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Who wouldn’t want to be awesome? 09/29/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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NeoUmair Haque, Director of the Havas Media Lab, recently challenged the world’s markets with what he calls The Awesomeness Manifesto. In it he asks “What makes some stuff awesome and other stuff merely innovative?” His point? If innovation is the act of doing something a little bit differently, then are markets driven by innovation all that, well… awesome?  He goes even further in asking if the cost of innovation can exceed the benefits.

Innovation often isn’t. Innovation means, naively, what is commercially novel.

Yet, as the financial crisis proves, what is “innovative” is often value destructive and socially harmful. Financial “innovation” destroyed trillions in value.

A better concept, one built for a radically interdependent 21st century, is awesomeness. –Umair Haque

Though our culture is built on, driven by, and even a bit obsessed with innovation, is the enhanced value, meaning and quality of life produced always proportionate to the energies expended to realize those fruits? And, more importantly, can innovation be a double-edged sword?

He goes on to identify, what he calls, the four pillars of awesomeness. Each of which sound like an appeal to leave business for the sake of business behind to pursue the higher calling of true value creation.

Awesomeness happens when thick value is created by people who love what they do, added to insanely great stuff, and multiplied by communities who are delighted and inspired because they are authentically better off. That’s a better kind of innovation, built for 21st century economics.  -Umair Haque

Umair’s observations are quite similar to my own (see Gravity vs. Electricity).

He concludes by turning his manifesto into a collaborative exercise by inviting readers to contribute their ideas to the cause of awesomeness.

Here are my thoughts on awesomeness.

Capitalism, which is a reasonably good economic and social model, asks most of us to make a significant personal contribution in order to sustain our quality of life. We call this contribution “work.” Regardless of how much we like what we do, most of us see our careers as a means to an end.  We often keep professional and personal separate. We qualify our contributions through their financial rewards. We make our work, what is often our single greatest contribution to society, about making money and living well. Too few of us qualify our participation through our careers much further.

Does the disconnect between our day-to-day getting by and the net value of our output contribute to the kind of markets we see today? Markets where too many indistinguishable goods and services compete for our business. Where fierce competition for existing markets creates a cacophony of voices in the media working to distinguish themselves… creating secondary markets around consumer attention and mind share. If we consider the time, energy and resources that all this competitive activity expends, the environmental impact, the noise we have to filter through, and the time and energy we waste knee-deep in messaging, offers and hype… we have to ask: does this innovative marketplace, with all the heat and friction it generates, really produce net gains for society?

I’m not saying that Capitalism, free markets or innovation are the problem.  I believe that we are the problem. Do we recognize how our careers, our products and our companies affect the world we live in… really. Perhaps the pursuit of personal awesomeness can begin by reconnecting the value of our sweat to the net-value we produce in the market.

Innovation, the act of bringing incremental improvements to existing ideas, keeps us locked in an endless front-line battle for market share. Awesomeness transcends the value found in existing markets to create new markets. The pursuit of  awesomeness is the pursuit of game changing ideas, unrealized value, and truly original ways of thinking. Because we are so accustomed to imagining new ideas and value propositions within the context of existing markets, we have a difficult time trusting or embracing the promises unleashed by awesome thinking. This insecurity prevents awesome thinking from becoming an embraceable model.

Instead, we view awesomeness as a phenomenon produced by a few gifted geniuses. Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz and Oprah Winfrey have the magic touch for creating markets. A Pixar or Nintendo’s succession of successes are accidental or otherworldly. The rapid ascent of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are too singular to teach us anything that we too can employ. By exalting our real world examples of awesomeness, we don’t allow our best case studies to reveal the fundamentals of awesome thinking.

Our biggest challenge is to demystify awesomeness, to help it become a more understood and attainable pursuit. Only by working together to define, recognize, uncover and support awesomeness can we unleash awesome new companies, and create jobs that impart the personal benefits of delivering awesomeness to the marketplace.

Being awesome, especially in this economy, is incredibly difficult. Awesomeness almost always requires monumental amounts of self discipline, courage and persistence, along with a willingness to risk what we have to get to something better. Awesomeness demands that we stand against well established ideas, and openly challenge entrenched paradigms. The pursuit of awesomeness can cause friends, family members, and even our most trusted advisers to question our sanity. Because awesomeness can be disruptive to existing markets, there may also be some who don’t wish us well. The barriers to awesome are high.

Today the web gives us access to a wide and rich stream of information, ideas and communication. We can leverage this new channel to help the models behind awesome thinking become more understandable and embraceable, and help awesome success become more attainable. My question is this: How can we work together to explore and convey the principles of awesome thinking?

Gravity vs. Electricity 09/18/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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gravvselect4 I think we can all agree that the world’s markets have changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. It’s a bigger world, in that more of us are out there competing for market share. It’s also a smaller world, as more of us are now competing globally. The ubiquity of the Internet has substantially lowered the barrier of entry by providing an inexpensive and direct distribution channel between any company and the world’s markets.

Yesterday’s markets, which were characterized by scarcity and exclusivity, have been replaced by new markets that are characterized by abundance and egalitarianism. It wasn’t all that long ago that everything we consumed came to us through a market of limitations. We were accustomed to limits in our choices, resources, knowledge, access and providers. Today we have almost unlimited resources and options to choose from in satisfying our needs, with new providers emerging to serve us every day.

These new forces are shifting power and attention away from the mass media and big business towards consumers and their networks, giving consumers more power and control than ever before.

