Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How to Be Different, Better, & Successful

Perhaps you have heard of Vera Bradley. Earlier this month, we hosted the District 6 Fall Conference for the American Advertising Federation and one of the speakers told us the inside story of how this company began in Northeast Indiana, and has become a national brand.

They are different, better & successful.

FastCompany took a look at another company that is different, better & successful:

FC Expert Blog

Fix It – Even If It Ain’t Broke

BY FC Expert Blogger Kaihan Krippendorff
This blog is written by a member of our expert blogging community and expresses that expert's views alone.

When something works, people grow fixated on it. They stop looking for alternative options. And this fixation creates an opportunity for those willing to reconsider the accepted approach. The company I introduced last week, Rosetta Stone (RST), hasn’t been satisfied with the fact that its products work. Instead, it continues to challenge the norm.

In 1995, RST executives decided to bundle their language tool products and sell the package for $300, which was much more expensive than their competitors' price tag of $5 to $20. If they accepted that the only way to sell language tools was through bookstores and catalogs, like their competitors were doing, it would be almost impossible to sell a $300 product. People are unlikely to put that much money on their credit cards after only reading the back cover of a box.

Recognizing this, RST had to either give up its $300 pricing strategy or diverge from industry norms. It dared to veer. RST headed for the mall and airports. It lined up its high-end language learning software with other kiosks hocking sunglasses and hair extensions.

RST seemed perhaps a fish out of water - $300 software next to $20 sunglasses - but this is precisely what a smart strategist wants. Because the fish out of water has no other fish to contend with.

The strategy worked. RST’s well-informed sales people could walk customers through its unique product, addressing in full detail the concerns that stand between curiosity and purchase. These kiosks also allowed the sales person to show potential customers the software and process that makes RST so effective.

“We needed to open places where we could demonstrate the products,” says CEO Tom Adams. "So we opened kiosks. We bet that if we demonstrated it to 10 people, five would buy, because they’d get it.”

This pattern of taking the unorthodox path has worked for millennia. Genghis Khan used it often to surprise his opponents. They expected he would come over the flat land, while he marched his men over mountains and frozen lakes to appear out of nowhere at the back door. This approach also gave Dell a two-decade-long competitive vacuum, for others would not risk upsetting retailers to sell directly to end-users.

RST’s kiosk strategy may keep competitors out of the way for a while. It may take a few years for them to copy. But what may offer long-term value is the company’s willingness to veer from the orthodox path. Tom says, “If everyone is telling you not to do something, it is very likely the right thing to do. My theory is ‘do the opposite.’”

If this is true, if RST can make the propensity for the unorthodox part of its DNA rather than a one-off strategy, it may repeatedly surprise the market for years. Ask yourself the questions below to see if you can find an uncharted path to success.

1. What path are others fixated on because they assume it is the right one?

2. What ideas do I have to change that approach?

3. How can I make things better, faster and more efficient?

4. How can I research my ideas without spending a lot of money upfront?

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