All business owners talk about their competition. They do it incessantly, as though it is a major focus of their business. But it’s not a focus at all really. It’s little more than a distraction.
It’s smart to be aware of our surroundings, so we can dodge and weave as necessary to stay out of harm’s way or get ahead. But focusing on your competition will not help you do either. In fact, one of the few things it will do is keep you from doing the important work of focusing on your own brand. And that distraction has a trickle-down effect if you have employees. When they hear you talk about what a competitor is doing, they spend time on your competition, which is time not spent on you.
Competitors may inspire you because you are playing in the same field, thinking in the same sphere, so paying attention to what they inspire in you is good. Inspiration is a powerful tool, but that’s usually not where following competitors leads people to train their energies. Instead, we see red, get fearful, perhaps jealous, and lose focus.
Making your competitor a major focus takes you away from investing in your strengths and instead makes people focus on weaknesses. In business, losing that focus on the positive can be toxic, giving you the feeling of always being one step behind, or pursuing initiatives your business wouldn’t naturally follow just to gain a sense of staying ahead.
A better place to train your energy is on your own brand, on your product or service, and on your own marketing. The focus is not your competition—it’s you. Who are you focusing on?
Maybe they’re right to point their heads down, to strain their necks, to bury their eyes in texting and tablets. Maybe it’s good for their inner dialog to communicate through screens instead of face-to-face. It used to be that double chins were an exclusive feature of the old and the overweight, but the tablet generation has changed this. You know what I’m talking about, right? The flab in the profile of teens, 20′s, and 30′s age heads you can see after following the once taught contours of their chin down towards their neck. My friends and relatives complain about developing double chins or wattles, but maybe the tech chins an entire generation is developing are good for their social standing.
I don’t text. Can’t stand the medium. If you want to talk with me, we’ll talk. If you want to exchange letters, we’ll write.
I don’t watch movies on tablets and phones either. Same thing. I share that distinction with David Lynch, who channeled my thoughts rather succinctly when he said, “If you’re playing the movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film. You’ll think you have experienced it, but you’ll be cheated. It’s such a sadness that you think you’ve seen a film on your f*cking telephone. Get real.” Tech chins are much the same, an indicator of wasted time, life cheated, opportunity squandered. Real life happens between people. There is no time to waste.
My call is to people, to admiring taught lines, keeping their heads up, and keeping it real.
It’s a universal truth that business owners rarely follow marketing plans. I’ve yet to meet a marketing consultant or professor who does not lament this sad fact, while wondering aloud ‘why oh why don’t they listen?’
The problem is not so much an attention issue as it is a personality thing. People who start businesses do so partially because they don’t like taking orders. They want to do things their own way, be in charge, and guide the ship/troops/company to success.
Doing things your own way is basically incompatible with following a marketing expert’s plan because following plans requires taking orders. See the conflict?
Another universal truth is that business owners don’t know what they don’t know. Big business owners have people they trust who handle those things for them. Small business owners often lack objectivity. They are so essential to their own success that they either bullishly push forward, have blinders on, or they’re just too excited about doing everything that they don’t bother to follow the plan. (Remember, they started their business not to follow, but to lead.)
When a marketing consultant provides a road map to success, the map only works if the directions are followed. Just like an actual road map, turns and deviations lead to unknown destinations, many undesirable. Often times, people who ignore their marketing strategies and plans end up lost, wondering where they went wrong.
If we could just find a way to burn the blinders, tame the bulls, and keep focus trained on executing the plan at hand, well, that would be something. (I find baby steps work well.) Convincing someone to follow a marketing plan takes constant attention. Once they see the resultant success, they’re more likely to listen, yet the next plan will take just as much, if not more, attention. It can be an exhaustive effort, but the successes can be so rewarding.
I haven’t eagerly anticipated reading a newly released business book in, well, ever. Until now. Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception just showed up on my doorstep– early!
The inspiring back cover text includes the following:
If you’ve announced that you have no talent (in anything), then you’re hiding.
