Legendary Entrepreneurs Are Relentless Category Designers

This post was excerpted from Niche Down, my new book with the legendary marketer and podcast conversation host Christopher Lochhead.

Legendary category designers never stop reminding the world that
they created the category. That they are the standard by which all others
must be compared. And that they haven’t stopped looking at the
original problem from new angles.

Take the story of GOJO Industries. You might not know this privately
held company’s name, but you’ll recognize the name of its most
famous product.

In 1997, GOJO, with its introduction of the consumer edition of
Purell20, convinced millions of parents and germaphobes that we
should use “hand sanitizer” before and after we touch anything.
Refuse to do so at your own peril!

In 1996, none of us even knew we needed hand sanitizer.

Today, millions of people carry the stuff with them everywhere. Hospitals and doctors’ offices worship it via dispensers hanging on the walls. You can find bottles scattered on hotel check-in counters and at the start of restaurant and cruise-ship buffet lines.

It’s even tough to make it through boot camp without being exposed to the brand: the military is a huge customer.

At its height, Purell owned an estimated 70 percent of the hand-sanitizer market category. (There was a brief change in ownership, but that’s a story for another book.) Its name is the one to beat for mindshare.

The brand that all other hand sanitizers are compared to.

There’s a corollary: The bigger and more urgent the problem, the more time and money people will invest to solve it.

You don’t want to be walking around with unsanitary hands now, do you?

The “overnight” success story behind Purell maker GOJO actually began almost 40 years earlier, in World War II-era Akron, Ohio, with a simple problem identified by tire factory worker Goldie Lippman — it was super difficult to get carcinogenic substances like graphite, carbon and tar off her hands with regular bar soap after a production shift.

You had to use benzene, which was irritating. Women, in particular, were interested in an alternative23 because who wants red, smelly hands?

That problem inspired Goldie’s husband Jerry, who invented a formulation that was less harsh and that was delivered in liquid form. The two entrepreneurs mixed up the product using a washing machine and packaged the soap in pickle jars pilfered from local restaurants.

Yes friends, GOJO (the company’s name is a mash-up of the founders’ first names) was also the designer of the “liquid-hand-soap” category!

Before GOJO, most individuals used “bar soap” to scrub their hands, faces, feet, clothes.

And the venture also came up with a way of controlling portions, so that it was more cost-effective for business owners to buy the product.

Today, more than 70 years later, GOJO’s identity is still synonymous with the hygienic benefits of keeping your hands clean. That’s true in large part because it has never stopped thinking about the original problem and new ways of addressing it. “You don’t go up against the giants unless you have a category-defining brand,” GOJO’s current CEO, Joe Kanfer, (the Lippmans’s nephew)  for a corporate profile published in 2013.

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Have You Niched Down Yet?

It’s odd to realize that my first ever book, Niche Down (How to Become Legendary by Being Different), with Legends & Losers podcast host Christopher Lochhead has been officially on sale for a whole week.

So far, the feedback has been humbling: we’ve been cycling through the #1 bestseller spot for the entrepreneurship and small business categories since the launch. (Right now, we’re #1 in new releases.) And, check it out: someone even donated a billboard in Melbourne, Australia, to help get the word out! Thanks to our marketing entrepreneur friend, Vaughn O’Connor, for this stunt down under.  He apparently is Christopher’s kindred spirit when it comes to lightning-strike marketing tactics.

I’m pausing for some vacation until early August, but just wanted to say thanks for making my birthday extra special this year. I’ll be back with book excerpts and such after my return.

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OMG, I’m A Published Author (Well, Almost)

Thrilled to report that all the editing is complete. Most of the technical hurdles surmounted. A legendary book launch of Niche Down: How to Become Legendary By Being Different, is just around the corner.

I think hot pink is a marvelous cover color, don’t you?

If you’re interested in a free review copy, please send me a note. I’ll send you the draft, and a link where you can leave your feedback. Act now, as this offer expires by EOD (New Jersey time!) on Monday, July 16.

 

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What Makes a Legendary Entrepreneur

So, I’m finally doing it. My long-time friend and legendary CMO Christopher Lochhead (that’s awesome retired marketing guru to you acronym-phobes) has convinced me to help give voice to his second book.

I’m terrified, but also incredibly excited about the subject — an exploration of what turns entrepreneurs into queens or kings of their market category. The working title of our e-book is Niche Down: How to become legendary by being different. (But we reserve the right to change it!)

The thesis is pretty simple: the most successful ventures you know — whether it’s the small biz down the street or a mega-corp with a multi-billion-dollar market capitalization — don’t try to compete on price. They got to where they are by solving a problem in a unique way, and “niching down” to capture the conversation around it.

