Market Like a Marine.
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“Traditional marketing is BS.” Ok, I wanted to hear what this guy had to say. And when I met Todd Caccamo, I was surprised to learn how his experience in the Marines aligns with the scrappiness you expect more from startups.
In this interview, you’ll find one recurring theme: start with something unconventional – whether it’s attacking the competition from a crazy starting point to doing something “in the way that is wrong”, Todd explains why conventional marketing wisdom doesn’t work anymore. And as he reminds me, the enemy always gets a vote.
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Todd starts off by telling us a bit about his background.
Todd: I'm the director of services marketing for GE Aviation in the TrueChoice part of our business. Prior to that, I'd had a number of roles within GE Aviation as well as with GE Plastics and some other industrial firms. Before that, I was a graduate of the University of Michigan. Go Blue. And of course I did a couple of tours in the United States Marine Corps. Probably not your typical marketing background.
Josh: How does being a Marine help you in marketing?
Todd: I think it gives you a unique perspective and also a bias for action. In other words, if you're making a battle plan, you need to focus on the objective as well as the enemy. Well, here in marketing, it's sort of the same thing. With real marketing, you have to focus and have the customer at the center of what you're trying to do. But I think the most important thing is a bias for action, and knowing that when you lay out a plan, that that plan that you end up actually executing or completing the objective with may not be the original plan you started out with, because as we like to say, the enemy gets a vote.
Josh: One of the things that you’ve said is that most traditional marketing is BS. Can you expand on that idea?
Todd: Let's start with the 4 Ps. That's the first thing everyone is taught when they were going through marketing and MBAs. There's price, product, promotion and place. Well, I would argue that even that's changed. You could come up with a whole new definition for those four Ps.
First off, let's talk about product. I would probably argue 80% of the value is outside of the product space in terms of: how one goes to market, the distribution channels, or in profit models, or in customer experiences. Just look at the big names of our time that have really revolutionized those things, whether it's Amazon or Google or Virgin or Apple. Apple's thought of as a product innovator. That product to me is just the human interface to the other aspects that they've influenced, such as how they went to market, the distribution channels and the profit models they have. That's the hidden genius.
So much in marketing has focused just on that first P, where in my mind, that first P could be renamed from product to pain. What pain is the customer feeling? Taking that consultive selling approach and finding a solution to what the issue is. The issue may not be a physical product. The issue may be a service. The issue may be a distribution. It's really not even a product anymore. There's so much more out there today that is not product focused.
Then if you were to look at the second P, let's call it promotion. It's probably more like proving it. Educating the customer as to why your solution has the value that you're saying it has. And if you look at the third P, place, it's not even place anymore. I'll call it a portal, where people want access to data. We talked about the IoT and analytics. Having access to data, having access to these services, even having access to the product in terms of how we have skinnied down the supply chains and done a number of things to speed product to market. Look at Amazon and Walmart and how they've done things.
Then of course we've talked about price. That's probably more like proving the value. Maybe instead of price you're talking about profit, because - and I'm going to borrow a quote from the big man here at GE, Mr Immelt, he would say find out how your customers make money and help them make more of it. Or you could also take that a little further and say, how do your customers lose money, and help them lose less. How can you maximize their savings? In other words maximize profit. That's either through more revenue, because they're offering greater value to their customers, or lower costs, because you're offering greater value to your customer. That's just a smattering of how I would say that modern day marketing could undergo a bit of a facelift.
Josh: Sure. So what do you say to somebody that already has a product, already has an offering, and I think you can make it a bit more difficult if you say it's already a physical product that's being made. So you can't just go and change some software features and test around. You've already got a thing. It's already baked. Where do you start? Walk me through how you'd rethink what you're doing with the product, what you do with the business.
Todd: Oh, there's about a billion things you can do. I mean that seriously. So you've got a physical product. Great. If you just want to sell your product versus someone else's product, and let's say the features essentially the same. Now it's a price war. The value is the same. They're going to make a decision on price. How are you going to differentiate? It could be your profit model. Maybe you're offering it as a lease. Maybe you're offering different financial terms.