I announced this in a way yesterday. I’ve been in university for two years as of right now, and I’m two-thirds of the way to my first Bachelor’s degree (at 44). My coursework has involved many independent studies wherein I’ve been writing books, seeing which types flow more naturally.
A funny thing happened along the way. Fiction, nonfiction and business books all seem to flow equally well out of my mind into compelling works. The encouragement from professors and evaluators has been pretty amazing at times.
Initially, I told myself it was their job to provide encouragement, so their words may have lacked real value. That’s just a story I told myself so I could keep hiding. We make up our own value based on what we trust and choose to invest ourselves in.
Yesterday, as I wrote a summary of what I learned while starting the marketing of a nonfiction book, I hid. I reeled, dodged and complained. I barked at how I disliked the ideas proposed for marketing my book, and whined that I may never be published. Of course, I know that will absolutely ring true if I keep hiding.
Hiding is easy. I can write my way into a box within a box within a box faster than I could ever have thought possible. But I can also abolish those boxes with one spark.
Hiding allows us to avoid what must be done. It’s how I avoid risk, even though I love the idea of risk-taking. It’s far easier to hide than to expose my art to the world.
Of course, I have some experience showing my art on a wide scale too, but always under the veil of creative work. (In fact, it’s fair to say that millions of people have seen my art.) It’s easier to unleash the art when it’s backed by strategic goals and paid for. But it feels less like art then, even if art is work.
For 21 years, I’ve been writing song after song and throwing them in a box or a folder. I have something like 700 or more of them. I always said I wouldn’t sell my songs because I wanted to sing them myself. I’m hiding those too.
Art, passion and ideas often come equipped with an expiration date. Ideas fueled by passion lose their steam when the energy behind them is extinguished. Left in hiding long enough, virtually any idea can become obsolete or come to fruition in the hands of someone more motivated or open.
Given the same generational influences, similarly inspired interpretations are likely to occur in multiple minds. Think how many artists performed anti-apartheid pieces in the 1980′s to push for change, and how likely were the chances of widespread recognition then versus now. (Awareness of the issue has already been raised; art about it saturated.) Not hiding – trusting and performing is urgent. And the world needs your art now (fairly certain I’m channeling Seth with that).
Hiding is not easier
I read books. Real books, on paper, hardbound, softcover, books I can turn tactile pages in, feel their texture, read the crisply printed letters. I read full books, cover to cover. I dislike the idea of reading what amounts to sound bites on a tablet with 50,000 other books ready to distract me should I momentarily lose focus, because it’s my experience that reading any other way leaves me with a lack of context for grasping the most important messages (and the smaller things that may just connect with my mind).
When I was advised to pursue publishing my work first in digital format, I sprinted into hiding. I can do what I’ve always done, right? Write it and put it aside. It seemed like the easy thing to do, but in truth it was the hardest path, leveling the worst feeling, like a hangover anchored by a battleship. All this rapid progress I’ve made in school, all these books written, ideas explored, art expressed—hidden safely away, instantly.
Trusting and performing is harder, but that time is now. Hiding time is over.
P.S. Thanks to Seth Godin for the push. Can’t wait to read the cream filling.
Apple used to do amazing, surprising, innovative, intrinsically cool things. They used to design with guts and risk and style. For now anyway, that time is over. Apple hasn’t introduced anything truly inspiring in over a decade. Oh sure, you could say the iPhone was cool, but it wasn’t the first smartphone, and the design leaves much to be desired. I have an old $40 candybar phone that sports essentially the same form factor, but it’s built more durably. (Since when is constructing a hard to hold device out of glass a good idea?)
OS X, when it was introduced, was hailed (by someone) as a stunning achievement in operating systems, yet it’s always been buggy, unwieldy, and has gotten more and more lethargic with every new cat version. And now, Windows 8 seems to have rendered OS X obsolete.
The MacBook Air seems to have been essentially a copy of IBM’s Thinkpad X series notebook, though the Air is infinitely harder to keep a grip on and not even a fraction as durable.
