Howard Schultz) or are fired (Steve Jobs), things are shaken. A continuity is lost. This might be good in cases where the company needs a fresh look, but I believe Round 2 cases strongly prove that there is nothing like the founder’s touch in building a company, whether its first time or all over again.
Rational decision-making is an important and priced skill. Many great business leaders from Jack Welch to Steve Jobs have talked a great deal about making decisions from the gut. It is important to make decisions that feel right and are actionable to bear some results. More often than not, people make good decision when they have evidence generated from in-depth research to support the rational behind it.
I believe the most important thing in making right decisions, whether it is made from the gut or based on good research, is the confidence and conviction to execute on it. Data is a great confidence builder. It is tangible. When analyzed in an unbiased fashion, it doesn’t lie. And when used in the right way, it helps us make the right decisions and put things in motion.
There is no shortage of data out there. Digital connectivity and accessibility has provided us with rich quality big data. Big data can act like an unparalleled resource to provide insights leading to good decisions and actionable plans.
One of the core principles of MavenMagnet is to provide insights that are actionable. It is important for us to make our research findings crisp, easy to interpret and actionable for our clients. There are services out there that will dump tons of data in a really cool looking user interface. But that won’t provide you the gist of information without spending days, if not months, figuring it out. Our core idea is to do the heavy lifting with the help of our technology so that what you receive is something that you can directly put to use in your business, make rational decisions and take swift actions.
When you are in the business of enterprise sales and you are selling something new, the most common proposition you get from your client is to do a free trial. From the client’s perspective, it may sound logical because they are trying you out. The bigger the client, more lucrative the free trial sounds. But there are a few key reasons why free trials just don’t work.
First, in enterprise business, free has no value. If you are giving something away for free, the chances are it is not going to be used. The client is going to pay much more attention at something they have paid for because they are much better off justifying to themselves the product for which they shelled out some money from their budgets.
Second, if you give away a water-down product to the client because you are doing it for free, you are anchoring your capabilities there from the perspective of the client. If you claim to move mountains but turn a stone in the free trial, it will be really hard for you to convince your client that you do have the capabilities to move mountains. This is a lose-lose scenario for both your client and you. Your client is not getting the real meat and is not satisfied by your product. You are taking a hit in doing whatever you are doing and not able to convince your client to trust you to go for the real product.
A much better approach is to do a “pilot” for a discounted price with your client. You might not make money in this round, or even end up losing some, but this will make them comfortable to try it out for a price where you are not giving it away and at the same time making your client comfortable as they are taking a smaller risk on a new thing. You might lose some business by not giving it away for free the first time around, but it will make sure whoever is getting it is going to put your product to use and increase the probability of engaging with you in the next phase.
“No one got fired for buying an IBM machine.”
This old saying states in very clear words the importance of trust in decision-making process. Whether you are making a personal decision or a business decision, knowingly or unknowingly, trust has a say in it. It is a confidence building factor which helps you make a decision and defend it when something goes wrong.
In case of a business, trust has multiple impact areas. Your sales efforts get a big shot in the arm if your prospective customers trust you. You get the best talent to work with you and the best advisers to guide you. It is one thing that can have an amazing ripple effect in everything from valuation of your company to your reputation in the industry to your success.
The importance of trust highlights a very important thing about businesses that we often overlook. Businesses are often treated as entities. But this puts the human element of businesses front and center. You are a human being and you deal with other human beings. By nature there is skepticism in trying new things, in believing in new technology and in relying on new people. But when you do go for it and get results as expected (or better than expected), an amazing thing happens. You feel good about making the right decision and eventually develop trust for what was back in the day a new thing.
Trust has three very important properties. It is contagious, it reciprocates and it is fragile. In order to be successful, you need to work on all of them. You need an initial set of mavens who trust you and are willing to vouch for you. You need to have an open enough mindset to trust others, partner with them and work with them. And most important, you should be careful about not breaking the trust of others. It’s something that takes a lifetime to build and seconds to destroy!
