Latest posts by Brad Smith (see all)
- 3 Content Mistakes that are Killing Your Social Media Results - December 4, 2013
- How to Write Effortlessly: 5 Tips to Hit Deadlines & Promote Your Business - November 26, 2013
- Can’t Keep Up? 3 Easy, Yet Unexpected Ways to Manage Social Media - November 20, 2013
Apple was just recently the most valuable company in the world — leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.
The driving force behind their meteoric ascent was Jobs. He was a perfectionist, and was even obsessed with producing the best product possible — even spending hours going over the parts a customer would never see.
And he understood that we are living in the Age of Excellence.
Welcome to the Age of Excellence
Last year, serial tech entrepreneur Jason Calacanis wrote an article called “The Age of Excellence”.
Basically it described how business markets have never been more connected, open and transparent. And with new options that provide “radical transparency” — like Yelp, the Apple App Store, Amazon reviews, Google’s Zagat ratings — there’s nowhere to hide for products and companies today.
Consumers instantly know if they should immediately buy, pass and not purchase, or delay and wait for more information.
I used to live a few blocks from the Gaslamp in Downtown San Diego. There are more than 150 restaurants within just a few city blocks. It’s an incredibly competitive market.
And one observation that always struck me as odd, was that you would have some popular restaurants with lines out the door. Every single night! Then there would be other restaurants — possible even right next door — that were always empty.
Now you would assume some of these people, who couldn’t get in to the popular restaurant, would eventually wander over to the empty one. It was even less expensive in most cases!
But they didn’t.
And one of the main reasons they didn’t was because of the diffusion of innovations theory.
The Diffusion of Innovations
The diffusion of innovations is a theory that talks about how new ideas and technology spread through culture. Typically, it’s applied to the technology lifecycle adoption curve.
Think about Facebook for a second…
- The “innovators and early adopters” were all the college kids who joined when the service was still new.
- Then when it opened up and started to go mainstream, the “early majority” (~25-35 year olds) began to join in droves.
- Now of course, every parent and grand parent is on Facebook. They’re the “late majority” and “laggards”.
So here’s how this works…
How Word of Mouth Spreads
Everyone has The Wine Snob friend. (Or perhaps you’re the wine snob?)
So The Wine Snob and The Foodie are these hyperactive consumers — the innovators and early adopters — of new restaurants. And they won’t go to a new restaurant without consulting a rating system like Yelp.
These are tastemakers that set the stage for everyone else. And they probably even write reviews themselves.
And these early adopters refer — or warn — everybody else.
So even though the typical, mainstream consumer isn’t experienced or sophisticated enough to tell the difference between two French restaurants in the Gaslamp, they can immediately understand the different between a 5-star restaurant on Yelp and a 3-star one.
You might think this only applies then to restaurants or technology. It doesn’t. It applies to all industries and disciplines.
How the Age of Excellence Affects Inbound Marketing
The Age of Excellence affects your marketing strategy in three distinct ways.
Tip #1. Marketing starts with providing the best possible product or service.
There’s nowhere to hide in the Age of Excellence. No amount of gamesmanship or celebrity endorsements can cover up shoddy workmanship, inept employees, or a mobile app that keeps crashing.
So the first step to business growth is to provide the best, most effective service or product. Can’t be the top of your category or compete with the competition’s premium offering? Then differentiate, don’t discount. Create a new category. Niche down. Go big. Or branch out.
And prioritize brand equity for the long-term. This doesn’t happen overnight or through a splashy new ad campaign. It happens through years of dedicated effort and consistency. Today, brand building is a byproduct of the way you do business. The sum of it’s parts.
Because once consumers lose trust with your brand, it’s game over. It will take anyone with a smartphone two seconds to see right through your promotional material when they get your ratings on Yelp, Amazon, Angie’s List, or Google’s Zagat Ratings.
Tip #2. Performance marketing — the process of driving awareness and demand — should be iterative and quantifiable.
Today, you can’t rely on running a few advertising campaigns, crossing your fingers, and hoping for the best. Promotional channels today are too fragmented and evolve too quickly. And the days of silver bullets are over.
So we should be strategy-focused, not channel-focused. Tactics and channels slowly lose their effectiveness over time, but a great marketing plan should be nimble enough to try 5 different things, double down on the top two, cut your losses on the other three, and still hit double digit growth.
Performance marketing thrives when you can hypothesis, test, and quickly change course to maximize your ROI and minimize waste. But you can’t do any of that iteration — at least not successfully — without a concrete foundation, rich strategy and deep customer knowledge. Don’t skip the routine, boring stuff.
And this has broader implications on how you staff, organize, and manage as well.
Tip #3. Marketing messages should be carefully packaged and distributed to determine if it’s accepted or rejected.
We live in a world where the consumer is king. They can and will voice their opinion. They want to interact, join the discussion, and have control. They want to talk with, not at.
But storytelling is still essential. It’s just that you want consumers to tell your stories for you.
And great stories have been around for centuries. So our job as marketers is to focus on packaging (i.e. creating compelling stories that are easily shareable) and placement & distribution (i.e. reaching our target segments at a particular place and time where they are ready, able and willing to share). If you do you job, then you can let them take it from there.
Just make sure you’re always positioning your product or service as the solution to your customer’s pain points, and then focus on the end result, outcome and benefits.
Marketing hasn’t changed over the past few years, it’s just evolved. (And the part that’s evolving the quickest — advertising — is just a small part of the marketing equation. Don’t confuse the two.)
So despite all this pressure to do more, keep up, and juggle more things, the solution in the Age of Excellence isn’t always to do more.
Many times, it’s to do less.
The Surprising Solution in the Age of Excellence
In 1996, Apple was really struggling when Steve Jobs returned — they even almost went bankrupt. A year later Jobs was made CEO.
One of the first key moves he made was to eliminate almost all of the products Apple was working. He famously drew a 2×2 matrix on a wall, and declared that they would only sell four kinds of computer: professional, consumer, desktop and portable.
One of the first products they released shortly afterward was the colorful iMac, which was a hit and put the company back on the map.
Today, there are more distractions and more pressure to try and keep up.
But the goal in business isn’t to do more, but to be better.
Instead of trying to squeeze in more everyday, and to work on more projects, we should think about how to pare down, strip away, or politely decline.
Because the path to Excellence isn’t through efficiency, but effectiveness.