3 Ways to Dominate Your Market
How you can become the Branson of Business, the Clarkson of Cars, the Oprah of Talk Show TV.
From the roaring mosh pits of an Iron Maiden concert to the welcoming ambience of Nigella Lawson’s kitchen; from the secretive rainforests of a David Attenborough nature documentary to the sweat-soaked gyms of Schwarzenegger’s legendary workouts — every industry has its top name icons.
What do they all have in common? What makes them rise to the top? And most importantly for entrepreneurs, what can we learn from them?
I’ve spent a decade trying to discern and decode what distinguishes the leading names in any field, and whether their approaches can be emulated. Here’s the secret I’ve discovered: We tend to think of experts in terms of superior knowledge or academic skills, but that actually misses something.
There’s more to it.
You can be highly qualified and yet completely unknown. Instead, to be truly iconic, you need to combine three non-negotiable qualities: Knowledge, personality and publicity.
You have to know it, you have to show it and you have to be it. You need to build an identity or ideal that tribes of followers want to emulate. The following is an excerpt from What Makes Them Great? 50 Ways to Become an Industry Leader that focuses on three ways you too can become an industry leader.
1. BENCHMARKING GLOBALLY, NOT LOCALLY
In his early twenties, Arnold Schwarzenegger made an interesting decision. Upon deciding that his life’s course lay in pursuing bodybuilding, he moved from Austria to California, to study the world’s top athletes in their own backyard.
But he went with a philosophy that was quite remarkable. More than just wanting to study what the top practitioners did in order to emulate them, his stated goal was to study what the top practitioners did, in order to surpass them. When last did you observe the best in the world, then think: “I could top that”?
Here’s why this dynamic matters: Today, your potential customers aren’t just benchmarking you against your exact equivalent locally. In reality, they are even benchmarking you against completely different industries and practitioners.
In the same way that a restaurant does not just compete with other restaurants — it also competes against the lateral options of movies, concerts or home pizza delivery — you are not just viewed against the backdrop of others who do exactly the same thing. You are viewed against the backdrop of an increasingly globalised market, by people who travel all around the world.
Your target market may be ‘just’ a mom with a simple problem to fix. But that mom has also been to London, New York and Sydney, and her perception of your levels of professionalism, as you operate in her home town, are not relative to others in your home town.
Moreover, the local mom evaluating your professionalism has Googled videos about how to solve this problem, and watched entrepreneurs from California talking about sleek and clever solutions. If she’s gone to the trouble as an outsider to your field, you certainly should have done the same and more as a practitioner. And that is her rightful expectation of you.
Good enough for the locals, and other myths
Fairly late into its lifespan, the Eiffel Tower acquired a glass floor. You can now go halfway up the Parisian landmark and scare yourself rigid by stepping onto a transparent walkway and looking straight down.
It’s a great addition to one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations… that took about 15 years too long to implement.
Many years prior to its implementation, my wife and I went up the CN Tower in Toronto. Somewhere up near the Canadian clouds, its bulbous dome has a similar walkway, which has been there for decades.
I remember watching my wife, who is no friend of heights at the best of times, crawling out onto the glass and smiling gingerly for a photo, then retreating to the safety of concrete as though she were on fire. Other places, like a tourist spot at the Grand Canyon, have since copied this notion too.
Why did it take one of the world’s leading tourist destinations — the Eiffel Tower in France — so incredibly long to do something so seemingly obvious? The answer is: Because the custodians didn’t think of themselves as part of a global network of international travel. They thought of themselves as ‘custodians of the Eiffel Tower.’ Subtle shift; huge difference.
Do you still view yourself as a local operator? Increasingly, this view is becoming self-deluding. Many of your potential fans, tribes, clients and customers are now extremely well travelled, and may be comparing you to a much better version in Tokyo or Tel Aviv.
2. CONTEXTUALISING YOURSELF UPWARD
‘Imagine the government passes a law,’ a fellow speaker said to me one year, at the Professional Speakers Association convention, 'And you are no longer allowed to charge your current fee. You have to double it. Non-negotiable.
What would you do differently? And which clients would you target instead of the ones you currently deal with?’
I took the question seriously. And it’s a good one. What would you do if forced to take your business up, not just a notch, but a couple of tiers, in one fell swoop? Grapple with the answers to this question (and there are answers to them, in every industry) and you are actively engaging yourself with the problem of how to position yourself as one of the premium players in your game.
