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Archive for the ‘discovery’ Category

You’re always in beta. Always. If you think you aren’t, you’re already falling behind and bleeding relevance.

What does being in Beta mean? It means being in perpetual test mode. It means constantly asking “how could I do this better,” even when this worked just fine. How can I listen better? How could I improve customer service? How can I make my billing process smoother? How could we improve the UI/UX of our websites? How can I engage my user community even better? How could this brochure have been better?

I know what you’re thinking: Poor kid. He’s terminally obsessive-compulsive. 😀 (Actually, I’m just compulsive, not obsessive, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The point is this: The moment you start thinking that you have found the perfect model, the second you start adopting a “let’s not change anything” mentality, you’re screwed. The “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” saying I hear a lot in the South is may have been pretty good advice a hundred years ago, but it isn’t anymore. Not if you want your company to stay competitive. Not if you want to see your company grow. Not if you want to see chronic improvement in everything you do.

Check out today’s video if you haven’t already. And if it doesn’t launch for you, go watch it here. (Thanks, Viddler!)

Interestingly, the “you’re always in Beta” mindset that I am talking about today seriously reminds me of the mindset athletes and coaches get into when it comes to improving performance. Say you’re currently a 24:00 5K runner, and you want to relive your college glory days by running an 18:00 5K a year from now. How do you do it? Simple: By stressing your system one little bit at a time. By challenging your comfort zone with every run. Going from 24:00 to 23:55, then 23:50, then 23:45 for the same distance, and so on. Turning up the heat and the intensity for a few weeks, then giving your body a chance to adapt. To plateau. And then starting over with a new cycle of stress and adaptation followed by a rest period. During that time, you are constantly testing your boundaries, monitoring success and failure, learning what works and what doesn’t. (And yes, measuring your progress to know what works and what doesn’t.) Pretty basic stuff.

The alternative would be to keep running the same 5K route every day at the exact same speed, in the exact same way. What would happen? Well, you would become pretty good at running a 5K  in 24:00. Comfortable? Sure. But whatever happened to improvement? See where I am going with this?

Okay, now let’s complicate things a little bit:

As a triathlete, training and competing in what essentially amounts to three sports (swimming, cycling and running) adds some pretty substantial layers of complexity. Not only do I have to figure out how to train for three specific sports, but I have to figure out how to combine and integrate all three in a way that doesn’t lead to injury or burnout. I also have to fit all three in my already busy schedule. Then I have to consider how to time my training cycles to coincide with specific races. In addition, I have to incorporate changes in nutrition and hydration based on my workouts, my training mode, outside temperatures, etc. And if I get into my head that I am going to train for a marathon, half Ironman or full-on mac-daddy Ironman, all of these variables take on a level of complexity I can’t even begin to explain in one blog post. How much Gatorade should I drink per hour in 94 degree temperatures at 80% of my maximum heart rate? How many energy gels can I absorb per hour without getting sick to my stomach? What cadence should I adopt to sustain an average speed of 21mph for 112 miles? Only one way to find out: Test it.

And I haven’t even talked about gear. Will the improved aerodynamics gained from dropping my aerobars down 2 millimeters shave 20 seconds off my 40K time? Maybe… but as a result, will my upper body’s new angle offset my hip angle enough to reduce my power output or stress my hip flexors enough that I will start cramping up 5 miles into the run? How will I find out? There’s only one way: Getting out there and testing that theory. It’s clipboard and stopwatch time for the next six weeks.

Should I go with a disc wheel or a deep dish rim for my next race? How will I know which works better for me on a moderately hilly course in 15mph crosswinds? Only one way: I have to go test each wheel configuration on a variety of courses in completely different wind conditions. Then I’ll know what works best in specific course conditions.

Rear-mounted bottle-cages or frame-mounted? Aero helmet or regular helmet? Motion control shoes or racing flats? Test test test test test. You get the picture.

Call it an occupational benefit or a pre-existing condition, but being a triathlete kind of trains you to be in a perpetual Beta mindset. And it isn’t a stretch to jump from the world of competitive endurance sports to the world of business performance. Different application, but same principles and same basic methodology: Ask, test, observe, validate, learn, repeat.