Since we are all now forced to compete on a more level playing field, and one in which consumers can call the shots, what changes need to occur within our organizations, and within ourselves, to ensure we are able to remain competitive?

To answer this questions, I’d like to  introduce and define gravity and electricity as marketing concepts.

Gravity, a naturally occurring energy, helps to determine every object’s place and position within the environment. Using an object’s relationship to everything else in that environment, gravity helps objects move or stay in place. Gravity is a constant. It’s self sustaining. We can position objects to suit our needs, but sooner or later gravity will win out and relocate the objects, re-determining their relationships and roles.

As consumers and as people we are guided by internal gravitational forces which stem from our value systems, desires, tastes, aspirations, identities and relationships. We are motivated to action, or non-action, by these inherent forces. Our gravitational will is always at work, helping to keep us safe, grounded, balanced, and satisfied.

Electricity, on the other hand, is a force that is generated through the expenditure of energy and resources, and wielded to fulfill a task. Like gravity, electricity can be used to move objects, or to keep them in place.

When we work to elicit actions in people which aren’t directly aligned with, and fully powered by their gravitational will, we are using electricity. Anytime we work to motivate others to take actions that they wouldn’t have taken by themselves, we need a degree of electricity to accomplish it.

When someone successfully talks us into something that we didn’t necessarily want, and through our acquiescence we find ourselves in a position that’s less satisfying, we can be sure that electricity was used to win us over. When this happens most of us will take some action to reposition ourselves back into place, or into a new place of comfort. That’s our gravitational will at work.

In markets characterized by abundance and driven by the will of the consumer, gravity will always trump electricity.

Electric marketing was a best practice back when markets were characterized by scarcity. In those days a large share of voice and wide distribution allowed companies to create markets for their products. Though many brands continue to rely on costly electric marketing and advertising, electricity is losing its potency, and the long-held advantages of electric brands are slipping away. In today’s market the flagrant use of electricity can diminish a brand’s reputation and position. The belief that electricity can still create markets keeps many brands from recognizing and serving the will of their markets and using their considerable resources to appeal to that will.

By recognizing and appealing to a market’s gravitational will, gravity brands tap the natural energies that exist within the market. When a new gravity brand uncovers and serves the pent up will of a market, the market’s networks can do most of the heavy lifting in moving its membership toward the new value proposition. For consumers, the process of being lulled towards a gravity brand is powerful and seductive. Gravity brands allow markets to feel that the brand belongs to them, and not the other way around, tapping into the market’s desire to remain in control. Consumer relationships with gravity brands create bonds that are impossible for electric brands to break.

Microsoft has long been one of the world’s most successful electric brands. One of Microsoft’s most successful electric marketing tactics was to leverage the ubiquity of the Windows operating system. By force-bundling the Explorer browser, Media Player, Office Suite and other Microsoft products onto personal computers, the company was able to quickly dominate those markets. Microsoft was successful using electricity because the software market was characterized by scarcity, and consumers weren’t yet acclimated to exercising there will within that market.

Over the years successful gravity brands like Apple, Firefox and Google have neutralized Microsoft’s electric tactics. Though Microsoft continues to produce high quality products, its reliance on electricity has often hampered the brand’s ability to appeal to the will of the market.

Last year Microsoft launched a promotion to pay web users for using its Live.com search site. In many ways the ultimate electric marketing tactic, this promotion failed to diminish Google’s gravitational pull on the search market. Today Microsoft is again leaning hard on bundling to promote and position its new search site, Bing. If Bing’s value proposition appeals to the gravitational will of the market, will wielding electricity help or hurt that appeal? Could Microsoft find better success by simply allowing its product to speak to the needs of users?

As a gravity marketer, it’s important to recognize that no market is ever truly satisfied. Today’s brands show us where the lowest center of gravity rests based on today’s offerings. As gravity marketers our job is to work to recognize where the gravitational will of a market leans, and to build offerings that can move some or all of the market into a more comfortable and advantageous position. Gravity brands must remain in lock step with the will of their market in order to continue recognizing and serving the market’s lowest center of gravity. Because the gravitational will of consumers and their networks is stronger than brand loyalty; any brand, whether they use gravity or electricity, can lose their market position when a competitor uncovers and serves the pent-up will of customers.

When a gravity brand allows consumers to leverage community, tribal or network benefits, it can produce a gravity-well. What makes gravity-well brands especially powerful is the gravitational force they exert on their markets can over-power the gravitational will of consumers.  How many Facebook users report that they dislike the site, but use it because all their friends are there? How many consumers buy Apple computers, when a PCs could satisfy their needs at half the cost, because of their strong tribal connection to the Apple brand?

Understanding why gravity trumps electricity is a paradigm, a way of thinking, and a means of operating. We can recognize and leverage gravity in everything we do, from product development, to marketing, to managing our personal and business relationships. Appealing to, respecting and leveraging the gravitational will of a person or a market can produce exponential returns. In a world characterized by abundance, gravity breeds security, stability, loyalty and satisfaction while electricity often produces doubt, anxiety, immobility, waste and resentment. As you go through your day, and you find yourself engaged by people, influenced by media and distracted by the many messages working to get your attention, ask yourself…

  • Am I being engaged by gravity or with electricity?
  • How does my answer affect the way I feel about the message and the messenger?
  • How does my answer affect the likely success of the message and the messenger?
  • What are the gravity brands and gravity wells in my life?
  • How do my favorite gravity brands appeal to my gravitational will?
  • Can I recognize the gravity brands and electricity brands in different markets?