You hear about the big guys and gals all the time. (That’s the focus of the first book about category design co-authored by Christopher, Play Bigger.) This new tome is dedicated to solo-preneurs and new ventures that fall into the “small e” category of entrepreneurship.

Why I Said ‘Yes’ to This Project

A bit of trivia: the first regular freelance gig that I landed out of university many years ago for a now-defunct trade magazine involved profiling entrepreneurs. It hooked me. That led me to a long-time collaboration with Entrepreneur magazine, and I’ve lived and breathed tech startup-dom for close to three decades. That’s where I met Christopher. YIKES!

I’ve been asked to co-author books before, but nothing has ever caught my heart like this project. No more playing coy. So, here I am, doing something I’ve never done before in my life. You’re never too old!

If all goes well, we should debut said e-book by the end of June. Meanwhile, if you’d like a sneak peek at the arguments, here’s what you should do:

  • Take a listen to Christopher’s no-holds-barred podcast, Legends & Losers. (Warning, he swears like a sailor. You can’t deal? Your loss.)
  • Tell him what you think, with a review on your fave podcast platform.
  • Email a copy of the review to blackhole@legendsandlosers.com. Copy me for good measure at heather@heatherclancy.com. (Sorry, I’m not making these links live/clickable because of spambots.)
  • Eh voila! We’ll send you a copy of our book “teaser.”

So easy! Want to start a dialogue in private? Reach out via my contact form.

Laters.

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Amazon, Apple Go for the Photo Opp

Generally, you know a company is “serious” about a strategy when they march the chief executive officer out to be the mouthpiece or the face of it. Or at least that’s what the marketing gurus and guru-esses hope.

So, I was intrigued by two recent announcements by two of the biggest technology companies in the earth’s universe — Amazon and Apple — dropped some material into my email inbox in late October. (Actually, the press release involving Apple came from another company, but more on that in the moment.)

Amazon’s proclamation was along the lines of several it has issued over the past two years, trumpeting a contract to buy the power from yet another wind farm in Texas (its largest deal yet).  This is a seriously huge facility, more than 100 turbines, each of them more than 300 feet tall. The capacity is 253 megawatts of electricity, which means it can generate 1,000,000 megawatt-hours of power annually.

This is the 18th solar or wind so far made possible because Amazon stepped in to help finance the installation. What’s even more incredible is that the company has almost twice that many projects in its pipeline. So, you can hardly blame the company for releasing this video of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos “christening” one of the turbines. (I’m sure the Amazon board is shuddering.)

The second photo is less dramatic, but also far more unexpected: what the heck is Apple CEO Tim Cook doing in a Swedish forest, planting trees?

The Holmen Group produces more than 30 million trees annually to meet Sweden’s legislated requirements for replanting. (Copyright: Iggesgund)

It turns out that the company that publicized the visit, Iggesund Paperboard, is one of Apple’s biggest packaging suppliers — a company originally selected by the tech giant’s founder, Steve Jobs. The material is called Invercote. The parent company, Holmen, is listed on the United Nations Global Compact Index of the world’s most sustainable companies. The predecessor firm to Iggesund has actually been around since 1685.

Cook also tweeted about his experience:

Given Apple’s legacy of being relatively mum about pretty much everything until it is good and ready to talk, Cook’s willingness to give its supplier such a great photo opp is all the more notable.

But lo and behold, the company just released an updated statement about its packaging strategy in October, with heightened attention to the forests where it sources virgin fiber. Sweden isn’t the only place it’s watching: Apple is working with World Wildlife Fund to transition suppliers in China to more sustainable forestry practices. Is that the next photo opp?

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Is This Your Job?

This post has absolutely nothing to do with the core “mission” of this blog, at least overtly. Covertly, however, I love the idea that The New York Times is willing to send a writer to all of its “52 Places to Go” list! Their mission: “parachute into a place and distill its essence and to render a compelling tale with words and images.” My birthplace is one of the destinations. Can you guess it?

It’s not clear whether the editorial staff is picking a new list for 2018, but this year’s “itinerary” is pretty daunting. As a diver, I’ve longed to visit the Maldives for many years, especially since it’s imperiled by the rising oceans. The Northern Lights in Norway are also on my bucket list. I would be terrified to return to the Great Barrier Reef, because I am sure the coral degradation there will break my heart. It’s the first place I went on a big diving trip, 15 years ago.

The world could benefit a great deal from more empathy, and once a place seeps into your soul, it’s impossible not to feel something about it. I can’t wait to see what truly extraordinary person they hire, because I will read every article.

Which place would you visit first? In this case, I’ll let the image below do the talking.

Gratefully borrowed from Matthew Savage/Flickr.

 

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Well, That’s Embarrassing!

