The Press, April 2012
Bubba Watson is something of an angry bird.
Not that he flings himself at unsuspecting pigs, but like the wildly popular online game Watson has become an ‘overnight’ success, after many years of trying.
Playing that incredible hook shot on the tenth hole propelled Watson into the US Masters’ green jacket and golfing stardom, but Bubba’s seemingly instant triumph was actually years in the making.
It is much the same for building businesses, and in particular the marketing effort required to build a brand that attracts attention. We often underestimate the time and effort it takes to be successful.
Gerry “Bubba” Watson actually turned professional in 2003, and didn’t record his first PGA Tour win until 2010, winning one more in 2011.
Just imagine how much practice Bubba has done, how many tournaments he has played, how many balls he has lost in water traps and bushes before winning golf’s biggest prize at Augusta.
He is suddenly hailed as a genius, a freakishly talented player, when Bubba’s success is really the product of much hard work and dedication over many years.
The same is true in business, none more so than in the technology sector.
Angry Birds was an overnight success eight years in the making. Rovio, from Gerry Brownlee’s favourite country Finland, are the company behind the ubiquitous game involving catapulting annoyed-looking birds at pigs.
According to a Wired magazine feature, Rovio produced 52 games before succeeding with the birds game. They almost went out of business in 2009 after five years in the gaming business producing titles on contract for the big gaming distributors.
On the back of the Angry Birds phenomenon, Rovio are unstoppable and the owners are talking about becoming a Disney for the new age.
In New Zealand there are many similar stories.
Navman, the GPS equipment firm sold by Sir Peter Maire to Brunswick Marine in 2004 for $108 million, struggled along for many years operating out of his garage. Maire says it spent a decade as a marginal business after being formed in 1986, rapidly growing after its tenth birthday to become a $400 million business.
Fisher & Paykel Healthcare has a similar tale of a slow beginning gradually transforming into compound growth.
US business writer Jim Collins calls this the ‘egg’ phenomenon. For the outside perspective the eggs sits there doing nothing and all of sudden a chicken pokes it way out.
"All of a sudden, the major magazines and newspapers jump on the story: “Stunning Turnaround at Egg!” and “The Chick Who Led the Breakthrough at Egg!” From the outside, the story always reads like an overnight sensation—as if the egg had suddenly and radically altered itself into a chicken," writes Collins.
We think these people have had luck, or are simply super smart. Most have a bit of both, but mostly there are disciplined and resilient.
Collins says this surprising slowness means successful firms are actually those that create what he calls the 'flywheel' effect, after those heavy metal wheels that help power industrial engines. Instead of taking a big bang approach, they plug away consistently and slowly get the 'flywheel' moving until it gains momentum, at which time they grow fast and faster with less effort.
The same dynamic works in marketing.
Too often we look for an instant approach - that amazing tactic that will transform our brand (i.e. that picture a customer holds in their mind of our company and products that helps them choose us) and makes us an overnight sensation. Will be that Facebook page, that clever advert, the front page news story or that amazing pricing offer?
Even if you do attract huge attention, it is still a long hard road to being a sustainable success.
That’s because brands are built from thousands of interactions, not a single big splash. There is no instant solution, just the ability promise something interesting and valuable to your market and then deliver an experience that exceeds those expectations.
The only way to do this is though focus and discipline. Focus on as small a niche as possible, be it geographic, industry or some other slice, and then be disciplined about putting your resources into that group of customers.
What happens is that every little action you take in that market has more impact, and that momentum starts to grow to the point where you selling becomes easier and faster. The marketing flywheel starts to move.
Once you have built a dominant position you can start expanding into the next niche to fuel your growth. That's how you can take an elephant of a market like the USA or Europe and eat it in bite sized chunks - not many firms can do it successfully any other way.
Then you too can become an overnight success over many years of hard work, like the Bubba Watsons and Angry Birds of our world.