Groundhog Day

autopilot-button    Is your organization on auto-pilot? Does your company do the same thing year after year? You’re your company announce new products at the same time, attend the same trade shows, use the same marketing tactics, engage with customers the same way you did in 1998, or use the same software that you bought from the 1990s? If your answer is yes to these questions, you need to wake up!

The world is changing – yes, it has always been changing, but it is moving a hell of a lot faster than previously. New competitors, changing demographics, advancing technologies, and socio-economic issues are creating a world of volatility, uncertainty, chaos, and ambiguity. If this sounds frightening, relax, this should excite you at all the possible opportunities you can take advantage of.


If you are living in a groundhog day, doing the same thing day after day, your business performance is probably doing the same thing. If you are lucky, business performance is flat. Worse, it is slowly shrinking. What it is probably not doing is growing. Is this acceptable? Are you happy?


If your competitors are operating the same way, then there is no need to change, right? Wrong! Why should you be worried? Well, someone is probably watching your industry. Someone with the resources, energy, and creativity to come in and disrupt your nice, quiet, uneventful life. Where will this threat come from? Anywhere. It could be from Asia, South America, or some small country no one has heard of. Or across the street. It could be right in front of you, but you are blind.

Too many organizations (and individuals) are complacent and stick with the status quo. If something worked 5 years ago, then just keep doing it. If your margins are 5%, why should you work hard to get 7%? If your customers keep buying your products, why should you be worried? Well, business should excite you and your teams. You should come to work every day energized to do new things. You should get pumped-up thinking about how you can try a new marketing tactic to increase sales.


Worse case, if you cannot get excited about work; then get paranoid. Get paranoid that someone is going to put you out of business, or take your job. Get paranoid that your Baby Boomer customers are quickly aging and Gen Y could care less about your products (I am talking to you, U.S. motorcycle industry). How about being excited and paranoid?


Business should be an exciting, challenging and fun “game”. You typically spend more time at work than with your family. If you are spending all this time doing the same old thing, you are wasting your life. And yes, cliché time, you only live once and it is damn short. You might as well have fun and do cool things. Sure, not everyone has this mindset, but your organization needs to build a “team” of proactive, creative, disrupters. And yes, those “bumps on a log” that have done the same thing for 25 years, can be changed. People like to contribute. Even these people can be engaged to help change the business.

How about every day working to win? How about enjoying the challenge of beating your competitors? How about the fun of your competitors fearing you? How about your competitors constantly reacting and playing catch-up? How about your customers excited about every new product announcement? Now that is fun. That is a fulfilling life. That is how you grow your business.

Think of business as a game that you want to win, not survive. Come into work every day with new ideas, work with team members to create something new, or develop a new way to outsmart your competition. Listen, most business is about competing and winning. If you are not playing to win, then why get on the field? Why waste your time doing the same thing? How about enjoying your work by constantly figuring out a way to improve what you do (or offer) and improve your customer’s experience.


Too many people are defeated from hearing “no” or “but” that they finally gave up. Too many people use excuses. If this is you, change. If your leaders are stuck in the past, have fun. Keep developing new things to drive them crazy. Push their buttons. Conduct experiments and tests to prove new ideas produce increased value. Demonstrate how your new idea can position the organization ahead of the competition and how your customers will love it.

These mindsets and actions are not just for sales and marketing. Any department can improve. If you are in accounting, how can you improve your processes to make employee and supplier lives’ easier? Are there forms that are a nightmare to complete? Well, change them. Is the expense reporting procedures archaic? Change them. Talk to employees who interact with your department and use your processes. Understand what they like and hate. Then, change it and see their reactions? Then, show your boss and co-workers. Start a movement within your group for continuous improvement.


An organization that focuses on continuous improvements will keep growing and be a great place to work. Engaged employees who are excited and creative are contagious. New ideas and experimentation will lead to long-term growth through developing new products, processes, and gaining new customers.

This does not have to cost a lot, it just takes work and time – think of all the time you waste and how it can be put to good use. If leaders won’t do it or champion the change, then employees need to take charge. Don’t wait around for a leader who is stuck in the past or just counting his days. Everyone within an organization has the right to push for change and improve the business.


What can be more fun than driving people crazy (those stuck in the past) as you develop new, creative ways to improve the business and your skill set? Now get up, start learning from your “customers”, build your skill set, and change the world. It is not that hard. You just need to stay positive and keep moving forward.

It is time to win! It is time to think and act. In the words of the Lean Startup clique, it’s time to build, learn, and measure. So stop watching the clock, waiting for the weekend, or accepting a boring existence. Remember, every one of us has the power to change the world, even if your world is not very big.