Apparently, I have far more readers at my modest and very neglected personal blog, Technophile, than I heretofore realized. I just discovered dozens of messages trapped in Ninja forms purgatory.

So, first, my apologies to those who never heard from me when you reached out many months ago.

Second, I’m going through your messages now, with an eye to responding to those who have stories I’d be interested in telling. You have been warned.

And third, I’m paying more attention now. You can expect more opining here soon that is related to, but not entirely appropriate for my “real” soapbox at GreenBiz.

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Faith, Love, Hope — and Resistance

On this Easter morning, it seems relevant to reflect on the theme of faith — a belief or conviction based on “spiritual apprehension” rather than proof. Faith is the foundation of every religion, of course, the reverse of the “seeing is believing” adage. It’s an emotion I find myself drawing on often in these strange times.

The “faith” I cling to most fiercely of late is this: that despite the current administration’s decision to abandon leadership when it comes to protecting the planet from humankind’s negative impact on our air, water and soil, many of our country’s most important companies and cities will continue to blaze the path ahead. I’m not naive enough to believe this behavior is entirely altruistic, but the economics favor these investments. The broader theme of social inclusion is also becoming ingrained in the investments some of the world’s largest businesses are making.

Here’s a recent development that will get you thinking: in early April, the Ford Foundation made a very bold change in how it will allocate funds. It’s devoting $1 billion over the next 10 years to what it calls “mission-related investments” that support social transformation. As the foundation’s president Darren Walker notes in his blog: “If philanthropy’s past half century was about optimizing the 5 percent, its next half century will be about beginning to harness the 95 percent as well, carefully and creatively.”

This video offers a primer:

For perspective, the organization’s endowment is $12 billion, so this isn’t a majority of the money it controls. But $1 billion is a substantial sum of money.

Walker explains the decision:

It is deeply rooted in our ongoing program work to build more inclusive economies, help mature the impact investing sector, and fulfill our special obligation to help move market-based economies toward “the high road”—squaring the dynamism of markets with society’s highest values, especially fairness and human dignity.

It remains to be seen whether Ford’s decision is an outlier or the fore-runner of a broader shift in how many of the big corporate foundations allocated their funds. The framework of tax laws will doubtless shape those decisions, especially since it’s difficult to “prove” the value of some of these investments. It’s a question of faith.

 

 

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Can You Name the Top 10 Solar Buyers?

 

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Target has more on-site solar capacity than any other retailer, slightly more than Walmart, which is committed to getting all of its power from renewable sources at some unspecified future date. (Photo courtesy of SEIA)

It probably won’t surprise you to discover that many of the companies investing in on-site solar technology—rather than waiting around for their local utility to start selling clean power—are either retailers or real estate investment firms. The Solar Energy Industries Association keeps tabs on this with an annual ranking.

Most of the names on that list are pretty familiar, such as Target (No. 1) and Walmart (a close No. 2). Others, not so much.

Over the past several months, I’ve interviewed two of those “others” — industrial warehouse giant Prologis, which is third on the list (its total capacity is now smaller than when I wrote my story), and luxury mall operator General Growth Properties (GGP), which is ninth.

One thing that struck me most about my chat with GGP was the simple fact that it was the chief operating officer who handled the interview. Believe me, these investments were considered carefully — right now about 20 of the company’s malls sport solar panels, and another 30 projects or so are in the pipeline.

The states where they are located are diverse: although the company began experimenting first in New Jersey and Hawaii, mainly because that’s where the financial case was strongest to begin.

Every single one of them is metered carefully, using software that keeps tabs on electricity consumption down to the outlet. For me, this intention to detail is another indication that many of the investments that businesses are making in solar and wind energy are predicated as much on their economic practicality as they are driven by an interest in doing the right thing. Slowly but surely.

 

 

 

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Elon Musk’s Plan to Make Solar Roofs Sexy

What discourages homeowners from investing in solar power generation technology? Cost is certainly the most obvious obstacle, but there’s also a certain snobbery involved. Seriously, most solar panels aren’t all the aesthetically pleasing. No matter how much my contractor-husband appreciates the idea of clean energy, he winces when he sees them.

The good news: Elon Musk, the entrepreneurial billionaire behind both electric vehicle company Tesla and clean energy installer SolarCity, hopes to change that perception with a new SolarCity product that embeds the generation technology right into the roof tiles. The not-so-good news: Musk conveniently neglected to mention when his so-called solar roof will be available.

Solar roofs (aka “building integrated photovoltaic” technologies) aren’t a new idea: more high-profile new buildings are including BIPV features such as the San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, California; and the flagship Apple store in San Francisco’s Union Square, which includes PV panels that are integrated into the roof design. But there’s something to be said for brand recognition, something that both SolarCity and Tesla have managed to generate.

Here’s some footage from the event:

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