My favorite part of business is hearing business owners and executives tell the real stories behind what they do. Spending 4 days walking around CES last week, seeing all kinds of products, I'm always excited when I get the chance to hear the rest of the story. Most businesses will readily tell you about products, features and benefits. Few are skilled at communicating why they are passionate about their products, how they got into their market or what difference they are trying to make in the world. This recent Dodge commercial is a great example of what few companies reveal to the public.
The passion hidden behind closed doors of many companies is inspiring. Internally fierce debates about the specific shade of a color to choose, the curvature of a rarely seen part of a product, or the nuance of certain software design decisions.
People are passionate about small things because they believe that what they are doing makes difference in the world. They agonize over the details because they have a history and life experience that has led them to this specific place in this specific business. What they do is important and affects the lives of real people.
There is often a stark contrast between the passion you will see internally and how the same company describes themselves to the world. People will dedicate long hours and years of work in their area of passion because of their sincere belief that what they are doing is unique and special. Then those same people turn around and describe what they do generically as "A consumer electronics company that makes compelling products for computer users."
Companies often don't know how to put their passions into words they can communicate to their customers. The answer is often a simple one in that they need to put the same kind of energy they put into designing their products into figuring out how to communicate those products.
I think about the communication of these deeper history, passions and mission of companies in a similar way to any process in business. These core ideas most often start with the founders of a company. Occasionally they may be specific and well articulated. More often they exist in the ethos and actions of the key stakeholders and are rarely put into words. This passion is more often caught (like a cold) rather than intentionally imparted to the rest of the company or their customers.
When a company is able to define and articulate these things at the highest levels, they then have the ability to flow from the founders and executives to the management teams and through the products, packaging, services, marketing, brand positioning, and even outside the company to retailers, buyers and customers.
While these concepts may sound fluffy and emotional they offer a key way for companies to differentiate themselves. While the actual tangible products or services a company offers are the most critical element in their success, it is only one in thousands that has the ability to stand on those alone. Communicating features and benefits will only get you so far.
Customers are willing to pay for products or services that meet their needs but highly successful companies are ones who are able to move the discussion beyond the simple benefits of their products.
Customers are excited to support companies where they feel like they share some of the same ideals and identify personally with the reasons a company exists.
A great case in point are recent commercials from Ford and Dodge. Seeing them back to back on television recently I was struck by how differently each one made me feel. Ford's commercials are all about the features and benefits of their products. They are trying to make the point that they are better than the competition. In this case, better than BMW and Lexus.
Dodge's recent commercials take a completely different approach. They take us back to 1914 and introduce us to John & Horace Dodge. These guys are aggressive, fun, independent and on a mission. Without saying the exact words the commercials invite the viewers to join them in their mission to say "no" to the status quo, to not settle for what everyone else is doing. They provide the opportunity for the viewer to identify themselves as a kindred spirit of the Dodge brothers and to this identify themselves with Dodge today. The message is simple. If you see yourself as a person who thinks like we do, you should check out our products.
Obviously both Ford and Dodge's commercials are just one part of much larger campaigns but I hope you can feel the difference between the two. There is power behind connecting with customers at the level Dodge is in their commercials.
It is really great what Dodge is doing in connecting who they are today to the vision and passion that started the company 100 years ago. If your company is 100 years old or just a week old, people want to hear your story and join you in your passions.
When a company can begin to engage its employees, customers and partners at this deeper level you'll find a level of synergy forms in your company that allows you to all move in the same direction towards the same goals. You'll also notice that instead of simply having happy customers for your products or services those same people will be loyal fans. Most importantly on all levels you will invite like-minded people who share or appreciate your view of the world to join you in chasing your passions, dreams and goals. When you are able to do this with employees and suppliers it is extremely helpful, when it happens with your customers it is magical!