Asymmetrical Marketing


How often do you hear marketers complain about not having the proper resources to perform effective marketing? These leaders continually whine and make excuses for poor awareness or lack of effective influence on sales. They leverage vanity metrics to boost the perception that the marketing is effective. The problem with these leaders is the confusion between strategy and tactics. Marketing is strategy. Marketing communications (e.g., advertising, public relations) is tactics. These leaders are focusing on tactics, not strategy.

Hand drawing a game strategy with white chalk on a blackboard.

When resources are scarce, the time to get creative and leverage non-traditional methods should excite leaders and teams. The opportunity to do more with less and demonstrate to senior leaders the effectiveness of marketing, will lead to increased resources. Demonstrating marketing as an investment and not an expense is a marketer’s job, not a narrow-minded CFO or leader focused on price discounts to move product. It is the marketer’s responsibility to earn more resources from narrow-minded executives.


Asymmetrical marketing is the ability to surprise, shock, and awe. It is outthinking competitors and wowing customers. It is developing a clear, focused strategy after a thorough analysis of internal resources, competitors, the market environment, and the customer. A clear and focused asymmetrical strategy leads to the use of conventional and unconventional tactics.

Asymmetrical marketing is founded on the principles of asymmetrical warfare. The use of asymmetrical warfare is when one side has a disproportionate advantage to the other. In warfare, this is typically a standing army with large amounts of resources against an insurgency of local fighters. It can also be a small unit using insurgent-style tactics; think of U.S. Navy Seals fighting like guerillas to hit-and-run and leverage unpredictability to surprise, shock, and confuse the enemy.

Examples of asymmetrical warfare is the American Revolution (the British army vs. American colonists), the Vietnam War (French and American armies vs. North Vietnamese guerrillas), the British against the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the U.S.S.R. vs. Afghan Mujahidin, the current Syrian war, or the Israeli’s ongoing fight against Palestinians. The David vs. Goliath wars. The little guy overcoming adversity against a larger, more well-equipped foe. A smaller, less equipped force using deception, knowledge, and maneuver to overcome the opponent’s strengths. These military lessons are effective in the business world, also.


We see this battle in business as well. Wal-Mart focused on small, local towns until it could fight against K-Mart, Sears, and Woolworths in larger markets. The UFC struggled in small markets while the large boxing organizations (in the beginning) dominated TV, cable, and large markets. As the UFC slowly gained fans and entered larger markets the appeal of traditional boxing decreased. The Japanese motorcycle companies in the 1960s initially lost against Harley Davidson and the British brands. They won when they offered small, fun motorcycles that anyone could ride – differentiation of product and a mainstream customer target. Business results are often very similar to the military examples; the little guy slowly builds strength and resources as it gains on the incumbents and gradually overtakes them.


Asymmetrical marketing has many components. It leverages the business environment and technology to offset lack of resources. It focuses on gaining local support (e.g., retailers) as it gains strength locally to compete nationally – attacking the larger foes’ flanks (the sides, not attacking head-on, focusing on weaknesses, not strengths). Marketers who use this strategy are adept at agility, quickly moving to areas of opportunity, and being unpredictable.

Cat attack

For a firm that competes against larger competitors (who have more resources), here are a few suggestions. First, carefully analyze the market. Know your competitor’s weaknesses and strengths better than they know themselves. Focus on geographic areas where you are strong and the Goliaths are weak. Use combined forces to attack these areas and dominate. Focus on small wins. Learn from every battle, share the information within the organization, and keep building on strengths.

Talk to customers (and consumers). Find out what they value. Uncover their pain points. Figure out how you can deliver value better than competitors can.

If your competitors have poor relationships with retailers, attack them there. Provide retailers incentives to do business with you. Spend more time training them and providing them tools to increase sales. Occupy more floor-space and gain an increase in mindshare. Focus on your product and services. Deliver what retailers and customers need.


Communicate. Do not launch a new product, have lots of fanfare, and then go dark. Launch the product and maintain a sustained campaign. No matter the budget, never stop. If you cannot afford national advertising, then find out how and where to reach your customers. Leverage social media, YouTube, or even traditional media (e.g., magazines, radio, billboards). Keep testing and experimenting until you find what works the best.

No matter how many millions of dollars your competitors can spend on advertising, continually counter with creative messaging and ways to reach your target customers creatively. Use your resources like a laser. Experiment and test. As you find what works, target your resources there. Never stop communicating inside the organization and out.

Most importantly, develop a clear strategy based on a thorough analysis. Build a culture focused on trust, learning, and agility. Study your organization carefully. Know how you can lower costs and drive up quality. Train your organization. Develop an organizational mindset of continuous improvement.


Share your strategies across the organization. Ensure everyone is marching in the same direction. Build a knowledge-based organization that shares information and learns from one another. Allow lower-level staff to make tactical decisions based on their local knowledge. Embrace failure as a way to learn. Develop a culture of agility, learning, and frugalness.

