When the music stops

Somehow we seem to forget that in business the good times don’t last forever.

When the economy is strong, most decently run mature businesses thrive. For an earlier stage company, once it starts to gain traction, new customers come relatively easily and competitive forces are minimal.

But there will come a time when the music stops. A time when a booming economy can no longer mask our weaknesses, when emerging competition becomes a serious issue, when what worked so well for so long suddenly doesn’t.

Eventually, we can’t raise prices so easily. Inevitably we have challenges driving traffic or closing sales. The cost of acquiring a new customer (or maintaining frequency with an existing one) begins to rise. The once strong growth rates from new stores or our e-commerce business start to moderate.

The only surprising thing in all of this is that we seem surprised when it happens.

When things are good is precisely the time to invest in the future–a future that is very likely to include the need to drive virtually all growth from stealing market share, not merely riding a rising tide or passing on inflationary price increases.

For many businesses that time is right now or just around the corner. In that world good enough isn’t. Good enough doesn’t get you noticed. Good enough doesn’t cause customers to switch. Good enough rarely leads to loyalty or the ability to charge a premium price.

Stealing market share requires being more intensely relevant, more remarkable and, perhaps, more idiosyncratic than the competition. Unfortunately most organizations don’t worry about this stuff until they have to. And by then it’s usually too late.

Fix the roof when the sun is shining. Or something like that.

When the shift hits the fan

Shift happens. And it’s never been more expansive and dynamic.

The shift from brick & mortar to e-commerce.

The shift from “going online” to living online.

The shift from traditional media consumption to a digital first model.

The shift from silo-ed customer experiences to harmonious ones.

The shift from highly intentional shopping to more spontaneous “micro-moments.”

The shift from isolated customer journeys to those that are deeply connected.

The shift from brands’ being in control to empowered consumers who are increasingly calling the shots and dictating their requirements.

The shift from one-size-fits-all to highly personalized interactions and marketing. The end of mass, the beginning of us.

Confronted with these profound shifts, the tendency of many organizations is to go on the defensive. Overwhelmed by the shifting tides–and afraid to take risks in a fast-moving and highly uncertain environment–they circle the wagons to fight the changes or develop plans to cope with them. But survival is not enough.

When shift happens our goal has to be to understand it, to accept it and to go through it rather than around it. We must embrace it in a desire to thrive, not simply survive.

And most importantly, we need to get out in front of it well before it hits the fan.

H/T to Seth

99 problems but a botch ain’t one

For many of us, it’s so easy to identify with a story about all of our problems. My boss is a jerk, it’s too hot, I’m so busy, my back hurts, allergies are really bad this year, this idiot cut me off in traffic, and on and on.

In this line of thinking, stuff happens and somehow or other we’re a perpetual victim. Who cares that much of this is out of our control or that few of these situations truly arise to being much of a real problem at all. Indeed, to paraphrase Eckhart Tolle, “the problem is not the problem, the problem is our thinking about the problem.”

Yet, for me, it’s interesting how rarely our narrative includes owning up to a botch, a blunder, a mess we made, our glorious failure or bungled experiment.

Sometimes it’s just too painful to admit we took a chance and it didn’t work out.

Sometimes we’re scared to say “here I made this” and face criticism or outright rejection.

Sometimes, we conveniently ignore our role in a less than desired outcome.

Of course, sometimes there can be no botch, because we took no risk. The fact is it’s almost always easier to do nothing.

Growth doesn’t come from rehashing life’s little inconveniences or slights. It comes from taking the leap and exposing ourselves to the harsh light of both the tribe and the trolls. It’s not about trying to avoid the botch, it’s about being prepared to fail, fail again and fail better.

Ultimately we must make a choice. Will it be “V” for victim or “V for Vulnerable”?

You picked a really bad time to be boring

There was a time when you could get away with average products for average people.

There was a time when rapid growth could smooth over patches of mediocrity.

There was a time when being just a little bit interesting could hold our attention.

There was a time when relationships were built over time, face-to-face.

Now, consumers live in an anything, anytime, anyway world and there’s simply no reason to settle.

Now, largely stagnant markets require us to steal share if we wish to grow–and good enough isn’t.

Now, we are overwhelmed with choices and, more and more, the battle for share of attention is won by the weird, the purple cow, the remarkable.

Now, posts that include “more for Sagittarius”–or are merely a running commentary on your activities–get eliminated from our feed in one easy click. And winning back a lost relationship is harder than ever.

There’s a reason people don’t come to your store, leave your website within seconds, hit “unsubscribe”  or unfollow you.

Now is hardly the time to be dull, uninteresting and outright boring if you hope to make any kind of impact. If people see what you put out in the world and their first reaction is “who cares?” you’re either focused on the wrong folks or it’s time to rethink what you’re doing.

The fact is the tried and true no longer is. What once seemed safe is now often the most risky.

Yes, it’s a really bad time to be boring. But the good news is we can change.

What better time than now?


The ecosystem of connection

We probably all realize that we are going through a connection revolution.

For many of us, scarcity of information, choice and access has given way to an abundance of stuff. The connection economy means we live in an era where we are literally one or two clicks away from nearly everything and everyone almost anytime we want. Relationships–with people, brands, causes, ideas–that were impossible just a few years ago are increasingly taken for granted.

As consumers, movements and things become more connected, many organizations that exist in their service aren’t keeping pace. Sure, plenty of brands have strong social media presence. Of course, monitoring online consumer sentiment is helpful. And yes, making it easy to share among peer-to-peer networks is a good idea.

Yet, far too many organizations remain internally disconnected in their data, information systems, marketing campaigns, processes, metrics and on and on. As Kevin points out, many brands still measure the success of customer contacts in isolation, not as part of a diet of interactions. But of course, it goes way beyond merely calculating marketing ROI.

Meaningful connection happens within an ecosystem. Seemingly disparate pieces weave together to become whole. Inter-relationships collide in both predictable and unanticipated ways. Relationships and trust build through cumulative effect.

As the pace of change accelerates, as consumers try to make sense of it all in an ever noisier world, brands that don’t line up their messages and capabilities to sync with the ecosystem of connection are falling further and further behind.

And once disconnected, once the customer sees your brand as a disjointed mess of disparate pieces, any hope for relevance is gone, perhaps never to be regained.

Going out on a limb

I don’t normally promote things on my blog, but I feel compelled to call your attention to Seth Godin’s new project “What To Do When It’s Your Turn (And It’s Always Your Turn).”   With any luck you’ve been exposed to Seth’s innovative work in the past. But if not, here’s a fantastic opportunity to dive in and get inspired.

Now in the spirit of full disclosure I should mention that I’ve known Seth for more than 30 years. He was my first business partner. He was Best Man at my wedding. So I’m hardly unbiased. However, if you feel the need to be challenged, prodded, cajoled or motivated to leap into the unknown or risky, you will not be disappointed.

See you out on the limb.