I’ve been thinking alot about the differences of various businesses I’ve been involved with. I invested the formative years of my business life working in consumers goods companies. Classic fast moving consumer goods companies that thrived through industrial revolution and then boomed during the TV industrial complex.
I’ve since invested most of my time in service based internet businesses, startups and advertising. They both have relative advantages and disadvantages that I only ever realised once I had time to digest the dynamics in each of them. The most interesting observation I’ve made is the difference when the office and the factory are the same thing. This occurs in service / web based business. In consumer goods the office and factory tend to be separated.
The key advantage that the consumer goods scenario has is that the office is not linked to output. It creates time for thinking. The immediate concerns of what needs to ship today are somewhat removed. The urgent, doesn’t get in the way of the important. Yet, the challenge here is that we can become out of touch with how things work.
The key disadvantage of the service scenario (office is the factory), is we don’t have as much time to think and consider. There is always something that needs to be created, done or fixed. Over time our mental flexibility declines as we get absorbed in shipping what we make and meeting deadlines. Yes, we know what is happening, but we get too close to it. We lose vision and creativity via also ‘being’ the production process.
The important thing for startups and marketers alike is to know which environment we are operating in, and to work real hard on the area of disadvantage.
I teach Marketing At Melbourne University on a part time basis. One of the things I try to do is stretch my students thinking beyond the traditional marketing arenas. It seems every week we are going through another consumer goods example, or the car industry and lately social media. This week I tried something different and I had a massive fail.
The task was for students to pick a market dominated by 2 brands, and to discuss the points of partity and difference, and how the brand communications and positioning vary. After the students gave me the expected brands:
Herald Sun vs the Age
Facebook vs Myspace
Coke vs Pepsi
Nike vs Addidas
I thought I”d mix it up and asked the group to discuss Capitalism vs Communism.
In the first instance I had to convince the students they were actually brands, and it didn’t improve much from there. The idea fell on deaf ears. It was so far outside of their expectations on what marketing is (consumer goods, shiny products and TV advertising) that they lost interest. I ended up spending the remaining 45 minutes of the tutorial explaining why they are both brands which are managed exactly the same way corporations manage them. It was meant to be a discussion. I failed.
After the initial disappointment and embarrassment wore off, I was pretty happy with it. I’m glad I tried to stretch the students. I’m glad I tried something different, and maybe next week, their minds will be more open.
Startup blog says: Fail with pride.