But before you do all this – the testing, the experimentation, the analysis and learning and adaptation – you have to make a choice. You have to pick a camp. You have to decide whether you are satisfied with your business performance as it is today (“good enough” is good enough for you and your customers), or hungry for improvement.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. It doesn’t matter what camp you decide to align yourself with: The one happy with the way things are or the one looking to kick ass a little more each day. What matters is that your decision work for you. But let’s be clear about the impact that your choice will have on your business: Sticking with a “let’s not change anything” mindset will not earn you more customers, increase customer loyalty or generate more sales. Where you are today is exactly where you will be tomorrow. If you’re lucky. Eventually, perhaps not next week or next month or next year, but eventually, this mindset will seal your doom. A Beta mindset, however, will help you uncover ways to innovate, earn more customers, cut costs, increase customer and employee loyalty, improve product design and performance… You name it: Whatever the opportunity to improve, do do things better and smarter, may be, you will systematically uncover it in the same way that Apple, Nike, BMW, Cervelo, HBO, Michael Phelps, IDEO, Lance Armstrong, Comcast and Zappos have.

If you want your company to be best in class, to own a market or an industry, to be the trendsetter, the example to follow, the leader in a category, you must adopt a perpetual Beta mindset. You have to constantly stress your systems and processes. You have to turn every action into a test an look at every activity as an opportunity to experiment.You have to measure, analyze, learn, adapt and repeat the cycle over and over and over again.

Question everything.

Work harder than the next guy to build the best XYZ the world has ever seen, and then find ways to make it even better.

Perfection is a process, not a milestone.

Embrace a state of perpetual Beta.


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“If customers feel like they have discovered a brand themselves, they become much more loyal.”

– Ray Kelvin

Found on the Make Marketing History blog today:

Not everything is at it seems or as is claimed and omissions of lucky breaks and familial connections often hide real insights.

I was reminded of this while reading John Grant’s latest book in which he refers to the brand bandwagon phenomenon by which advertising agencies take credit for building a brand that was already building by itself.

This goes to the heart of the myth that marketing is synonomous with advertising. If you need further proof, I’ve watched a local two-person business grow slowly by selling their clothes from their own store. After eighteen years, there was still no marketing department and not one advertisement had been run in print, radio or TV. But the turnover had risen to the vicinity of £100 million.

There had been much truth in the founder’s gleeful description of seeing her first delivery van (stylishly furnished in the company colours) on the road and thinking it looked like a giant mobile shopping bag. Your retail outlet, be it physical or virtual (and everything that supports it) is a great marketing tool.

Indeed the more of the value chain that your business can isolate and/or commandeer, the greater the possibilities because it is under your control and is directly measurable. You’re not shouting at amorphous crowds through mass media. You’re whispering, enticing and listening and thus approaching a prolonged conversation with live prospects and actual customers.

Now not all businesses will have their own retail outlet, but they should act as if they do. Setting out your stall is what marketing is all about.

(…)

Ray Kelvin founder of clothes retailer Ted Baker (market capitalisation £250 million) declares a similar approach in a very rare interview.

..we don’t do valuations and market research; we have an attitude rather than a target market and we don’t advertise. We have a Ted Baker culture instead; people come into the shop and get Ted-ucated. If customers feel like they have discovered a brand themselves, they become much more loyal.

There’s emphasis on speed and the race to raise angel capital, and the thrill of marketing campaigns just to earn the right to take a running jump into the giant pool of companies exactly like yours with clever names and cool logos and posh zipcodes…

… and then there are the little companies that create their own little worlds, sweat the small stuff and and take their time getting discovered by the right core of customers.

Real roots take time to grow. I know we live in the world of here and now, of the 24/7 instant gratification economy in which we all want success and wealth and and fame right this very second… but once you turn off your TV and join the rest of us in the real world, you might come to the realization that the old adage “Easy come, easy go” still applies to everything today.

Throwing oodles of cash at an idea might guarantee a spectacular launch, but it doesn’t hold a candle to hard work, dedication, patience, passion, and a whole lot of attention to detail. (Not to mention luck.)

How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time.

How do you build a castle? One stone at a time.

How do you build a great company? …

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