If forced to face that test, what would you do? It is a good idea to keep graduating yourself upward; to compel constant growth by design. In your quest to become truly iconic, do not benchmark yourself against the immediately available, local talent. Contextualise yourself upward, and think about your own performance relative to the global best.
This may entail a few practical things:
- You may have to stop doing the low-level and/or free stuff. Being valuable, and being seen as valuable, is everything here. But you have to go first. The market doesn’t just assume you are.
- You must find ways to actively display your new, greatly increased value.
- You may have to cull the cues that disqualify you as premium, such as low pricing, amateur visual cues in your marketing, etc.
3. PRICING YOURSELF CORRECTLY
By the time the sitcom came to an end, after 11 Emmy-award devouring seasons, Frasier had established itself as one of the most popular and successful comedy shows in television history. Toward the end, each of the main actors was earning in excess of a million US dollars per episode.
The show’s success was a fabulous argument against the notion that one should simplify everything and ‘pander to the masses,’ given that the two lead characters, psychiatrist Dr Frasier Crane and his brother, Dr Niles Crane, were highly intellectual, unapologetically snobby, sophisticated patrician elites, who pontificated in sentences one might typically hear at a medical convention. Or Mensa.
In an episode of season ten, Frasier and Niles are seated at Nervosa, their favourite Seattle coffee shop, along with Niles’ wife, Daphne. Daphne is pregnant. Egged on by another couple, Daphne and Niles are trying to find ways to ‘heighten’ the experience of childbirth.
The whole thing becomes competitive, and they end up hiring a doula to guide them through the event — more to impress their friends than anything else. Frasier, meanwhile, has been suffering through a dating dry-spell.
He has hired a professional matchmaker and is about to meet up with her. Donning his jacket and excusing himself from the coffee table, Frasier says, “I’ve signed up with a matchmaking service.”
“Frasier, a matchmaker?” Niles responds, aghast. “I’m surprised you’d use a professional for something as personal as your love life.”
“Well, I could say the same thing about you and your doula,” says Frasier.
“Well, our professional comes highly recommended,” says Niles.
“So does my professional,” says Frasier.
“Well, our professional is at the top of her field,” Niles counters.
“As is mine.”
“Well, our professional charges two hundred dollars an hour.”
“Mine charges ten thousand!”
Niles gasps. “She sounds fan-tastic! Congratulations, Frasier!”
“Thank you, Niles…”
The dialogue concludes with Daphne rolling her eyes. The scene was obviously created for comedic effect, but there’s an undeniable grain of truth in this overblown observation.
We do perceive quality according to price. It’s a natural human bias that you will read about often in books on behavioural economics, and which you will see reflected in the purchase price of your next luxury car.
If you are too cheap, you will be perceived as amateur. Here is another example, from author Robert Cialdini. A lady owns a jewellery store in a coastal town, and she’s struggling to sell a particular range of jade jewellery.
So begins the true story in Cialdini’s book Influence. Before going on leave, the owner instructs her sales person to halve the prices. The sales person misreads her note and doubles the price. The entire range sells out before the owner returns.
Behavioural economics are fascinating. In this particular case, the items sold more effectively because they were more expensive. The reverse dynamic applies too.
Set the bar too low, and you will raise innate suspicion from high-level buyers (Hmm… No, thanks. You’re too cheap. Sounds risky).
Mindset tip: Where it matters, be a surgeon
Going about their daily work, doctors are required to make use of competing skill-sets. They have to be dispassionate enough to be able to do necessary, hurtful things to their patients; injections into delicate parts of the body, cutting open skin and billing them right in the soft spot.
But they must also show compassion. Doctors are typically sued more often when their bedside manner is lacking, even for the same results as their more compassionate contemporaries. An ideal doctor, if such a thing exists, is able to be compassionate when it counts, but dispassionate when it is necessary.
I’d like you to remember this concept the next time you struggle with stating your price: Be a surgeon. The pricing is not an emotional aspect of the thing you do. This is merely ‘part of the procedure.’ Just do it, and do it dispassionately.
You don’t have to ‘believe in it,’ or ‘feel anguish about it,’ or in any way emotionalise the scenario. That’s for amateurs. This is the part you do clinically, simply as a step in the procedure.
If they can’t afford your fee, that’s fine. Nobody is going to shout at you or place you in stockades in the town square for a dose of public humiliation. If they can’t afford you, they are not your customer, and that’s all there is to it. If they can, they are.
You can then continue on together to the next part of the professional relationship, at which point you will display empathy for their needs. Pricing is not emotional. It’s procedural. Get it done. Like a surgeon.