Why brands with the fewest possibilities have the greatest opportunities

In Brand Strategy, Purpose, Mission & Values

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few” – Zen Buddhism Learning

When I started my second company in Ireland in 2003, an online toolkit for bar and restaurant owners, everyone had advice for me. You should offer this service, you should add this feature, wouldn’t it be great if you could do this on the website, have you seen what companies a, b and c are offering?

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We were new to the online world and new to business. Our first company was still in it’s debt laden infancy and launching a second business was probably not the wisest decision in hindsight, but we were giddy with possibility and enthusiasm. Subscription sales of our service were slow to start, very slow, actually they were non-existent so we started adding more and more of the features everybody recommended, making my credit cards heavier and heavier in the process. To us, it was a no brainer. If we didn’t have sales and we didn’t have these features everyone raved about, then surely by adding the features, the sales would follow. Oh how innocent we were.

Unless you have absolute clarity of what your brand stands for, everything else is irrelevant. – Mark Baynes, global CMO, Kellogg Co.

At the same time, as a new business, we were an easy target for magazines, trade shows, online directories and associations pitching their wares. Everyone had the solution for us. Each one showed us examples of large, “successful” companies advertising with them, taking booth space at their shows, committing to multi-year spends “such was their success”. So we caved and spent money we didn’t have on advertising and exhibiting we didn’t know would work.

Everything was a possibility for us. If everything was a possibility, then where were the true opportunities? As the advertising budget ran out and the development budget was eaten up by “much needed” features, we were forced to stop and look at the business differently. We were at a crossroads. We had a few sales and those we sold to loved our product, yet we didn’t have enough traffic converting to give us hope to invest further in the business.

It was time to reduce the number of possibilities and focus on the opportunities. We studied our analytics to see which areas of the website were most visited, had the longest dwell time, we spoke to our (few) customers and asked them what they loved and we reflected on what we truly had the skill-set to deliver.

It turned out that the very things that our customers loved most and that they wanted to see more of was a small section of our website that contained downloadable spreadsheet and document templates that a business could customize for their own use. In fact, these items trumped everything else on the website in terms of use/traffic. Our customers weren’t interested in our job board, advertising opportunities, directory, articles or anything else we had bolted on. The icing on the cake was that we had hundreds more of these downloads available to add to the website, as we used them in our consulting business. This changed everything. We instead focused on the download library and marketed the website as such. We approached hospitality colleges and industry organizations with our re-vamped and re-energized download library and they purchased licenses, other businesses followed. Slowly but steadily, sales increased. We stripped out the unnecessary features (clutter) from the website and focused on our core product and our core competency.

Our workload was lessened, our focus narrowed, our possibilities reduced and our opportunities grew.  We were reminded of Steve Job’s quote: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Whether a brand has 2 employees and a single product or is a Fortune 50 company with 100s of products and tens of thousands of employees, clarity of purpose is foundational to their success. From this single point of view, all strategies are derived, but most importantly, with this point of view in place, even more strategies are ignored.

Purpose, Clarity, Strategy, Execution. Successful brands don’t change the order of these words. Do you?

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This article may be reprinted when the copyright, link to article and author bio are included. ©2015 Storyforge, LLC.  Please contact us for inquiries.

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Barry-028 2Barry Chandler is the co-founder of Storyforge, a brand strategy company focused on helping companies discover their purpose to allow them achieve their vision, build preference and drive margin. Barry has been building award winning businesses since launching his first company in Ireland in 2003. His last company, a digital marketing agency, was acquired in 2012 by a California based publicly traded entertainment company which then hired him as Chief Marketing Officer. It is his belief that the greatest brands seek to change the world, improving the lives of their associates, partners and customers.