Distribution in very simple terms is taking goods and services from producers to consumers (or retailers who take it to consumers). The task of distribution has paramount importance in a consumer business. You can produce the best product in the world but unless there’s a well-oiled machinery to take that product to the consumer, you cannot be successful. On the other hand, if you are the distributor with the best reach, you can attain success by taking a good product and placing it in the market. This market dynamics gives the distributors unparalleled strength in the power play in their industry.
Pharmaceutical industry is one of the industries where distributors play a very important role of taking innovative drugs and making it accessible to the consumers worldwide. Another industry where distributors play a commanding role is entertainment. In case of movie distribution, its more of an oligopoly where a few studios control the worldwide distribution of the movies. A few publishing houses control the publication of majority of best sellers and a few television network have the bandwidth to reach millions of consumers.
Till very recently, and in many ways even today, the business of distribution in almost all industries is a game of few big players. Over the last few years, internet has played its role to pose an interesting challenge to the traditional players in this space. Though the challenge is still not big enough to create a dent in the business of distribution for the traditional players, it will be interesting to see how the business will adapt or how a new breed of distributors will leverage the digital media to distribute products to the world in more efficient and cost-effective ways.
There could not have been a better way to describe Cougar 9000!
Drawing analogies between your product (or service) and a well-known product is one of the better ways to give elevator pitch description of your product. The idea is to take a product that has a definition of its own in an industry or category and use it as a comparable to help someone picture the core characteristics of your product. Like Chipotle: Subway for Mexican fast food. Or Entourage: Sex and the City for guys.
Another great use of an analogy is to explain your vision. How you see a particular technology or event shaping the future? How you see your product playing a critical role in an industry? For example, when a visionary leader was asked during the launch of Tata Nano as to what role he wants Nano to play the automobile industry, he drew a great analogy to explain his thinking: Tata Nano will do the same to automobile industry what Microsoft Windows did to the computer industry. Without arguing the role of Tata Nano or its success, I believe the analogy clearly describes the vision of the individual. Everyone knows the role Windows played in personal computer industry towards Microsoft’s mission to put a computer in every home. Along the same lines, the vision behind Tata Nano was to make a new car accessible to every family who could not have afforded one in the past.
A good analogy adds a lot of substance to an argument. Whether you are describing your product to someone or trying to layout your vision, a good analogy is a great way to put it out without using a lot of words.
Advertising world is interesting (and funny). Every soap brand advertises to be the best for your skin, every car maker claims to give the best fuel efficiency & driving experience and every mobile phone company states that they make the best phones in the world. The message is the same, so what really matters is how you deliver it.
In order to find the best way to deliver the message, you got to know your consumer. What your consumer likes? What are their interests? How they spend time? What are the issues they care about? What kind of messaging worked for them in the past and what didn’t? In other words you need to understand the ethnography of your consumers.
The basic idea behind ethnographic research is to make sure your message is formulated in the right way so that it has the maximum appeal on the target consumer. But this has an added advantage too. It is not always possible to define a target group of consumers by demographic profile. Many times the target consumer group spans across standard demos. So when you reach out to the consumer based on their psychographic profiles, you make sure it appeals to the taste and interests of your consumers.
One of the best ways to do ethnographic research is on the internet. Human beings are social in nature. They talk. They share information and knowledge. They emote their values and concerns. Internet has provided them the best place to do so effortlessly. Social networks have now become the natural place for people to discuss everything from interest and activities to likes and dislikes.
At MavenMagnet we have developed capabilities to listen and understand this information at a macro level without violating privacy of individuals or interfering in their conversations. Our proprietary technology is smart and sophisticated to identify your target consumer group and sketch their psychographic profile.
Advertising involves a lot of creativity. I believe creative people are geniuses. They have the power to add life and excitement to anything from a bar of soap to a bottle of water. Our goal is to empower them with just a bit more critical information about the consumer so that they can channel that message to have a much greater and profound impact.
Social media is the latest platform of choice for damage control. Partly because lately it is the best place to trigger the damage. News agencies end up picking an issue well after it had trended significantly in social media. There are two prerequisite when looking at social media for damage control: presence and listening.
