Ideas often come from the strangest places don’t they? And once they get implanted in your brain, you never quite know when they’ll suddenly germinate and blossom into a fully formed insight or action.
Some time ago, in Johannesburg South Africa, I attended an acoustic set by a singer/songwriter called Josie Field. I hadn’t heard her music before, but I was reliably informed she was a great musician and a wonderful songwriter. To seal the deal, the drinks were complimentary!
Image courtesy of Josie Field's Twitter feed.
Josie Field stepped on stage, plugged in her guitar and opened up with a song that immediately captured my imagination.
She sang: “Hey man open your mind, you’ve got 155 crazy ideas, why do you always go with the safest one?"
The song catalogued her frustrations as a young musician with people in the industry constantly telling her what she needed to change, if she wanted to become successful and advising her to take the safest route to achieve fame and fortune.
After more than 15 years in the IT software industry, surrounded by lots of super smart, hardworking individuals, I often found myself asking precisely the same question.
In today’s constantly changing business landscape, where our customers, our competitors and even our own solutions are continually evolving, why do we so frequently opt for the so-called ‘safe ‘ options, when trying to grow or sustain how we do business?
How safe is too safe?
Safety suggests an idea has been tried and tested and gives the impression that we’re somehow mitigating the risks for our organisation, but increasingly I’m beginning to feel that ‘safe’ might just be the new ‘risky’.
From a marketing and business development perspective, it might seem safe to:
- Use the same out-bound marketing techniques year after year
- Sponsor the same events annually
- Advertise in the same publications
- Join the same industry groups
- And ensure that each client gets a card at Christmas.
However, just because it seems safe and it used to work in the past, doesn’t automatically make it an effective way to communicate in today’s fast-twitch economy. Furthermore by persisting with tired and worn-out communication strategies you’re jeopardising the scarcest commodity of all, the time and attention of your target audience. Once the ‘care factor’ begins to disappear, it can be almost impossible to regain.
It really starts to get risky when your competitors begin to embrace new ways of conversing with their audience, when their name keeps popping up in the micro-communities and they begin harnessing the reach of social media to change how they interact with their customers.
In the B2B technology world, where sales cycles are often long, complicated and costly, the safe approach has invariably been to write lengthy tender responses, spend months demonstrating the capabilities of your solution and then hope you manage to outwit, outplay or outlast the competition at the end of the sales cycle.
The tide is turning
As more organisations begin to embrace what Seth Godin in his book Meatball Sundae refers to as ‘new marketing’, business norms are changing and changing rapidly. How we access and consume information has radically shifted in recent years. Who we trust to help us in our decision-making has also changed, with the incredible rise of peer to peer networking facilitated by platforms like LinkedIn.
As the tide turns, those organisations slowest to react to the shifting currents find themselves becoming increasingly isolated, with a message that resonates less and less with their audience. Over time, the authenticity and credibility of this message begins to suffer, which is reflected in the organisation's financial performance. All of a sudden they’ll discover that the ‘safe’ strategies that had served them well for so many years have become the riskiest strategies of all.
Knowing what’s right for you?
So what can we do to not just survive, but actually thrive in this brave new world? My advice is to slip off your shoes and socks and simply dip your toe in the water.
Rather than debate the merits of the tools you could use, to start this new conversation I thought I’d simply share the techniques I’ve employed in my own boutique consultancy business, here in Sydney, Australia.
- Write blog articles, provide content for other publications or post via LinkedIn: A few weeks ago I took my first baby steps into the world of writing content for LinkedIn, having blogged intermittently for a couple of years. I’m aiming for informative and entertaining in what I write and hoping to imbue each article with some insights that will resonate with my audience. I’m still learning the ropes (this post is too long I know, but I’m happy to be learning)
- Really use LinkedIn and other business networking platforms: Lots of people have a LinkedIn profile, but few are really ‘sweating the asset’ we have at our disposal. There are some great free online tutorials and whitepapers available on how to get the most out of LinkedIn. It’s a particularly good way of becoming a trusted adviser on a topic that you’re knowledgeable and passionate about
- Twitter: ‘To tweet or not to tweet, that is the question?’… or at least that’s the question I asked myself repeatedly, before signing up for a Twitter account. I’m not a celebrity or a well-known sports identity, so why would anyone care what I have to say in 140 characters or less? They will care, if what you have to say is informative, perceptive or in some way adds value to their lives. It’s free, easy and surprisingly addictive, so if you haven’t already, you may like to give it a try
- Partnerships and alliances: This may seem like a strange inclusion, in a list of ‘new marketing’ communications tools, but effective partnering strategies can have a profound impact on who hears your message and how they interpret it. In seeking out new partnerships or alliances, always look for organisations with complimentary offerings and try to develop a win/win philosophy. You’ll be amazed what might happen and who might get to hear about you as a result.
Will Rogers, the great American comedian from the 1920’s, summed it up nicely:
You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes, because that’s where the fruit is.