Marketers today enjoy an unprecedented technological advantage in delivering the right messages to the right people. At the same time, the world is enjoying a period of unbidden technological innovation, constantly disrupting whatever edge marketers gain in their constant pursuit of the consumer. Conference panel discussions and board meetings are filled with novel ideas on ways to address the issue, but perhaps novelty is the wrong approach entirely. Rather than continually conjure “wow- esque” ideas, marketers should focus instead on executing ideas, argues author and marketing consultant Kevin Kelly (see below).
In his recently released book DO! The Pursuit of Xceptional Execution, Kelly explores the stories surrounding marketers and businessmen who found success despite challenges such as lack of funding or industry knowledge. Here, Kelly explains just what exceptional execution is and how marketers can work toward achieving it in their business.
What exactly is an “exceptionally executed” idea?
Most people think they have to wait for an apple to fall from a tree or levitate like a yogi to come up with a “wow” idea. The reality is it’s not about having a “wow” idea; it’s about exceptional execution of any idea. I talked to the CEOs of start-ups like Outfit 7 and Globent and found that most of these people didn’t have a new idea or a compelling business plan, didn’t have money, and didn’t have insider knowledge. What they had was exceptional execution. For example, Ben Milne, the CEO of Dwolla, started in the financial industry with zero background. He actually owned a company that sold audio speakers and at the end of each year he saw $55,000 in credit card fees. He was wondering how he could mitigate it. He found his answer by starting Dwolla and the rest is history. There’s billions of dollars going through his system already.
If not unique ideas, what does it take to be an exceptional marketer?
There are two elements to exceptional execution and it doesn’t matter what the discipline is. The first is self-awareness and the second is attention. Understanding yourself, your fears, understanding what failure really is. All the exceptionalists I speak with [such as Milne] had a strategy around the fear of failure. Fear of failure is the number one thing worldwide that prevents people from setting up a business. We all have fears. I don’t buy the theory that you can just smash these fears or move them to the side. You need to psychologically understand the sources of your fears and move with them. You also need to understand gut and intuition.
What about attention?
Attention is at the forefront of an exceptional execution strategy. Recognize [that] even satisfied customers will leave. As a marketer you need to pay attention to the business and understand that the concept of a customer is dead. Your focus should be on building friendships, not customer relationships. I don’t mean social media friendships. I mean quality, authentic relationships. As marketers we’re always looking for the next big thing; the next edge. Well, listening could be the next frontier, as it were. Clearly, we’re having problems with this. As people who want to develop their business, marketers have to be aware that attention is an absolute. It’s a very rare commodity at the moment. If you can build a strategy around delivering quality, authentic attention and listening that, on its own, could be your exceptional execution edge.
Sounds like it’d be tough to get an entire company on board with this. How should marketers go about convincing colleagues of the importance of this?
You can’t change anyone but yourself. You can, however, take the trip toward exceptional awareness yourself. Forget about everybody else for a second because you need to focus on self-awareness. It is, after all, self-awareness. It’s not just about the one person making this move, clearly. But, again, it has to be the one person. It’s all about the culture in which you work. If the leaders are on board with these key messages [they] can create a culture around it. If the top is disconnected from the middle and the bottom then there’s a problem. The middle and bottom can be as excited about this as they like, but at the end of the day they’re going to hit the ceiling.