Lessons from the Field (of Dreams)
Do you have a go-to film? That one you’ve seen so often you can recite every line (with the proper cadence and emphasis)? One that makes you laugh and cry as hard today as when you first saw it? I have 10 of these go-to films, one of them (and tied to the title of this article, Lessons from the Field) being “Field of Dreams.” For those of you that don’t know the premise, our hero Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) hears voices that compel him to build a baseball field (complete with bleachers and night lighting) in the middle of his corn fields in Iowa. They whisper, “If you build it, they will come.” Everyone thinks Ray is crazy, and nobody believes in the voices. In their minds, Ray is about to be bankrupt and his farm foreclosed upon.
At the end of they film, “they” do indeed come. Not just the apparitions of famed ballplayers past, but in the final shot, we see an ever-widening view and a sea of car headlights approaching this small farm wanting to experience nostalgia. The crazy dream paid off!
It isn’t a new idea, that when you build something you believe in (the thing that drives you at night and whispers in your ear like an intuition or leap of faith), you will find an audience and success. Apple, Facebook, Tesla, Vice Media and Uber are all looked to as examples of leaps of faith, that if you build something unique in an area that hasn’t been harvested, you will reap the benefits. Sadly, the examples are the exceptions rather than the norm. For most, the following holds true:
If you build it after exhaustive research and development (R&D), and you dump a ton into SEO and promotion to get targeted eyeballs to what you built, and you have the ability to reach a niche that is active and searching, they may click onto your site, but they may or may not actually come to what you are selling.
Therein lies the biggest challenge in every business today: how do you know if you can reach your “they” in an ever-saturating, far too competitive landscape? Do you ever listen to the voices?
The simple answer is you can’t know. Programming for success is, and always has been a gamble. The greatest ideas do not always take root. The silliest of ideas sometimes flourish. But you can hedge your bets by thinking about what makes you intrinsically great in the first place, that which is at the core of who and what you are. Those who succeed (like in the examples above) are those who stay true to the inspiration and the passion that started them. Far too often, corporations of all industries believe that what they build needs to be just like what others have built. So when you create Uber-esque, or Apple-esque, or Disney-esque products because you know those sell, chances are you will not see the return you expected. Why?
Because those silos already exist. “They do come,” but they are coming to the originator of the idea, not you.
So, who are you? What are you trying to be, sell, do, make or distribute? Have you actually thought about the marketing and the end-user access to what you build? Have you thought through the lifecycle stages of the project, product or service? In a nutshell:
- Brand awareness: how do you reach your intended target audience?
- Brand engagement: how do you make what you do important to what your audience wants to be, do or have?
- Brand conversion: how do you close the deal and make your audience pay you for what you are selling?
- Brand retention: how do you make sure your audience remains loyal and interested after they use you the first time? How do you get them to refer others to you and be part of the brand consciousness?
If you have not thought through all of this in the R&D stage, you can build it, but they won’t come.
In both traditional and digital media, this “if we build it” mentality is far too pervasive. Every day, companies are created or expanded to provide content with no true measurable outcome planned. Every day, brands are sold on the idea that all you need to do is build the content, it will go viral and the rest is history. Every day we’re told that you can create a great brand video or series based around a social media influencer. Here’s the but: if you haven’t thought through the optimization of that product, including it’s marketing, engagement and retention, it won’t become something “they” will come to.
To hedge bets, companies become more and more of the copycat variety: thinking that if they make something that looks exactly like that other really successful something, they will have a strong outcome that is comparable. As stated before, the farther you depart from your true core and DNA, the less and less authentic you are. Oh, and that silo is already taken so no, they will not come.
You cannot think through things enough. Period.
This statement is #truth. R&D (or prep, or staging, or exploration, or whatever you want to call it) is critical to success. You have to think through all phases of your plan. Have you thought about what you will need to do to continue engagement in month six? Have you thought through social media connectivity and messaging, let alone who will be responsible for social media engagement and what it will cost? Have you thought about target audience appetites and patterns? If the answer to any of the above is “no,” then you need to keep thinking. The old adage: “you have to have time, talent and treasury to succeed” is true. But if you do not take the time to discuss with your talent every nuance of strategy, you will not succeed and all you have to show for your efforts is reduced treasury.
I love the idea that passion can be transformative and that you can pursue dreams and build into amazing results. But look at the examples at the top: Facebook was a microsite and had a phalanx of people helping to develop it before it went big. Vice did not start out as a massive idea. It started small and grew organically through testing and feedback. Tesla had some of the greatest minds (in my judgement, ever) behind its development. True, all were pioneers and made it look easy. But while it might have looked like Uber just appeared, it didn’t. Every single one made sure they thought through the best case scenario and also the worst case scenario. Planning is critical to all successful companies.
You should never just build and hope for the best. In today’s world, where there seemingly is no truly “new” idea, the reasoning behind strong R&D and input is more important that ever. Firms like mine have been created because true creatives do not have the time or interest to always think through these things. But trust me, if you want to someday be on a list of “wow, they made it look so easy” companies, you need to think through every possible scenario. Get it right, do it upfront, be smart, and if you do all this, they may come.
Patrick Jager is the CEO of CORE Innovation Group – expert strategy and implementation in media, communications and business development.