When, a few days ago, I wrote my rant about GM wanting to be like Apple, I did a bad job. My point was not that GM can’t be like Apple because it doesn’t have an aluminum unibody, my point was not GM’s number of platforms, my point was not that GM wants to marginalize Opel by being Apple, my point was not that Ford is closer to being Apple, my point was not that Sony and its “Sony timer” will never be like Apple, my point was not that Apple is like BMW.
Apparently, I failed to get my point across.
My point was that any CEO or marketing manager who wants his company to be like another company should abdicate and apply for a job at that other company. Or that he should be taken out and shot, in an act of mercy killing.
My point was that GM should be like GM.
If you want to be the market leader, then you need to lead the market. If you ape other companies, you look like a monkey. Sure, there is nothing wrong with benchmarking and “adapting” a good idea or two. Do it, and keep it to yourself. But for heaven’s sake, don’t issue a press release!
In real life and marketing, there is one golden rule:
And then, mercilessly refine and improve what you have got.
The core of branding is to be unique. Trying to be someone else is the antithesis of being unique, and a road to failure. Even the best Elvis impersonator will always be an impersonator, at best, he will be an impostor.
I was reminded of that by an email I received today by a good friend of mine (you know who you are), who knows a hell of a lot, and who throws a hell of a lot into the wind, including the rules of proper capitalization (of words.) He writes:
“sometimes i’m glad the auto chiefs say stupid things. then the business papers sometimes write a good follow-up article. thought you might find this to be interesting.”
Attached was a link to a Postrel article in Bloomberg. A while ago, I would have thought a postrel is some kind of a dessert. Virginia Postrel is the author of “The Substance of Style”, and of “The Future and its Enemies”, two of the best business books you can buy. She is also the author of “To Be the Next Apple, Lose the Bafflegab,” the article we are talking about here.
Like me a few days ago, she notes that “everybody, it seems, wants to be like Apple.” Even “Google is buying Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc., many observers say, so it can integrate hardware and software to be like Apple.” And then she goes on a rant against pointless drivel and fluff, that makes me jump up from my chair, whack the table, and shout “Yessss, Virginia!”
“Strategy is not what many people think it is. It is not a fill-in-the-blanks mission statement blathering about how XYZ Corp. will ethically serve its stakeholders by implementing best-in-class integrated sustainable practices to grow as a global leader while maximizing shareholder value. Such bafflegab is “Dilbert“-fodder that generates cynicism and contempt. It is, at best, a big waste of time.”
Victoria explains the difference between a strategy, a mission statement, a goal, and the vision thing. These differences are often forgotten, confused, perverted, gang-raped.
A former old school Volkswagen manager of the Beetle era once told me (in private): “I only have visions when I’m drunk.”
He was a dinosaur from the olden days when VW was a bafflegab-free zone. He became part of the “biological solution” and made room for an army of PowerPointers with a Ph.D. in Dilbertology.
In closing, Virginia gives unpaid advice to GM and the legions of others who want to be like Apple:
“So if you really want to be like Apple, drop the fluff- filled vision statements and magical wishes. Pretend your company’s existence is at stake, coldly evaluate the environment, and make choices. Stop thinking of strategy as meaningless verbiage or financial goals and treat it as a serious design challenge.”
To which I may add:
And forget about being like Apple.
Simply be your best. Trust me, it’s hard enough.