The click moment
From Marketing Week, by Michael Barnett
It’s every company’s dream to come up with a product or idea that changes everything but few are lucky enough to succeed in doing it. There are some organisations, however, that make it look easy – Apple has done so repeatedly, with innovations such as the iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad all altering the landscape of their respective markets.
The secret to coming up with new, game‑changing ideas is something every brand, and every marketer, wants to learn.
But according to a new book, The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World, by Frans Johansson, there is no way to know how or when these seminal ideas will come about and whether they will be successful when they do. They are influenced by so many unpredictable and complex factors that they are effectively random, and neither experience nor training are of any help.
A chain of events
The most significant successes of companies such as Starbucks, Microsoft and Google could not have occurred if not for certain events outside their founders’ control, Johansson claims.
He tells Marketing Week: “If you dig deep underneath any success story, it tends to be very polished and put together after the fact.
“While it was happening, nobody could really have foreseen it. Even stories that we know very well are just a way of providing a pattern – an explanation for what happened.”
He gives the example of Howard Schultz, chief executive at Starbucks. Schultz only hit upon the idea of selling a coffee-shop experience – as opposed to just the beans – after trying espresso for the first time in a Milan coffee bar.
Yet the randomness of such ‘click’ moments doesn’t mean you can’t increase the chance of one occurring, Johansson argues. “This may surprise some people, because if you say that success is entirely random, the implication is that there is nothing you can do to drive it. That’s not true because you can dramatically increase the amount of serendipity [happy accidents] in your life.”
Stories abound of chance encounters that have been the genesis of an entire business. Bulldog Natural Skincare co-founder Simon Duffy had the idea to launch a brand of men’s grooming products derived from natural ingredients when he realised the dearth of options available on the shelves of a New York Whole Foods Market store (see Q&A, below).
Duffy believes that although the click moment he experienced came about by chance, they are more likely to happen to someone who is already equipped with good ideas. For example, he already had the ambition to develop organic and health-driven products of some kind before the crucial moment when he saw the marketing opportunity in men’s grooming.
You also need to be open to new experiences, he argues. “There are probably a few factors that make up the right individual. The personality needs to be curious. You have also got to furnish yourself with knowledge. You can help generate good ideas by reading widely, keeping your eyes open for new things, talking to people and trying to get out of your comfort zone.”
But Duffy says this is different from generating big ideas through a logical and repeatable approach. He says Bulldog carries out little market research because the company prefers its products to feel intuitive and believes its employees are the best judges of quality.
“Can you control it? Can you bottle the lightning? I think that is what the biggest companies in the world are always systematically trying to do – trying to come up with systems and processes and rationality for innovation. I don’t think that is actually a very effective path,” Duffy says.
In The Click Moment, Johansson suggests that approaching business through a logical and analytical assessment of the marketplace is the antithesis of how big, successful ideas come about. He argues that the analytical approach is a way of understanding how best to play by the rules as they stand, when the real challenge is to come up with an unpredictable innovation that moves the goalposts entirely.
This is the challenge Apple took on when it launched the iPhone in 2007. Rival mobile phone manufacturer Nokia was taken by surprise and eventually found itself unable to compete. As Nokia vice-president and global head of marketing creation Steven Overman admitted at the Marketing Week Live event in June, Nokia took too long to adapt its business to focus on smartphones, even though the competitive advantages of its old ways of thinking had evaporated.
“We realised that the very things that made us such a winner had become the very things that held us back. A complete personality change was in order and that is what Nokia is in the process of doing today,” Overman says.
The iPhone hasn’t been the only Apple product to change an industry. The company has done the same with the iPod and iPad, suggesting it has found a way to come up with market-defining innovations on a regular basis.
But this hasn’t been down to market research or pursuing incremental growth, according to an unnamed Apple employee quoted by Johansson. Instead, a key aspect of Apple’s success is that every innovative idea is chosen as the best of around 10 being developed concurrently. The public never sees Apple’s failed innovations.
Other companies need to test their new ideas with customers to know whether they will work. Retailer Marks & Spencer is currently taking this approach to testing out new in-store digital technology as it seeks to transform itself into a single multichannel operation. It no longer seeks to make a distinction between its online and bricks-and-mortar businesses but counts its ‘bricks-and-clicks’ sales together (see case study, below).
M&S executive director of multichannel ecommerce Laura Wade-Gery sums up the company’s task: “How do we use technology and particularly the internet, almost to reinvent store shopping? It is as big an ambition as that. If we are going to plan a successful multichannel business, that is what we’ve got to do.
“Many retailers operate a series of parallel universes – an online business and a store business. What we are trying to do is bring together the best of both.”
M&S is trying to achieve this reinvention of retailing by rolling out systems including touchscreens, where shoppers can buy electronically in-store, as well as iPads carried by shop assistants that can show customers the full range of products.
Testing, of course, entails the possibility of failure but, according to Wade-Gery, this is an acceptable risk built into the M&S strategy – the proviso being that if individual ideas fail, they must do so quickly and cheaply.
