Avoid Becoming a Commodity

David Baker at Think Shift is a pretty interesting guy. One of the lessons that we at Black Chair have taken from him is to never position yourself in the market as a commodity. Here’s what he had to say about that, and how Think Shift approaches it:

“There’s a downward pressure on ideas, to commoditize, because something that’s risky or is going to move the mark also carries with it a challenge […] What we said we want to do is know our clients, so that we can create new value that they’re willing to say, “I’m going to give you a sub set of that value.” That helped us increase margins, which helped us hire better people, which helped us do a better job. You really create a new cycle of growth, instead of a cycle that is chewing down on your margins.”

Think Shift differentiates themselves in the agency market by being about more than just brand. When I spoke to him, David talked about brand, culture, and leadership as being three sides of the same thing:

“Those three things, if you look at the way that the world is changing, that brand is how people on the outside think of you. Culture is how people on the inside think of you. Those two are linked. This isn’t my idea. There’s a fellow named Bob Mumford who says, if I have the mumps and I tell you that I got measles, what will you catch? […] You’ll catch what I’ve got, right? Not what I say that I’ve got. The marketing industry used to be all about broadcast, broadcast, broadcast. Let me just tell you this about ourselves. Things have changed. The world is so phenomenally small today. You will get what I’ve got extremely quickly.
If you want to truly build a brand, you’ve got to back up into “Why do you do what you do.” Get serious about purpose and then ensure that your vision and your mission and the values that you hold are truly whacked out. A lot of people wouldn’t say that’s a brand exercise, but it is. It is the heart of an organization.
You’ve got these two pieces, brand and culture. They’re driven by leadership. The leader of the organization, if she doesn’t get that this authentic purpose needs to be created, then it’s a marketing exercise. There’s nothing wrong with marketing. You have to do that. It’s got to come from a place of purpose.”

So Think Shift avoids being a commodity by, among other things, positioning themselves as thought leaders in culture and leadership.

You can read or listen to the rest of my 30-minute conversation with David here.


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