Entrepreneurship – Creating Opportunities Where None Exists

It was April of 1976. It was one of those evenings when Gary Dahl, an advertising professional was having beer with his friends. His friends were going on and on complaining about their pets. In jest, he remarked that he had no complains about his pet. When probed about which pet, he said, that he had a pet rock.

This got a good laugh among his friends and that was that. Just like at time there is a tune or some thought that is stuck in our heads, this entire idea of having a pet rock was stuck in his head. So, he did what any entrepreneur would do – going about creating a product around his idea of pet rock.

It is now October and he has been working on this idea on and off since April. He got hold of rocks, created a carefully designed package – (with holes for oxygen to go through to the rock), soft base of straw so the rock feels comfortable and most importantly the 32 page pet rock training manual.

This manual (you can buy a kindle version here) had clear instructions on how to train your pet rock to sit, sleep, roll down (of course assisted by a slope) or attack the bully who troubles you ( of course with the assistance of the pet owner) and many more skills that can be taught to the pet rock.

He then sent press releases to various media outlets. Some of them picked the PR for the sheer absurdity of the idea. It even got him on the Tonight show. Twice.

The fad lasted for about 3 months and Gary sold about 1.5 Million pieces in those  100 days and netted a million dollars in profit. Each piece sold at about 4 dollars then with a dollar in net profit.

In an interview he said that no one except himself believed in the idea. Not even his wife.

Entrepreneurs have this unique ability to trust their intuition and their ability to make something work. Combine it with marketing smarts and you can make a market for almost anything – even a pet rock.

The crazy thing is that you can buy a pet rock even now – here  on its official site &  here on amazon.

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Lessons in Entrepreneurship from the Pet Rocks Experiment:

  • Any idea can be made to work, if we can put in enough effort and creativity.
  • Idea alone does nothing. We need to act on our idea and launch it. It is critical for any product. We can never guess which products can take off.
  • Self-belief and the ability to back ourselves is critical for success. Gary ended up taking loans from investors to launch this product. He invested in the packaging (both material and labour).
  • Anything that can catch the imagination of people can become marketing fads and do brisk business but for a brief amount of time.
  • Packaging is critical. If it were not for the packaging and the accompanying training manual, no one would have bothered about this pet rock. As Gary once said, it is not the rock that he sold, it was pun or humour that sold.
  • It is almost never about what we are selling, it is always about the story we create for our customers about what they are buying. Enable them to tell an impactful story, create meaning for the customer and they will buy your story, thereby your product, however effective or absurd it is.

I came across this story when listening to Terry O’reilly. Please do listen to his podcast. It is one of the best produced and most interesting podcast that i have come across on the topic of marketing. You can find more info about the podcast @ Under the Influence and you can subscribe on iTunes here. Highly recommended.

PS: Here is a video where a new pet rock is being trained by his owners.

PSS: Here is another video which explains in detail about the pet rock story.

The Role of Marketing in Scaling a Small Business using Customer Centricity

One way that small businesses can continue to be not only relevant but in some ways even compete (or out-compete the large competitors) is through obsessing about their customers and creating meaningful experiences for them.

Marketing can play a very important role in this journey by not only knowing who the customer is for their product or service but also ensuring that the entire organisation knows about it as well. This shared understanding enables everyone in the organisation to align and find ways to make a difference in the lives of the customers.

– The product development team now knows exactly for whom they are building their product for. They understand the reality of their lives and what challenges will their product or service address for them.

– The customer service team now knows the context in which the customer uses your product and the kind of importance they place on your product functioning the way it is supposed to function. They can also understand and build a process to ensure that they keep this information at the center of how they respond to the requests from customers. They might even find ways to eliminate issues by learning the most common ways that your product might be creating troubles for the customers.

– The accounting team now knows more about the customer and can find ways to make their interactions with the customers a meaningful, delightful or an efficient one (depending on how they would like to engage). The accounting could make the invoicing, payment and any other process that they use to interact with the customers meaningful for them.

