Monday, June 28, 2010

Let's Be Marketing Cardiologists...

Happy Monday!

I hope all is well with you and you had a restful weekend!

As I was running around last week, a friend of mine (Hi R.S.!) pointed me to this HBR piece written by Scott Anthony and I'd like to share it with you.  The premise was that we often don't encourage or permit ourselves or employees to really use competitors' products.  Here is a good nugget:

"At most companies, it is a mark of shame to use anything other than the company's product.  I doubt that you could see many tubes of Crest at Colgate-Palmolive.  Try bringing a Coke product into Pepsi.  Steve Ballmer from Microsoft famously berated an employee last year for using an iPhone at a company event."

It's true.  When I was trying to develop a PayPass concept at Citi, there was a little buzz of surprise when I showed everyone my American Express ExpressPay fob and chip embedded Blue card.  Sure, I was using AmEx products while working for Citi but how else could I explain look/feel and functionality to people who had never physically seen a fob or a chip up close?  How else can you stimulate thinking/creativity?  How else can you demonstrate or understand customer experience?

Why did people find it so odd?  I'm still at a loss.  We talk about SWOT, we talk about strategy and we talk about the competition.  We shouldn't be talking about these theoretically -- we should be talking about these based on personal experience.  Really, it comes down to this:

"Some companies have people who focus solely on competitive intelligence, but the simplest form of competitive intelligence is to encourage employees to act like "regular" customers.  Pick whatever solution gets the job done better than anyone else.

Intentionally try the competitor's products to see what works and what doesn't work.  Don't consider it a mark of shame.  Tell your boss that you are spending every minute doing market research to try to identify the competitor's weaknesses -- or your own."

I've been thinking quite a bit about why we don't do this and it seems to me that the answer is fear of failure.  I suggest we embrace failure wholeheartedly.  Is it something that you consciously seek?  Do you know what failure would look like for you or your business at 50% or even 100% level?  Do you know what failure looks like for your competition?  Do you have an idea for what you would do if, when stacked up against competitors, you would fail?

It's not such a bad thing to ask these ugly questions.  Understanding your weakest points is how you go from failure to success.  Testing for failure is to be applauded.  Testing for failure happens all the time except for marketers because we're too vain to admit where we might have gone wrong.  There's nothing wrong with seeking failure.

Incentive: other people happen to make quite a comfortable living from measuring failure and the potential for failure.  Have you heard of cardiac stress tests?  A cardiologist administers a stress test to measure blood flow to the heart during physical exercise and compares it to blood flow to the heart during rest.  The test shows how much or little blood goes to the section of the heart that does the greatest work pumping blood, etc.  It's essentially a test of physical fitness.

It's essentially a test of how much your heart fails.  It's a test for cardiologists because they love that kind of information.  It's good to know levels of heart operability, right?  We rather enjoy the life we're living and perhaps would like to maximize it, right?  Maybe the good doctor will prescribe more tests, a diet regimen, drugs, etc.  The point is that based on test results, corrective action will be recommended and (if you're a good patient) taken with the result being a better, healthier and longer life.

What's wrong with that?  Not a thing.  Before people write in about contraindications and special limitations of the cardiac stress test, let me just say that I know there are exceptions and the stress test doesn't capture everything.  I also know this subjects my point to failure risk but I think the underlying message is still pretty intact.

Recommendation: let's all be marketing cardiologists and look for the stressors in our branding, messaging, products, service, customer experience and the like.  Let's figure out where we are at our weakest vis a vis our own standards, vis a vis customer expectations and vis a vis the competition.  Let's write our own prescriptions to strengthen our position and make considerable improvements where needed.  Let's also figure out where our competition is the weakest and write strategic prescriptions to leverage those weaknesses.

There's nothing wrong with failure but what's wrong is ignoring the warnings...  let's seek failure out and beat it at its own game.  We'll all be better marketing and business patients for it.  To paraphrase the title of a famous movie, let's stop worrying and love the failure bomb.

Until Next Time,

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef


  1. Parissa, great analogy. I don't think its so much a 'fear of failure' as it is a general fear of using the 'other guy's product' - we're pre-disposed to supporting the home team, and so the corollary, i.e. aversion for use of the competing product is frowned upon.

  2. As an entrepreneur, failure is not in my vocabulary. When things stop working, it becomes time to reinvent. Reinvention means change, change leads to growth, growth is a temporary surrender of security. It could lead to cardiac arrest, but then again, I chose to be an entrepreneur vs. 9 to 5.

  3. Spot on - I view failures as bridges to successes.