Then there is Apple’s latest snafu, the iPod Touch 5, which requires the device to be tied to an Apple ID, a login system that fails more often than it succeeds. When it fails, users cannot login to download or update apps and music. Say an app requires an update. Too bad. If you can’t login for whatever reason (Apple’s servers crashing, for instance), you can’t update the app. In some cases, that means you can’t use it. I have one of these. I was told it could be used as a camera and video camera, which would be awesome if I could keep a hold of it. Unlike the iPhone, the iPod Touch 5 was designed with round edges, which means the thing is incredibly difficult to hold unless you have moist child-sized hands. It’s going back.
Then there’s the iPad. Oh my. Clients asked me incredulously how I could not own one. I haven’t been able to figure out what is its use. Everything it can do, I can do faster or better with an iPod or a MacBook. I asked an Apple employee one day what an iPad could do that an iPod or MacBook can’t do. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know — that’s why I don’t own one.” I remember Steve Jobs saying Apple would never make a tablet. And then they did. Hmm.
Microsoft used to be famous for copying Apple. They copied every OS innovation Apple has ever done it seems (when I tell Windows users how annoying the Dock is, they ask if I’m talking about the task bar), and they even blatantly copied the Apple retail store design. Well, that time is over too. Microsoft has taken the lead.
It’s time for Apple to copy Microsoft, and they had better hurry because the Microsoft Surface is about to render both the iPad and MacBook Air totally obsolete. It has ports, can run a large display, weighs less than two pounds, is half an inch thin, sports a totally silent keyboard, and has an intuitive OS in Windows 8 that features the simplicity of an iOS and the running capability of a full operating system. Oh, and it won’t slip out of your hands and break upon hitting the ground. (In fact, Microsoft drove a car over it, and it still worked fine, a little display of armadillo-ism they copied from Lenovo.)
On first Surface try, it appears that Microsoft has outdone Apple in just about every way possible. A quick look at Windows Phone appears to reveal a similar outdoing of the iPhone. For the first time since babyhood (well, 20 years old anyway), I am thoroughly lacking Apple tech lust. Instead, I know my next machine will be a Surface.
Apple will rise again. First, they need to figure out that they’re lost. (Historically, Apple tends to be oblivious… think the ‘Cube’.)
At present, it appears they have little idea of the notion that they may be lost. Their stores are staffed by and large by nice, inexperienced kids who would sell you their mother or Steve Jobs’ coffin if it was profitable. And it’s hard to argue with Apple’s sales figures, in spite of the fact that iPhone 5 sales are lower than they’d like. But something just isn’t right when Apple’s hardware and OS designs suck. And if you really listen to their seasoned employees, you can hear the doubts.
Apple’s tech support has gone from good to downright atrocious. They’ve become known in recent years for losing track of repairs, missing dates, incorrect hard drive swaps, poor communication, slow repairs, and first tier phone support who don’t communicate effectively and know next to nothing about their products. (Perhaps Apple copied Microsoft tech support of old.) To be fair, if you manage to speak with a senior Apple tech, they really know their stuff and can be very helpful, but getting to them is next to impossible.
Customer Relations — where you are sent when you are unhappy with Apple — used to offer product swaps or iPods to make people happy. Now they offer good follow-up and apologies, and little else. Buy one of their products that failed to live up to its advertised claims? Meh, not Apple’s problem.
No one can blame Apple for being lost. After all, they lost their inspiration, driving force and guiding light just over a year ago. And while Steve Jobs [R.I.P.] battled cancer, Apple let mediocrity seep in. They’ve become boring. Every product looks the same, all glass and aluminum, fragile and easy to drop. If an Apple product should slip from your grasp, it’s toast. Not a good reputation for the most expensive computers, music players and phones to embody.
Have they already designed the products as far as they can go? I doubt it. Apple will make it back to great design, and hopefully soon. Perhaps they just need to acquire some new seeds. Maybe they already have them, and they just need to sink below the surface (oh wait, they’ve already done that).
Getting beat by a competitor is good for a champion. Maybe it will be good for Apple.