– The sales teams would know how to position the product and create meaningful interactions based on the knowledge of the customers. They can create powerful and meaningful moments out of their sales closures and even when they lose deals, find a way to make it memorable for the customers.

– The HR team would now know what kind of people that we need to hire to do well with this kind of customers & what kind of work environment do these people need. This will inform their HR policies, perks and the places they will go looking for the prospective employees.

– The leaders would know what kind of culture they need to create in order to retain their employees so that they can, in turn, do well to retain our customers.

– The procurement teams would know the kind of vendors that they would need to work with, in order to be able to help the company create meaningful experiences for the customers.

– The partnering team will know what kind of partners do they need to identify and partner with. Where and what kinds of partnerships, distribution and/or channel partners do they need in order to not only reach these customers but also to serve them in meaningful ways.

When every part of our organisation obsessed over how to deliver meaningful experiences for our customers, the customers tend to reciprocate by staying loyal and growing their relationships with our business. This is probably one of the fastest ways for a small business to create a competitive advantage for themselves and at the same time scale their business really quickly.

 

 

Standing Out

 

We stand out

When everyone is self-obsessed, by being selfless

When everyone is shouting on roof-tops to be heard, by being silent

When everyone is trying to go fast, by slowing down

When everyone seeks scale, by focusing on that which can’t be scaled

When no one can be trusted, by being trust-worthy

When self-promotion is the norm, by shining the light on someone else

When everyone is trying to be interesting, by being interested

When everyone is running after the next big thing, by cherishing that which we  already have

When everyone is trying to fit in, by being comfortable in who we are

When we stand out not because we want to stand out, but because that’s who we are!

We stand out, when we are the exception to the rule!

This post was inspired by this post by Bernadette Jiwa

The First Rule Of Standing Out

 

What could Tiffany’s Do?

Premise:

Last week the Wall St. Journal featured a story on Tiffany & Co’“midlife crisis.” The piece highlighted the jewellery brand’s struggle to regain its “cool” and improve recently tepid sales and profits. A few days later they announced the hiring of a new CEO.

Tiffany is hardly the only brand that is going through such a crisis. There is a lesson that all of us can learn from the experience of Tiffany and to a certain extent, even JC Penny. Steve Dennis on his blog talks about the customer trapeze. The customer trapeze is the idea of a brand hoping to reach a new, highly desirable set of customers while at the same time letting go of those with less favourable characteristics. Most often we see it at play when brands see that their most profitable demographic is ageing and at some point in the near future will start reducing their spends.

Knowing this, brands want to re-invent themselves to become more relevant to the new generation by becoming more hip or trendy.

The Challenge:

The challenge comes when they want to entice the new younger generation to engage with the brand, while at the same time do not want to alienate their existing client base, which is still generating most of their profits for them. This is a true catch-22 situation for brands. But is it?

Tiffnay has tried almost every trick that brands have in their sleeves – becoming more fashion forward, introduce less expensive items in their portfolio or attaching themselves to celebrities that appeal to the new demographic that they want to attract. What they are trying to do is to find the perfect moment when they can let go of their existing customers and take on the new ones. In Tiffany’s case, over the years they have introduced less expensive items and expanded their assortments in an attempt to widen their appeal to the new generation of shoppers. They have even taken on Lady Gaga and Elle Fanning as spokespeople and launched a new, more youthful ad campaign.

What could Tiffany’s Do?

I believe that this is a false dichotomy. I also believe that there is a simpler and a more easier way for brands to transition from one set of customers to another.

Option 1:

Create a new brand for the new customer segment. Let the old brand age with the ageing population cohort.

History reveals that very few established brands are able to successfully execute a dramatic re-configuration of their customer base–at least quickly. There is a significant risk in pursuing this strategy because, irrespective of what the brand does to do this switch, they will not be able to become attractive to both the ageing and the young cohort. In the process of trying this, they only alienate both the customer base, which ends up not so well with the brand and the brand dies a very slow and a painful death.

