Ben Perreira

My head's dropbox.

Month: July, 2013

Slater’s Strategy

The word “strategy” gets thrown around in the business world quite a bit. I am guilty as well. When I refer to strategy I am referring to competition and the methods that go into winning. When I think of winning, I think of one man – Kelly Slater.

Kelly’s “mind games” are well publicized in the surfing world. He is known for telling the late Andy Irons “I love you like a brother” right before a final at Pipeline in 2003. These mind games may or may not work, but they are not what I think makes KS such a savage competitor.

The key to Kelly beating everyone for the past 20+ years is his adaptability. He understands that in order to beat his competitors he must show the judges that he is better than his competitors (obvious, but stay with me).

Here is how this transpires: Dane Reynolds enters the tour around 2006 and is known for doing big airs in competition. He goes for broke on the first, most critical section, garnering huge rewards is he lands his trick. Kelly sees how this is rewarded, learns how to do similar (not the same magnitude) tricks in critical sections, but continues to do what he does better than anyone else on the rest of the wave.

Slater executed this brilliantly in Bali in June of this year. He was surfing against John John Florence. JJF was doing large carving turns on the open face with both hands by his side, sort of an old school maneuver with new school flair. Soon thereafter Kelly is doing the same turn. I have been watching surf contests for maybe 15 years and could not remember seeing Slater do a turn like that. He was mimicking John John’s innovation and the effect was that John John stood out less than he would have otherwise.

This is what the best brands do in the competitive space. Rather than judges we have consumers evaluating how we perform against other brands. If you are Toyota and own reliability, but want to own ruggedness, you invade Ford’s space.

This is not unlike what you might produce in that case:

The principles of competition translate across disciplines. It pays to be great, adapt, and not be so far ahead of the curve that consumers (or judges) don’t know how to evaluate you.

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Assets and Liabilities

In the world of accounting, assets are equal to liabilities plus equity. For the sake of this argument, assets and liabilities are roughly equal.

We all become aware of our assets over time. We know that we’re good at math or with people. We learn to exploit and commercialize them in ways that we find advantageous.

For each assets, however, there is a liability. That is, each positive personality trait has a converse that is less positive. A few examples:

– Asset: people person. Liability: invasive of personal space.

– Asset: curiosity. Liability: susceptibility to distraction.

– Asset: drive. Liability: overbearing.

The key is the maximize the left side and minimize the right side, of course. It is also key to keep in mind that there is no correct formula when figuring people out. Couched in a large asset could be a large liability.

Cultural Inertia

There’s something very inert about things that are familiar to us. In the same way that rhyming lyrics are aurally pleasing, our own cultures elicit positive feelings.

Consider when people move to new countries. Aside from those who claim to be “moving to Canada” after each presidential election, people generally move for opportunity, not to change cultures. We grow up appreciating cultural nuance in almost every part of our lives – food, gatherings, family orientation, media, brands, language, etc. 

If we’re thinking about this in a commercials sense (more or less what we do here), we see that language is not the key determining factor. If an American were to move to the UK this would become immediately apparent, and the products would be more similar to those purchased by other Western Europeans than to those purchased by Americans.

The things that matter most to people are often emotions expressed through language, but they are certainly not dependent on language to remain important. That distinction is key.

Porsches and Toothbrushes

What do toothbrush brands and Porsches have in common? Both have product lines that are largely undifferentiated. For the latter that is an asset; for the former not so much. 
 
If you are a layman when it comes to the technical side of sports cars most Porsches look pretty similar. The difference is in the performance. 
 
The same goes for toothbrushes. Each brand has a relatively distinct look compared to other brands, but little variability within the product line. This becomes a problem when I need a new toothbrush but forget the kind I bought the last time. 
 
Porsche doesn’t have to worry about this because a guy who wants one only needs to worry about his price point and the performance he requires. He knows that he wants Boxster or 911 Turbo depending on how much he’s willing to spend. 
 
If you’re Porsche you keep doing the same thing. People who know about cars know exactly what you’re driving even if it looks the same from some distance. If you’re selling toothbrushes, maybe you use some subtle branding (a number system on the product, not just the package?) to make it easier for gents like me to get those hard to reach places. 

Anything But Country

This may piggyback on my last post a little, but it deserves its own space.

There is something very fascinating about one’s choice in music. Tastes develop regionally and mature as we age, slowing down or becoming more rhythmic. I find that variety is the spice of life when it comes to most things. I am certainly in no position to impose my musical views on anyone. This, however, is too common to let slide. 

What I am talking about, of course, is when people describe their musical preference as “anything but country.”

This person probably listens to hip hop, various branches of rock and maybe emo. But what he is telling us about country music is more instructive than what he is saying about his own “tastes” – he is saying “I recognize that country music holds the lowest place in American musical culture and I want to be seen as cultured.” That’s all.

Like wearing white after Labor Day, saying you listen to country music is a cultural faux pas. Music is hardly even part of the conversation. 

How Do You Really Feel?

The dynamics of language do not always allow us to express exactly what we’re trying to say. Add in the layer(s) of society and what we say can be pretty detached from what we really think.

I worked at a Moroccan restaurant when I was an undergrad. It was pretty much a dream job – I worked with my friends, we got to dance with the belly dancers and customers throughout the night, and we ate an incredible feast at the end of every shift. The owner, Karim, wasn’t always the best businessman but he understood how to make his customers happy. One women came up to him after a great meal (and maybe a glass of wine or two) and said “The food was even better than the last time!”

Karim told me after she left, “People say that all the time. The food is the same. They just think it’s better because they were looking forward to it after last time.”

Another example: I was checking out some of my friends’ summer travel photos on Instagram recently and thinking about my trip to Europe last year. On almost every photo I posted during my trip someone would comment something to the effect of “You’re living the dream!” or “I want your life!”

Traveling is a blast, but it is also a challenge. An in-stream photo on Instagram doesn’t begin to tell the story of sleeping in hostels, getting sick, spending a day in airports or on a train, or any of the other bumps in the road that come along with being in a foreign place.

When people say they want your life by looking at a photo, they are admitting that they don’t want to do through the trouble of traveling. They want the memory, but not the experience.

What we say and what we actually want (i.e. what we do in real life) can be very competitive with each other. 

Maps and Territories

A map is a graphical representation of an a territory, designed to offer a reasonable approximation of that that territory’s features to allow for successful navigation. 

Too often, when making decisions, we mistake the map for the territory. A map is to a territory what a power drill is to building a house: you will probably need it, but it will not by itself suffice. 

There are things in the territory that cannot be seen, scaled or forewarned using paper and ink (or HTML and CSS). Awareness that one is not the other is the most important step.

Happy Monday.