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Relevancy and the Art of Corporate Maintenance
by Andy
October 13, 2009

With all due respect to Robert M. Persig and Zen Masters around the world, it takes much more than a state of mind and a harmonious groove to truly matter in today’s highly competitive, corporate environment.  Six Sigma man/machine syncopation may work well within the four walls of a company, but it may mean nothing to the market at large.

Excerpt from Ogilvy on Advertising

  • “I don’t know who you are.
  • I don’t know your company.
  • I don’t know your company’s product.
  • I don’t know what your company stands for.
  • I don’t know your company’s customers.
  • I don’t know your company’s record.
  • I don’t know your company’s reputation.
  • Now – what was it you wanted to sell me?”

– Scowling Executive

Today, most successful products are as much about the companies that created them – and the expertise they bring to the table – as they are about the products themselves.

Customers (consumer or B2B) need to believe in your ability to deliver on what you’re selling more than the product or service itself.  This is particularly true when trying to penetrate a new market.  Why should buyers care about a new player?  Unless your company provides a reason to, they won’t care about your product or service.  Even if you’re a large company and can bully your way into gaining distribution and invest millions in advertising to create a strong presence in the market, it does not mean that you matter.  Unless your company matters, your product often won’t.

The Big Three automakers are feeling this pain more than anyone right now.  They are not associated with conservation or alternative fuels.  They are associated with trucks and gas-guzzling horsepower, so their relevance to today’s gas-conscious consumer is going to be hard to create.  To wit, not only has Toyota taken over the global market share lead from GM, they’re in position to do so here in the United States!  Unimaginable just a few years ago.

The power of relevance does not just apply to long-established companies, either.  Pixar Pictures is an extraordinary blend of imagination and distribution (Disney) coupled with digital superiority (Steven Jobs).  When Pixar produced its first full-length picture (Toy Story), a mega B2B go-to-market campaign was launched well beyond the theater.  And it could be argued that the success they enjoyed was based on their belief in Pixar, not necessarily on the movie.  Pixar matters in ways others do not, which gives their products an unfair advantage.

More importantly, category relevance pays dividends.  The “annexation of Pixar to Disney was initially met with skepticism.  Critics obsessed over the $7.4 billion purchase price, which translated into a cash-flow multiple greater than 27 and a sales multiple in excess of 20!” (Richard Morgan, The Deal, 2/20/08).  Morgan then goes on to show that Pixar’s performance alone has “driven Disney’s stock price up 26% on an adjusted basis.”

Other high-tech visual imagination is out there and selling very well, but it is called X-Box® or Playstation® or other forms of in-home entertainment.  These companies do not have the relevancy to expand beyond the tube.  But in their category, there is not much need to move.  As the category grows, they will reap the benefits.

The fundamental point is that the more relevant your company is within the industry, the more bite your sales and marketing efforts will enjoy for the products and services you sell.  So, how do you solve for relevancy?

First, make sure your corporate essence (what your company stands for at the very core) is defined and clearly articulated within the B2B space.  While Wal-Mart’s consumer promise is “always low prices,” its B2B promise is “logistical excellence.”  This corporate expertise allows Wal-Mart to deliver on the consumer promise.

Second, build out your company’s expertise in the space.  Corporate success (and your market cap value) is based on what you’re going to do, not what you just did.  If the market perceives you as an expert in the category, then the products or services you bring to market must truly fulfill a very useful purpose – otherwise you never would have brought it to market.

When your company is relevant to the industry, you matter at a higher level.  Rather than being part of a competitive set, you set the benchmark for all others to be measured against.  Man (company) and machine (product/service) can now zoom along in an elevated state of harmony and profit.

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