NZTE, July 2012

Auckland will host the global phenomenon that is a TEDx event in October, one of over 4,000 such events held worldwide each year. The dynamic that drives these forums has value for any Kiwi exporter.

TEDx is an independently organised version of the bigger TED conferences held annually in California since 1990. Loosely meant to cover Technology, Entertainment, Design (i.e. TED), the conferences have boasted presenters such as Bill Clinton, Malcolm Gladwell, Al Gore, Richard Dawkins, Bill Gates and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

It’s all based on a simple concept, the TED mission of ‘ideas worth spreading.’ As their website says “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we're building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”

If that sounds a bit high brow and overblown, just go and view some of the 900+ videos on the TED website. Simple 10 to 18 minute presentations, they are typically fascinating, engaging and challenging.

The power of good ideas has helped TEDx become a global movement. There are 4,300 events held in 1200 cities across 130 countries. 16,500 talks from these events have received over 42 million views on YouTube.

Organisers of the Auckland TEDx event are promising another interesting line up of speakers which, according to their website, “. . .  already includes a stellar cast of world leading scientists and professionals, artists, educators and technologists.”

‘Ideas worth spreading’ can be very important to businesses, for internal and external reasons.

Internally, it is about having a unifying purpose. The real key to glory is achieving what managers of a business attempt to create every day – their entire team working towards a common purpose.

Just making money or achieving a sales target is not usually enough. Making money is less a motivating vision than a measure of success.

Successful businesses provide their staff with three key ideas – involvement, hope and context. That is, being involved in and contributing to something worthwhile (beyond making money), hope that through sincere, intelligent effort they will prosper and grow and so will the company/team, and some context that helps guide their everyday decisions.

Companies create involvement, hope and context by sharing a compelling concept of what they want to be. Does this mean you need a mission statement to be successful? Mission statements are the much loved butt of jokes and rightfully so.

“If we took the mission statements of 100 large industrial companies, mixed them up while everyone was asleep, and reassigned them at random, would anyone wake up tomorrow and cry, ‘My gosh, where has our mission statement gone?’” say management writers Gary Hamel and CK Prahalad.

Mission statements have a bad rap because they are typically too internally focused and not compelling enough. They are not motivating everyone towards a common goal because they don’t provide a platform for involvement, hope and context. They are not ideas worth spreading.

Some examples of strong unifying ideas include Wal-Mart’s “To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same thing as rich people” or Mary Kay Cosmetics’ “To give unlimited opportunity to women”. They are simple, clear and expressed in the context of their customers not their own company.

Another example is Giro Sport Design, a manufacturer of cycle helmets, who in the early days of the company developed a simple idea – to get their product on the heads of Tour de France winners and Olympic champions. A simple goal but it has a lot of depth – champions will only use it if it is of great quality, it is accepted by the industry and it looks stylish. It provides their staff with a powerful unifying vision.

Externally, having ‘ideas worth spreading’ can power your export marketing.

Our customers are ‘imprisoned’ in a world view that drives their decision making. We are all conditioned by our upbringing, our job, level of wealth, friends, the area we live in and so on to see things in a certain way.

Companies are very disciplined these days in delivering their specific messages, but those are received entirely differently by us ‘consumers’ as we filter them through the prison bars of our mind.

Most people don’t want to listen to your advert, read your brochure, receive your phone call, or get an email. Many will reject your messages, filter them out completely or maybe file them away for later reflection. A small few will respond, as you connect with their view of the world.

For example, Kiwi software exporters have sometimes found it harder to sell their wares domestically than overseas. Local buyers’ worldview often sees local products as too high-risk, even if they are cheaper, preferring more expensive, lower risk software products. It’s a safe and comfortable prison they have no interest in leaving.

And like any institutionalised person, it is never their fault. It is your fault as a marketer in not being able to release them.

So how do you help people escape this prison? Compelling ideas are a key. Ideas that connect with potential customers, holding out the promise of making their life easier, faster, lower risk, more fun.

Successful ideas work because they connect with our emotions. The Latin word at the root of emotion is “to move”. In marketing terms that is why emotion is all important – it gets people to take action.

Using emotion is made possible by having a deep understanding of your customers. After all marketing is simply about finding and penetrating a ‘market’, a group of consumers with a particular need. You need to know who they are, where they are and what motivates them.

TED, and its little brother TEDx, shouldn’t really work. It’s just a bunch of people standing up and giving short presentations. But work it does, because those simple talks, anything from “Sweat the small stuff” to “The game that can give you 10 extra years of life,” are compelling and relevant to our lives.

The same dynamics can help any Kiwi exporter. So what’s the idea that unifies your company and attracts customers?

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