A cat in a fight doesn’t lose it’s ear or eye because of curiosity. It loses the fight when it gets distracted by something, which results in the cat’s opponent getting a clean, swift swat (or bite) in the eye (or ear). Interruption causes the cat to lose focus of its objective. Interruption also causes people to lose sight of their objectives, which is why throwing a chat window up in front of them, first thing, upon them entering a product page on your website is almost like saying, “goodbye,” without so much as a ‘Thanks for coming.’
People don’t want to be interrupted at every point of sale. Retailers who get this are liked and talked about. Online retailers who get this are talked about as well. It’s no coincidence that Apple and Amazon are two of the most visible online retailers who don’t throw chat windows up in front of site visitors. Smart marketers let people hunt and peck to find what they are after because they know engagement is a two-party affair.
Interruption is not engagement. Who doesn’t understand this? Used car salesmen and people who program chat pop-ups on e-commerce websites.
Imagine you have just met an awesome person who you think could be “the one,” the person you’ve been searching for all your life. Would your next move be to jump up and down in front of them demanding their attention and leaving them no option but to engage or run away from you? That is precisely what chat pop-up windows do.
Automatic chat pop-ups eliminate a website visitor’s ability to have a peaceful, uninterrupted shopping experience. They are too interrupted to make up their own mind. People don’t need to have their minds made up for them, because they can do it all by themselves. The website pop-up chat treats them like they can’t make up their mind, as if they are children who have not yet earned the right to exercise preference or choice.
If you want to engage people on your website, give them compelling content, not forced interaction. Give them a good reason to click the buy button that doesn’t include high-pressure chat sales. Inspire them, and they’ll buy all on their own.
Do you get sales letters and emails asking you to buy a non-consumable product you’ve already bought from the same company? That’s because they’re not keeping track of their customers. Tracking involves little more than knowing who bought what and when. It tells you what to market to whom. Keeping track is more than keeping track. It’s caring.
For example, say you bought an app or software that includes free updates. You will never benefit from receiving a sale offer for that product again, but many companies don’t track purchases, so they keep sending emails and offers for buying the same product. What they’re doing is annoying you. Rather than increasing sales opportunities, they’re wasting efforts. They show you that they don’t know who you are, they have no idea you bought from them before, and that they don’t really care much about your time. You’re just a number or an address.
What’s worse, is that they are undermining your trust in them by burying the same old offer you don’t need in sales text that shows up about 85% of the way into a new email. You trust them because you bought from them, so you read, but then they offer something you don’t need. Now they’ve wasted your time. They would know that if they had any idea at all who you were or when you bought. But they aren’t keeping track.
Keeping track is so easy too. It really is. You can use Excel, or if you prefer online apps, there’s Highrise or any number of free or cheap CRMs to choose from. Imagine if you could have two separate lists (or eight). You can. And you can show customers you care by keeping track of other things like birthdays.
Instead of sending a customer an email for a product that never expires, send them a birthday card or a thank you for being a customer. Save the sales emails for true prospects or other products.
I’ll bet you can’t count the times you’ve heard, “Your call may be recorded for quality and training purposes.” Why would any company lead a call with this statement? Leading with this statement is like ensuring dissatisfaction or abruptly hanging up when people do not provide expected responses. It’s leading with a disclaimer that tells the customer they may be talking to a person in training. Which means they’re probably not prepared to satisfy.
Customer service is there to satisfy, calm, or fix. Their sole purpose is to keep customers and manifest happiness.
‘Your call may be recorded for quality and training purposes’ tells people that their privacy may be compromised, the person they are about to talk with may not be providing the best quality, and they may be ill-equipped to make you happy.
Perhaps the most interesting part of call recording is that it imposes a double-standard on the customers. While the company retains the recordings to hold customers accountable, those recordings are not available to customers to hold the company accountable. How does this satisfy?
Call recording also tells me that a company is cheap and doesn’t understand people. Rather than hire someone to teach them about human nature or really study it themselves, they are using customers. Like we’re all in a big happy test tube.
How about a different lead-in? Such as: ‘Please press 1 if it is okay for us to record your call. Please press 2 if you would prefer to not have your call recorded.’ Or better yet, ‘We record calls because we are cheap, lazy, and not accountable. If you would like to be respected, please call one of our competitors.’ That would be more honest.