A Real Contribution
Last week, Jeff Bezos announced plans to release a new-generation Kindle that will be even cheaper ($139) than the current generation, but will make only a few modest improvements in quality and performance. Even as analysts applauded the success of the Kindle thus far, they wondered why Bezos and his colleagues weren’t making the device much more functional, colorful, and powerful. In other words, why weren’t they taking the simple Kindle and enhancing it to go head-to-head with Apple’s iPad and other companies searching for an iPad killer?
To which Bezos offered a strategic insight about his business just as compelling as Andrea Guerra’s take on his business. “There are going to be 100 companies making LCD tablets,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “Why would we want to be [company] 101? I like building a purpose-built reading device. I think that is where we can make a real contribution.” — Bill Taylor, Do You Pass the Leadership Test, Harvard Business Review. Aug. 03, 2007
It was still the 20th Century when someone told me that I could count on these four words to always be true …
This too will change.
And since the 21st Century has arrived, those same four words have become a part of my daily reconnaissance.
Like Jeff Bezos and Bill Taylor, who wrote about him, I believe that being good at something is no longer an option. In this ever-shifting, high-noise environment, we
- have to be the only and best at something
- have to be the first trusted source
- have to claim our ground and own it.
And this is more than 20th century specialization, it’s making a real contribution. It’s leadership focused to serve a distinct customer group with a clear solution. It’s irresistible service.
In the 20th century we had the advantage of geographic protection. People could only find sources as far as their shoes, their cars, and their catalogs would show them. Now the Internet has not only brought the world to their door, but Google is willing to sort it for them.
The Ground Rules to Claiming Your Ground
Apply what Jeff Bezos said to the massive opportunity that is today’s marketplace and it becomes obvious that our ideal customers are faced with overwhelming choices. The number of options for whatever anyone wants to purchase are outlandishly huge at every level: value, relationship, and cutting edge-luxury niches.
The leaders in the field have decided exactly which customers they are selling to and they signal their commitment to serving those customers on every level. Narrow your niche and you’ll still have a world of ideal customers, but you’ll be able to serve them.
Every choice of text, image, offer, or even white space in the Apple Education website reflects their commitment to educators. That focus is key to becoming the first, trusted source to the ideal customers you want to serve. But before you can own that space you have to be able to name that space and claim it.
Three simple questions can help you identify a space that holds the best opportunity for your skill set and your brand. Let’s call them the Ground Rules.
- Where do the rules of the game / industry / current trends favor you? Make your own game. Check where your skills cross your mission. Look for opportunities where they meet. The same computer can be positioned and packaged differently to meet the needs of a specific trend or group. We can do that too. Be the best, the most, the fastest, the only. Do you write the lightest code, offer the most unique design, or maybe tailor your service to each individual?
Example: Let’s consider that last one. As technology moves us faster, people have less time to do what they used to do and less time to do things that are meaningful. Can you configure be the simplest, fastest solution and still an outstanding value? Can you do one outstanding thing for less cost in less time? Can you make that contribution easier, faster, more meaningful, more fun?
- What ground works for you? Be obsessed with easy. Reach out to the customers you can reach easily. If you can’t reach the customers for your idea, partner with someone who can holds that ground …. or recongfigure your idea for the customers you can reach. Repurpose products you already have to attract new customers to you. Build for the customers who already love you.
Example: Amazon started with readers and moved out from there. Apple moved into education by offering their computers to schools and grew new customers. Software companies extend their reach by partnering with computer companies who load their offer on new computers. Who has a list that serves the people you want to reach? Who is already within your reach now?
- Where will you find the best rewards? Claim an audience and serve them. Don’t claim a tool meant for everyone. Tools don’t make relationships people do.
Example: It’s better to claim service professionals moving online than to claim to sell a service to all small businesses. If you clearly claim a group, you can serve them well. They’ll tell their friends about you. Not everyone who buys a book on Amazon reads it. Some give books as gifts. Some use them to fill their book shelfs. Some intend to read and never do. It’s easier and more efficient to grow a clarified customer group than to try to grow a group from individuals who have nothing in common.
Narrow your space to your ideal customer group and your unique expertise become clearer and more defined. It’s true. Show up with the skills, expertise, integrity, and competency and deliver on what you say you do.
Once you own your ground everyone else becomes a “knockoff.” You become the barrier to entry … the ONLY. There can be only one Cirque du Soleil, only one Mac, only one SOBCon – those who follow will be facsimiles.
Look around at the winners, they claimed their ground before they owned it. Amazon claimed the world’s readers before they captured that market and now they serve readers products of every sort … including a simple Kindle that will never compete with the iPad.
What space can you claim? What unique value will you deliver to the people you want as your ideal customers?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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