What is needed here is a mindset shift. What happens if companies create new brands for a new cohort of potential customers and continue to use the existing brand for their existing cohorts of customers. The existing brand can continue to remain relevant to their existing customers and even look at other things that the brand can do for the customers, keeping their brand values intact. In this case, in addition to creating beautiful jewellery, Tiffany’s could also look to create other items that an aging population needs – embellished walking sticks, reading glasses for the old. You get the flow.

What this approach does is allows a brand to live and stay relevant to a specific cohort of customers with their sensibilities. It is ok to allow a brand to age with their customers who grew old loving the brand.

Option 2:

The second answer is a bit more difficult.

Instead of trying to win the younger generation by themselves, allow their existing customers to do that for them.

What I mean here is the following: Instead of the brand trying to woo the next generation of customers and win them over, allow their existing customers (ageing population) do that for them. Then the question becomes what can the brand do for their existing customers so they can win their daughters and grand-daughters to their brand. This allows for two things to happen at the same time:

  • Strengthen their relationship with their existing cohort of ageing customers
  • Build a bridge for the new young customers to start engaging with the brand

This also means that the entire brand needs to go for a make-over and if done well, this can give the brand a new lease of life. The risk here is that if done badly, this could also very much fast track the death of the brand.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, I will only say the following: how Tiffany’s and other brands in the similar situation handle it can have a profound impact on the brand – one way or other.

 

 

PBTO58: Hunch – Where Insights and Foresights Meet! With Bernadette Jiwa

Credits: Opening music credit goes to Riju Mukhopadhyay & Pavan Cherukumilli

Who is on the show:

In this episode, we host Bernadette Jiwa. She is a best selling author of multiple books and writes one of the most popular marketing and branding blogs – The Story of Telling. Smart Company named as the top business blog in Australia of 2016Seth Godin listed it as one of the marketing blogs he reads.

Why is she on the show:

She just released her most recent book – Hunch. The book talks about how we can turn our everyday insights into the next big thing.

What do we talk about:

In this episode, we talk about how this particular book came about. She shares her insight about how entrepreneurs – small and large are getting deluded in the barrage of data and using it as a crutch to not decide and work on their hunches. She shares some very interesting stories about how Richard Turere (all of 12 years old) helped save his cows from Lions and in the process invented the “Lion Lights“. She also shares the story of how one doctor (Dr. Ravenell) leveraged the popularity and the sense of community in a barber shop – Denny Moe’s to change the lives of thousands of black men by converging healthcare and haircare.

She defines Hunch as below:

Hunch = Insights + Foresights

Simple yet elegant way to define something extremely complicated, I must say. She also talks about the fact that in order to get these hunches, we need to look at the intersection of three things.

Hunches are formed at the intersection of Curiosity, Imagination and Empathy.

There are opportunities all around us if only we stop and notice them. She shares her way of getting these inspiring stories from the everyday walk of life. She says that these stories are all around us, if only we can stop and look for them, if we find them, slow down and think about them.

We also discuss how important boredom is and how crucial having distraction free time for us to think about stuff that we have learnt and allow it to sink in and come up with our own perspective and a lot more. She shares how Sara Blakely founded Spanx with 5000 USD and she takes the long route to work, so that she can get some quite reflection time for herself almost everyday.

This is a short episode but one filled with a lot of insights and learnings.

How can you connect with her:

I strongly recommend that you buy her book – Hunch. The book is packed with a lot of such stories and also has a lot of prompts that can nudge us to practice all the three things that she talks about (curiosity, imagination and empathy) that are important for coming up with our own hunches. Also,  subscribe to her blog. She blogs every single day. Her blogs are an oasis in the middle of a barrage of blogs that dont speak to you. They are short but insightful. They speak to us in a way not many blogs do. You can also follow her on twitter @bernadetteJiwa.

PS: You can watch the TED Talks by Richard & Dr. Rayenell.

Credits: Opening music credit goes to Riju Mukhopadhyay & Pavan Cherukumilli