An organization does not have to spend millions to win. The Dollar Shave Club exploded based on a $4,000 YouTube video. Apple focused on design and differentiation. Tesla leverages an environmental perspective and close ties to government. Many of today’s famous comedians use social media, podcasts, and other viral forms of engagement to build loyal armies of fans. Casper Mattress changed the game of buying mattresses. Amazon leveraged technology. Start small and learn from your wins.


It does not always take a large war chest to succeed. Careful analysis of the market environment, combined with creative thinking, and ongoing experimentation leads to victory. Use methods that have worked in war and business for thousands of years. A combination of the conventional and unconventional, a focus on both the local and national, and the ability to surprise competitors and wow customers is key.

Winning is about rethinking how you think and act. It is not about doing the same thing year after year. Creating an agile and innovative organization can lead to victory. Winning is about culture and the exploitation of knowledge. It is about outthinking your competition.


So, stop crying about not having enough resources. Rethink how you think and avoid the status quo. The more you understand your internal operations, the marketplace, and your customers, the higher probability of success you will achieve. Create differentiation and understand what motivates customers. Think like a guerilla, an insurgent, or a revolutionist. Leverage asymmetrical marketing to win.

Fighting Your Brain for New Ideas

Brain fight

Ideas drive business. Developing new products, improving processes, making effective decisions, and solving complex problems all require innovative ideas. Often our attempts at ideation fall short of expectations. We struggle to develop new ideas using ad-hoc methods, ineffective brainstorming meetings, or “our gut”.


The problem we have when developing new ideas is how our brains have evolved. To improve our creativity and be able to develop new ideas deliberately and systematically we need to overcome the brain’s tendency to stick with what it knows, take shortcuts, and avoid new perspectives. The brain’s evolution has focused mainly on survival, not creativity.


Our brains have evolved to ensure our survival. The brain did not bother waiting around to determine the accuracy of what it was experiencing. Is that a lion or a deer? Our ancestor that waited around to be 100% positive was dinner for the lion – the survival of the fittest. Our ancestor that did not bother waiting around to figure out if it was a lion or deer, ran away and survived, and that is who we evolved from; the guy that lived. Our survival also depended on developing biases.

How did we know if that person is a friend or foe? If they looked different, they were probably an enemy. No time to wait around, either run or attack. Live or die. Familiar is good, different is bad. The problem with our brain is it seeks patterns to avoid having to analyze every situation.


This is how we get through every day and not consciously think about what we need to do or what we are doing. This is extremely effective for us to survive and get things done. The problem is our brain loves shortcuts and avoids things that are unfamiliar. This makes it very hard when we are trying to solve complex problems or be creative.

The brain wants to focus on what it is familiar with, not taking its time and analyzing a situation thoroughly. We see this in meetings when people fallback on what they know rather than sit back, be objective, listen to all the information and perspectives, and then make a decision. Knee-jerk decisions or maintaining the status quo are just our brain doing its thing. We need to fight this to develop new ideas. We need to breakout of our usual patterns and see things from multiple perspectives and be objective.

The brain’s love of intuition from experience and what is familiar does not help us when we need to create new ideas. As we understand how the brain operates, this knowledge helps us overcome these innate tendencies. These biases to new information are what we need to overcome.

Our brain will often mislead us to stay with what we know or focus on the first solution we are familiar with, rather than hold off and fully analyze the situation. Understanding this allows us to deliberately work to overcome these biases and focus on patience and structured processes. Logical thinking was not in man’s best interest to stay alive. The brain evolved to quickly analyze a situation and move on, and keep us alive.


It becomes hard to overcome the innate mindsets our brain has developed. For example, if we think Iran is the evil empire and wants to kill us, it is very hard to change our minds. We have to fight our brain’s tendencies to ensure we are objective and view multiple perspectives before making a final decision. We need to use critical and creative thinking to analyze the situation and make a decision based on information and a thorough analysis.

As we understand how the brain works, it helps us deliberately focus and work hard to gain new perspectives. We need to be aware of our biases and mindsets and use a rational and systematic framework to analyze problems and develop new, creative ideas. Using tools and techniques to structure our analysis ensures we are focused, and avoid wasting time. We need to train our brain to stop, analyze, synthesize, and then decide.


Structured tools and techniques help us avoid trial-and-error. We need to balance rational and intuitive thinking to use our entire toolbox to ideate. We must keep an open mind, ask lots of questions, and seek out new perspectives. We must force ourselves to have the discipline to wait until all analysis is complete to determine the optimal solution. Focusing on multiple alternatives and being objective will allow us to create valuable differentiation and drive competitive advantages. As we understand the forces against creativity, the better we can work to overcome them, and outthink our competitors and wow our customers.