This is a burning question that has come up for a lot clients lately. It is also a great way of brainstorming a new product or strategy. What would these titans do? How would they approach things differently?
We hold up as a messianic reverence for these companies born out of their ability to dominate their respective markets. To explore this, it’s worth a little digging into each of the prophets and what they believe. There is a tonne of stuff written about this already, but the key is to pull together a narrative that makes sense for general business rather than the idiosyncrasies of Silicon Valley.
Another way of looking at this is to ask: why are companies like Amazon and Google infinitely more valuable than traditional companies? There are two areas that can be digestibly picked out here:
- Culture – The ‘fail fast’ mentality. An understanding that the ground is always shifting and the desire to be the first to move, learn and get better.
Google’s mantra ‘always in beta’ is the polar opposite to the old-agency attitude of ‘launch it and leave it, so we can head to the pub’. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has a similarly ambitious and inspiring call to arms: ‘“Move fast and break things. Unless you’re breaking stuff, you’re not moving fast enough.”
- Data/Platform – The ability to understand almost everything about their audience. Giving them the ability to act on this information with the most relevant message or product to every customer at the right time. This data builds insight, insight delivers relevance, which is then turned into personalisation.
I’ll save data (and the uneasy relationship many have with it) for next month. For now, let’s look at the cultural aspect of these guys.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ philosophy is pretty inspirational, despite some pretty unsavoury comments from former staff. His number one rule is to ‘err on the side of action’. This is a key difference with this type of company rather than the legacy of bricks and mortar. These guys know that their customers live in the accelerated culture so they have to move fast. In this world, the worst decision is indecision. From a personal philosophy point of view, Bezos talks about looking back at his life and minimising the regrets he has: “If I knew I had failed I wouldn’t regret that, but the one thing I would regret was not trying.”
This is very much the ‘fail fast’ mentality that characterises these millennial companies (Apple is a stretch as far as the millennial definition goes, but it has consistently reinvented itself since its inception in 1976).
It is abundantly that these companies not only take risks but that they have shaped the landscape in terms of customer centricity. And now, the rest of the world is playing to catch-up.
All of these guys have huge machines for encouraging word of mouth (they would, wouldn’t they?). They don’t put an ad out and hope the tracking is good in three months. They give the customer a good experience, encourage them to share it and take only a supporting role. They embrace the idea that we have no control over the consumer and as Bezos points out, “your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
If you have either a success or a failure online, it will get amplified quicker than flatulence in a very tiny lift. But don’t let that scare you. Even the bad experiences can be turned around.
While we’re on customer centricity, let’s look at Apple. Apple doesn’t sell technology, they sell experiences, self-expressive benefits, luxury, and association. There’s no such thing as the ‘Apple Watch’, but there is such thing as a luxury timepiece that fits in with your lifestyle by syncing with your mobile, sending you emails and monitoring your heartbeat. There’s no such thing as an Apple ad campaign, but there is such thing as Shot on iPhone6, that puts you, as a creator, on the centre stage and works backwards from there. If you’re doing customer centricity right, it will become harder for consumers to distinguish whether your offering is a product or a service.
The digital titans have always listened and respected the opinion of their customers. Also, they’ve always been really quick to apologise if when they’re wrong. Sounds like a pretty commonsense way to do business. Wouldn’t you rather deal with a company that you knew respected the purchases you made and how you might guide their behaviour in the future? I certainly would.
There is a fantastic book called Velocity by Ajaz Ahmed & Stefan Olander from AKQA and Nike. We’ve used this as a bible for the past three years. The reason why is because it looks into some key rules as to why these companies not only win, but how the new rules of business are just so very different. They evangelise the accelerated economy and elaborate on what you need to do to survive and thrive. Here are just some of their thoughts:
- A Smith & Wesson beats four aces – don’t be a sitting duck. See the big picture, see patterns taking shape and act.
- It’s easier done than said – trust your intuition and courage. Get going. Then get better.
- The best advertising isn’t advertising – making meaningful connections with people takes more than just a 30-second TV spot. Enhance, don’t leach.
- Respect human nature – digital is the means, not the end. Make yourself proud by making people’s lives easier, richer and more fun (much like the recent Hammerhead work).
- No good joke survives a committee of six – if you keep sanding down the rough edges, you’re left with nothing.
- Have a purpose larger than yourself – try to do the right thing and always play from your heart. Doing good is doing great with Optus.
Beyond their attitude to customers and challenging themselves every day, these companies understand something else: culture.
This brings us neatly to another question. Would you leave your current role to work with these types of company?
The list of Google benefits is pretty impressive, but so is their lack of turnover. They have have everything from free breakfast, lunch and dinner to gyms and swimmming pools. However, I would argue that it is the importance they place on culture that really lights the way.
— WWE (@WWE) February 26, 2015
Google is very proud that they have a culture built on quantitative and qualitative data. This is both to improve happiness and productivity. For instance, Google knows that the optimal time for a lunch queue is three to four minutes. Any longer than that and they waste time, any shorter they don’t get to meet people. Also, they have long lunch tables so you meet new people. This is all designed around the thought of ‘cultural collisions’ making things a lot more fun and creative. After all, new conversations breed new ideas.
Some great facts from Google:
- A) A warm welcome on your first day leads to a 15 percent increase in productivity over the next few months.
- B) Great health insurance and a wellness program leads to a happier workplace.
- C ) Managers do make a difference (for more detail check out this link: Google Quest to Build a Better Boss].
So, they listen and respect their customers; they never call someone a customer until they come back; they invest hugely in staff retention; and, above everything, they all say they have a sense of fun optimism with real purpose. This makes everyone involved feel they are bonded together in something larger than themselves and something they can believe in. None of what they do is a secret sauce, but why are we always so surprised when it works?
It’s a potent recipe. The talk of these guys going into every category you can imagine should strike fear in the old guard. Soon they’ll be disrupting categories as drivers in insurance, telecoommunications, car production, TVs and original content and whatever else their consumers want. So, to avoid being the next Kodak, ask yourself, ‘What would google do?’
- Dean Taylor is co-founder and managing director of Contagion. [email protected].