As a company (or an individual) you need to have a vibrant social media presence. You need to be part of your social world. You cannot decide to come one day after the damage is done and try to do damage control using social media. It is very important to understand that you cannot control your brand on social media. Social media has not only leveled the playing field but has also provided a gigantic opportunity to anyone and everyone be creative and make themselves heard. All you can do is be present there and address issue as soon as possible, possibly before it becomes a big cause of concern.
This brings us to the second prerequisite. Listening is the most important thing when it comes to damage control. You cannot act till you are aware of what is happening. With all the buzz on social media and the growing volume in there, the biggest issue is for you to identify the real epicenter of the damage, the reason behind the damage and then strategize how to address it promptly.
Technology can help in deciphering the noise and listening what you need to focus on. People won’t talk to you all the time. If they hate you (or for that matter if they love you), they will tell their friends and followers about it. It is not possible for you to humanly keep track of everything. You need to understand what is the overall vibe, what are the actionable steps that can be taken and what are the changes that can be made to do the damage control.
Social media can be your best friend or your biggest enemy when it comes to damage control. The deciding factor becomes how well are you prepared to be a part of it. If you have the right technology and strategy to listen and understand the issues and address them, you can leverage social media to defuse a fire before it becomes wild.
When a playing field is young and growing, there are always many players trying to play in it. Every industry at the beginning attracts lots of companies. That is something that makes the industry interesting. You got to stay on your toes to keep innovating and be in the race. At the same time, that pollutes the industry a lot. It becomes very difficult for a company to differentiate from the others in this industry and for a customer to identify who is going to be around in the long run.
I believe three things determine if a company will be able to sustain and be successful in a new technology space. First is persistence. Persistence is the most important factor in determining how long can you stay in that industry. Do you have the horsepower and team that will stick together and keep out innovating competition? Second is differentiation. Differentiation is important because if you are one out of a dozen, then you are a commodity. Are you adding any real value to your customers out there? Then there is customer captivity. How easy is it for your customers to replace you with something else? Or in other words, will your customers miss you if you are no longer around tomorrow?
Products like Excel, PowerPoint and Word have been around in the market for decades because they have a captive customer base. They have a cycle of innovation where they keep bringing new features which help them differentiate from their competition. And to look back at the humble beginnings in late 1980s, they managed to be persistent in front of competition from a dozen or so other companies trying to develop products in the same space.
Persistence, differentiation and customer captivity are the three most important thing that can help a business make or break in any technology industry. If a company is able to persist, differentiate and innovate to keep meeting customer’s need, it will be able to standout in the short run and preempt new competitors in the long run.
When I think of art as a topic of conversation, I think of something that can be valued in terms of aesthetic measures like beauty and appeal. It is said beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. If you believe in that then you would also believe that there is very less logic and reasoning behind it. Something that is a great piece of art for me can be very mediocre for you and something that is a masterpiece accordingly to you may really not appeal that much to me. There is nothing that is universally appealing and beautiful.
Art has a lot more value when it is targeted. You cannot be a successful artist if you are not reaching your core audience. That’s where science comes in picture. There is enough data available in this world to develop rich correlations between distinct things and make you reach your target audience. You can end up being much more effective if the only people who notice you are the people who really matter.
This principle is very apparent in the advertising industry. The right advertisement shown to the right audience at the right time is what really adds value. How do you determine that right audience and the right time? Well embracing computation science to figure that out is a great complement to your gut. One great thing about science is it evolves really fast. Something which was determined using a few hundred data points a decade back can now be much more definitive by leveraging tens of thousands of data points. You got to embrace the explosive power of computation combined with the growth in available information. Add to that techniques like machine learning and artificial intelligence and improve your findings with time.
The biggest challenge for an art driven organization in embracing science is the ability to adapt as fast as science evolves. The longer you manage to last in the state of denial in embracing this evolution, the greater is your ability to make your art less compelling and attractive to the world out there. Art and science are great complements to each other. What art brings to science is the same thing that science brings to art. It’s the effectiveness and the value which otherwise goes untapped.