On giving away ideas

I had coffee with a potential partner and our conversation ebbed to a discussion about marketing philosophy and lead generation.  He said something like, “I think companies [like yours] give away many of their trade secrets on their website. They provide too much information.  If I wanted to compete with you… all I would need to do is read your website or blog. The purpose of a website is to solicit interest… you’ve got to get people to respond… to generate leads.”

My response…

People use the web for research; they are looking for fresh ideas, insight and actionable information.  Intellectual property is difficult to protect and is quickly commoditized by the market. Why not leverage some of your IP to your advantage? Leverage it and demonstrate your thought leadership. 

It’s difficult to defend technology that can easily become commoditized and your processes can be copied or improved upon as well. You can’t even keep all of your people indefinitely. There are more protections for tangible products but not many for service based business, which most companies are evolving to anyway.

I have a friend who is a NASCAR fan and what he loves is that it’s more about the driver than the car. All the cars are the same.  It’s the driver and the crew that make the difference. It’s kind of like that with business now. 

Most companies have the same basic car. It’s really about how well you drive it. The driver and crew in this metaphor can be seen as thought leadership; the ideas and talents that set the team apart from others. It’s what people remember and identify with. Features and benefit are cool, but sooner than later everyone’s car has the same features anyway.

This is particularity important for companies engaged in a complex sale, where up to 70% of a customer’s perception of your brand comes from their interactions with your sales people. I believe that the people and companies who succeed today are those who learn faster and teach others what they know more effectively. 

My skeptical coffee companion had a schotoma (blind spot) because his viewpoint came from a product driven, B2C, branding perspective.

I didn’t have any formal training in marketing before I got started. At first that seemed like a disadvantage, but now I realize that having a clean slate gave me the advantage of being untainted. I strive to not have preconceived notion of how it SHOULD BE.  Instead, I listen to the voice of my customers and what I hear is that they want a relationship with a trusted advisor, not someone who guards their thoughts and ideas.

So what happens to people/companies that keep the ideas to themselves?

Jure Cuhalev over at the g. blog also has some great thoughts on giving away ideas. Jure writes, “…I have a theory of what happens to them. They start losing their ability to produce new ideas, since their current idea preoccupies them. They think about it all the time to the point that they can not think of anything fresh.” 

Jure also quotes David Kelley, one of the most visible product designers in the world, especially in the world of high technology. Kelly is founder of IDEO, America’s largest independent product design and development firm.

I think Kelly’s viewpoint goes well beyond design. Read the following quote and replace “designers” with your role (ie. CEOs, Marketers and so on)… I think it will ring true.

According to Kelly, “Successful designers just send out their vision to the world; and then, when somebody else builds on it, that’s okay. They’re not protective of their ideas because they’re so used to having ideas. A creative designer has an idea a minute. Publicizing an idea is a way to improve on the idea—someone else can build on it, expand it. If you’re fluent with ideas, as most design people are, you don’t have to be fearful. You don’t protect your one good idea because your afraid you’ll never have another good one.”

Again, it’s not the car. It’s the crew and driver.

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