Monthly Archive: May 2010

Crush, Or Be Crushed

Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV and VaynerMedia is a guy with big hairy audacious goals, a.k.a. BHAGs. He wants to own the New York Jets, for instance.

Naturally, Vaynerchuk likes to compete, and to use his own words, he takes the field with every intent to Crush It.

Interestingly, Jason Fried of 37 Signals, who spoke at Big Omaha this month right after Vaynerchuk, says be aware of your competition, but don’t dwell on it. Both men are correct. To be successful, you need to focus on building a company that delivers value to customers (and never lose that focus). At the same time, very few companies have a truly unique product or service offering and there’s always someone else with their foot in the door.

In the marketing services realm, there are approximately 10,000 agencies in the U.S. alone. So there’s a wealth of competition and it’s not easy to stand out in this large of a crowd, which is one reason that firms develop specialties–it shrinks the size of the pool considerably. For instance, Bonehook is a content provider and identity specialist working with businesses that offer compelling products or services. Therefore, for Bonehook to “Crush It,” we don’t need to be the best creative services provider in the land, we simply need to be the best at what we do (so our clients can consistently “Crush It”).

What’s interesting to me is how like-minded and complimentary firms can cooperate and team up to out-maneuver the competition. What’s really required today is the dual ability to cooperate and compete. No creative services firm has all the answers. Most claim they do, in person and online, but they don’t. What’s the point in pretending otherwise? Lost income is the point, but there won’t be any lost income when a firm tells the truth about their shortcomings and works to fill them by hiring contractors, and in some cases, by building out a new practice or area of expertise.

For Best Results, Rework Your Sacred Cows

I saw Jason Fried of 37 Signals speak at Big Omaha last Friday. He had several interesting things to say, many of a contrary nature (and I love people with the ability to think, and work, against the grain).

image courtesy of Silicon Prairie News and Malone & Co

I have not yet read Fried’s new best-selling book, Rework, that he co-wrote with his colleague David Heinemeier Hansson, but I did pour over the free PDF sample 37 Signals makes available. Here are a few gems from that free offering:

Not only is this workaholism unnecessary, it’s stupid. Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done. It just means you work more.

Amen to that. I don’t care what business you’re in, it’s imperative to work smart, which means creating efficient means of doing things.

Here’s Fried’s take on the must-have business plan:

Unless you’re a fortuneteller, long-term business planning is a fantasy. There are just too many factors that are out of your hands: market conditions, competitors, customers, the economy, etc. Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control.

Why don’t we just call plans what they really are: guesses. Start referring to your business plans as business guesses, your financial plans as financial guesses, and your strategic plans as strategic guesses. Now you can stop worrying about them as much. They just aren’t worth the stress.

As you might have guessed from Fried’s take on workaholics, he isn’t a big fan of overachieving either.

Do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problems and leave the hairy, difficult, nasty problems to the competition. Instead of one-upping, try one-downing. Instead of outdoing, try underdoing.

I think it’s all great advice, but this last one really resonates for people in marketing services. Most agencies get paid by the hour, so it’s natural for an agency to want to build something–a website, say–that will take hundred of hours. In some cases, that’s the right call. But in others, it’s overkill.

It’s important to be honest with ourselves and with our clients about what is truly needed to solve a marketing problem, and what’s merely window dressing/ego stroking/invoice padding.

Zappos Will Serve You Pizza And Outfit Your Feet

Last Saturday at Big Omaha, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos talked about his company’s culture and core values. Not once did he mention shoes during his talk, because while Zappos sells lots of shoes, what they care most about is being the world’s best customer service company.

To that end, they created where they share key learnings with any and all comers.

I love the radical transparency in this company. Zappos employees write a book every year where they detail what it’s like to work there. The book is not edited for content by Zappos management, and Zappos will send you this book for free.

I also love how Zappos opens up their office to visitors for tours and to managers from other companies who want to learn more about the Zappos way in a two-day total immersion exercise.

At Big Omaha, Hsieh told a story about being out on the town with a client who was desperate to order a pepperoni pizza from room service after a night of drinking. When they all got back to the hotel, sadly, it was too late. Room service had closed for the night. So Hsieh suggested that the woman call Zappos as a test of the company’s commitment to customer service. The call center employee asked the woman if she knew that Zappos was in the shoe selling business. She said yes, but that she’d heard how great their customer service was and that she really needed his help. The Zappos rep got the woman her pizza, and the rest, as they say, is history.

By the way, on July 22, 2009 announced the acquisition of in a deal valued at approximately $887mm. Hsieh is said to have made at least $214 million on the deal, and he still runs the company. So, without question, great customer service pays the bills.