Bruce Cockburn, the renown singer-songwriter from Canada, wrote “the trouble with normal is it always gets worse”. This is more true than ever, and on far more fronts than geo-political, ideological or socio-economic. Contemporary standards place expedience, cost-reduction, and immediate gratification well above more traditional values of efficacy, reliability, and the corporate conscience. It is as true in product design, sales and marketing as it is in finance, manufacturing and logistics.
Each time we lower a standard, every instance of cutting a corner, and all the decisions made to disguise a defect in the name of “new and improved” serve to reset the bar for what “normal” is. In the post-9/11 months and years we heard the refrain “welcome to the new normal” to reference compromises in liberty, freedom and mobility. In the declining years of 2007 to the bottom-seeking of 2009 and the endangered job market since, we have seen “normal” unemployment jump from 4-5% to 8-10%. This is the world we live in now. The trouble with normal? It always gets worse.
As marketers, we can’t solve global warming, quell social unrest, or shift economic curves. What we can do is recognize, acknowledge, adapt, and innovate. Example: Every product made today, every service offered in commerce is a commodity. There are far fewer dollars chasing far more spending and investment options than ever before in history. Somebody is going to win, and someone else is going to lose.
Your first responsibility to evade complacency is to recognize that whatever it is you make, whatever it is you sell, is now competing with everything else that has been made or offered for sale. There used to be budgets, assigned in categories, with some assurance that needs would be met (even if wants were not). There are no more budgets. Instead there are unmet needs chasing scarce funding. Wants? Don’t even go there. You can’t afford it.
When you acknowledge that in this economy there are no sellers, only buyers, you have made the first giant leap. You can’t sell anything anymore. It was said once that “people don’t sell stocks; people buy stocks”. This is the number one reason social media has become everyone’s darling. People tend to buy less on what satisfies a need and more on what others will think of them and, most of all, on what they will think of themselves for having bought. Economics matter, but only to the extent that they define broad segments of purchase intent and relative timing. The decision-making process is going to come down to emotions first, and then the rationalization will occur.
This is why you either adapt or you become extinct. If adapting prolongs your life, reinvention offers survival, and innovation is the only real path to the future. The process is continually accelerating, making it necessary to creatively destroy what you have built before someone else does it for you.
What does this have to do with sales? With marketing? I would hope the implications would be obvious to all, but just in case… If you carry a business card with “Sales” or “Business Development” on it, you need to let go of any and every attribute of your company, its products and services that give you specific comfort. Instead, move beyond to the place where your customers are treading. Understand those unseen, unknown fears that they are living with. If you can show them a better (more predictable, consistent and reliable) path to where they need to get, you will be recognized for it, considered, and possibly adopted. For at least a while anyway. Until someone else comes along and renders you obsolete. Figure it will take at least six weeks to three months before you are outed.
For those in marketing, the best alternative you have is the one that makes people talk, either vocally or in some unpaid media. Paid-Owned-Earned is one of the most critical concepts around these days. Content is the currency that makes your product (or service) virtuous. You already know this, but we tend to be forgetful of what we have learned in our quest to see around the next corner.
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse. It’s been true since the dawn of time, only made more immediate by the technological explosion of the past twenty-five years. Your very future depends on how readily you can recognize, acknowledge, adapt and innovate. Anything less and you are Amtrak, Kodak, Rolm, Wang, Gateway, Nokia, My Space, or SuperPages.