“One of the ways that I can judge whether we are getting successfully on to that journey to being a multichannel retailer is quite simply the rate at which we are innovating and changing,” she says.
The concept of ‘failing fast’, familiar to many technology firms, bears similarities to Johansson’s advice for creating click moments. He says companies should be prolific in backing new ideas but also minimise the size of each bet and take the smallest step that will give a meaningful indication of success or failure.
He also argues that companies need to change their attitude towards the risks of failing, calculating what they can afford to lose, rather than the return they expect on each new investment. Otherwise, he says, the business culture will always be directed towards safe incremental growth and not game‑changing innovations.
Research the market
While many of the businesses and entrepreneurs Marketing Week has spoken to agree that creativity needs to be freed from conventional logic, they disagree with Johansson on some key points. First among these is the ability to predict whether demand for an idea exists.
According to Theo Paphitis, one of the ‘dragons’ from BBC Two TV show Dragons’ Den, researching the market remains an important way “to make sure the odds are stacked in your favour” (see case study, right).
Bulldog’s Duffy points out that discovering a gap in the market is one thing, “but then you’ve got to work out if there’s a market in the gap”.
Most new ventures – particularly those of start-up companies – won’t secure the investment to get off the ground without showing that the demand exists to sustain a successful business. And many entrepreneurs only get one shot to turn an idea into a reality.
Tom Marchant, co-founder of travel company Black Tomato, says that “huge data gathering” went into understanding that there was a future for his business idea. The start-up firm, begun from a bedroom in Putney in 2005, sells bespoke tours that focus on an experience before determining the destination, rather than the other way round. The evaluation of the market took place while the three founders were still working full-time in other jobs.
“We had to start understanding from the people we were working with at different companies – colleagues or clients – what the appetite would be for what we wanted Black Tomato to be. There were a number of colleagues and friends who had come back from holiday and were hugely underwhelmed by their experiences.”
Part of identifying the marketing opportunity was “gut instinct”, says Marchant. “But at the same time, we wanted to be confident that what we felt from the gut and what we picked up on our travels actually held true. We applied a little bit of rigour and formality to confirming that and it gave us a very clear idea of what we wanted Black Tomato to be.”
Again, unlike Johansson, Marchant is firmly of the opinion that the temperament of the individual is the most important factor in predicting the likelihood of a click moment occurring. He admits that the business idea for Black Tomato might not have been realised if it hadn’t been for the chance meeting with one of the company’s other founders, Matt Smith, while travelling in Australia but he is certain that they would each have launched their own ventures even if they had never met.
He echoes Dragons’ Den star Paphitis, who says being the right kind of person is more important to success than having an outstanding idea.
But Marchant is in agreement with Johansson’s advice in The Click Moment on one other point: passion must be used as a fuel to drive forward a successful idea. Even if the opportunity exists, a business won’t be able to take advantage of it unless those behind it have the belief to take it into the market and defy the established conventions.
“The one thing that we did believe in strongly was that working on something that is a passion of yours shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, despite people saying that turning a hobby into a job is a good way of killing the passion for it. We saw it, and still see it, very differently,” says Marchant.
“If you’re hugely enthused by an area, then the motivation to do well and immerse yourself in it is stronger.”
It is not a fluke that Andy Murray is good at tennis. It requires massive commitment and massive practice. But if you look at Sir Richard Branson, he didn’t need airline experience to make Virgin Atlantic a success. Why is it that we can predict the success of somebody like Murray, but not of somebody like Branson?
The reason is that the rules of tennis don’t change. Everywhere else, the rules are up for grabs, and the rules change faster and faster. Nokia had the rules of the mobile phone industry down cold – it was the number one brand in Europe in 2006. Mobiles were supposed to have cool colours, cool shapes and cool ringtones.
Within a year the rules of the mobile world had changed with the iPhone. Now, all of a sudden, all phones need to be black, they need to be rectangular with rounded corners, and it isn’t about ringtones, it’s about apps. There was no way of Nokia foreseeing this.
The approach that says I can use logic to work out the next move is not helpful. If it is logical, then everybody is going to do it. The value in playing with a logical approach is being diminished rapidly. The faster industry is changing, the faster the value is disappearing.
So if success is so random, what do you do about it? It’s about stepping away from the logical path. You can start by taking your eyes off the ball. When we plan, we don’t leave room for serendipity. Allow yourself scheduled room, incorporate space to allow serendipity to happen.
You can’t dramatically up your chances of success by making any given bet. You have to place many bets. Picasso made 50,000 works of art in his lifetime and what we forget is that not every one is a masterpiece. Many of them completely suck, but that’s ok.
If each bet is very expensive, you can’t try many attempts, so you have to decrease the cost of the bet. I’m not just talking about money, it’s also about time and resources.
The number of options available to marketers today have exploded. If an agency has one really successful campaign, we assume they’ve got it figured out. But do they? What I am telling people is, assume you don’t know, and this is going to guide your actions.