Good Companies Ask, Great Companies Tell.

“You want to have a future where you’re expecting things to be better, not one where you’re expecting things to be worse.”

Elon Musk

I graduated in the late 90’s, and subsequently worked as a junior marketer at a well known FMCG company, a giant even then. I was immediately thrown into a new launch of a pretty big product, one you can still buy today (so it must have been successful). One thing which still sticks with me today, some 20 years on, and what I remember about this project was the time and money spent on customer feedback, focus groups, surveys, blind tasting, more focus groups, more tasting.

For the new product development team to even start thinking about what they were going to work on marketing had used up a huge amount of time and resource. In hindsight seeking assurance and affirmation from the customer was, essentially, the fundamental driver of whether anything was even developed, let alone launched.

To put it simply products of this business were dependent on whether or not a select group of prospects and customers wanted them — or thought they wanted them — in their lives.

It is incredibly risk averse in principle — the more research you have, the more valid your hypothesis, but really it is the absolute opposite, relying on assumption of what people think they want, leading questions and small samples (relative to the overall customer base) is not bullet proof, it’s not even water proof.

Marketing has moved exponentially since then, and every year changes even more, yes of course the world we live in today is different from 1996, and buying behaviour is different, the world is a different place, people are different, if you are under 30 you don’t know of an unconnected world, a friend in the US is as close as a friend next door. So why, as marketers, when put in positions we were in 20 years ago, do the same shit.

Right, we may use different channels — “hey, use survey monkey, it saves time and money!” — but we are essentially looking for the same outcome, affirmation, confirmation, someone to blame if it goes wrong… whatever.

I often get asked what I think the biggest change in marketing has been in the past 10 years, digital, social, search, tech, buying behaviour, number of channels, the list could go on ad infinitum. I think it is far simpler, but bigger than all of these big, but relatively granular examples.

Good companies ask, Great companies tell.

I use an Elon Musk quote to kick off this piece, the quote itself is pretty irrelevant, it’s more the man. The flagbearer of disruption — automotive, energy, space — seriously. The innovator of innovation, from Tesla Motors to Solar Roofs to Space X, these guys are telling us what we need, not asking us what we want, these are the great.

Look all the other greats (tax comments temporarily disabled) — the the four horsemen — Apple; Facebook; Amazon and Google, plus those creeping up on their tails, Netflix; Starbucks; Uber et al. How many of these companies products launches rely on customer feedback? I don’t think this question even really needs an answer. Amazon with dash, Netflix using data to determine not only scheduling and personalised content, but future characters, plots and characters. Uber with self driving cars.

One thing that always stuck with me from all my reading, running my own business, running other peoples and being a member of a leadership team was taken from Good to Great (Jim Collins), it was not necessarily the content of the book, but more the intention behind it, and the title.

There are hundreds, thousands of good businesses out there, businesses which look good on paper, in the office, and on our screens. But how many great businesses are there, the ones that get everything right. According to Collins it was not many.

I won’t argue with that.