And how about service? If you had a product that's great, but your service is horrible, well, that's a big red flag. My brother's a big fan of a certain car brand and one of the reasons he is, is because of the service that that brand, not just the dealership, but that brand offers its customers. He's like, I'll never go anywhere else because of that. All of those what I'll call non-product features may not appeal to everyone, but they're going to appeal to a pretty big chunk of the segment.
People think of segmentation in a very regimented way. Everyone's done it the same way for years, whether it's behavioral or classification or different types of buying patterns. Everyone's trying to come up with this insight as to what buying pattern makes this customer segment unique. It's really hard to mechanize things like segmentation. You almost have to do it in a special forces kind of way. You got to do it in the way that is wrong. You got to start in a way that's just really off the cuff. You are going to find trends. You're going to find commonalities. You're going to find threads that other people won't. And then you can go ahead and be at the market or be in the right segment and customize and be flexible. That's the big hint here, is being flexible, because that really is one of the key differentiators.
I'm a big hockey nut. If I'm not playing hockey, it's a bad day. Wayne Gretzky would say, hey, a good hockey player knows what to do with the puck when he gets there. A great hockey player knows where the puck is going to be. The old cliche is, the best way to predict the future is to create it. A lot of the segmentation, a lot of this stuff we're looking at, is based upon past behavioral patterns. Look at Apple. They created the future. They made these new markets. They really had vision as to what we needed. If you ask them what they need, you might not get a really good answer. But if you tell them what they need, and then they adopt it, well now you're off and running. That's where that testing comes into place, because I promise you, not everything that you think that's going to change the world will change the world. You're going to have flops. But if you don't have failures, you're not pushing the envelope. You've got to do some of these traditional exercises in a non-traditional way to get really meaningful insight as well as maybe get a glimpse as to what the future could bring.
Josh: Can we talk a little bit more about one of the things you just said? I wrote down special forces segmentation, and that you don't want to fight fair fights, you want to fight a fight you're going to win. I think in the start-up world, and big company world too, but especially in start-ups, you're sometimes competing against giants, right? Everybody else in your space is 10 or 100 or 1,000 times your size and you don't have traction and they do, or some variation of that. Can you walk through what you think special forces segmentation means and how you can tip the scales in your favor from the outset when you're designing and offering as a smaller company in a world populated by giants?
Todd: That's a good question, and it is one of the quandaries that many companies face. But it really does go down to some of those non-product innovations we talked about earlier. What is your profit model? That's something that you can certainly affect as a small company. Your network may or may not be a strength you have at that time. But your structure, how your company is structured for execution, the process enablement that you give to your customers as well as to your internal customers. And the channels that you pick to go through your customer engagement. Those are all things you can pick to really go ahead and tilt the scales in your favor.
If you think about it again from that special forces kind of mentality. You don't want to engage the enemy head on. You're going to lose, right? You want to go and fight a war of attrition. You want to become a force multiplier. You want to come from the angles that are least likely. I could tell you about both war time and actual peace time training missions that we pulled off, where we're thinking, what is the craziest, stupidest thing that we can possibly do? Attack from there. No one is going to think we're dumb enough to do it. And it worked. One of the weapons you have at your disposal is your size, and you're nimble and you’re flexible. You think about a big company trying to deploy some of those MVPs and it probably is more difficult because there is a brand risk. And the time it takes to go ahead and get something done is usually eons compared to a small start-up. A small start-up in my opinion could probably go ahead and do five MVPs in the time it takes me to do one.
You can go ahead and develop that product that much faster. Get that much more VOC. Really get something that's going to work. Then part of your distribution may be to partner with one of the giants through a licensing arrangement. So you're using the strengths that you have, which are nimbleness, which are proximity to the customer. And then you can leverage the strength of your big brother ally to go ahead and do what you need to do.
Sometimes you're in competition with the big guys, sometimes you're in partnership for lack of a better term. But long story made short, your nimbleness and your size as a weapon, it needs to be maximized.
Josh: One of the things you referenced to when you were talking about this was structuring for execution, I think is one of the phrases you use. As you're building a company, let's say you're on the small side and you're growing, how do you think about structuring for execution? What should leaders be trying to put in place as they're building a company?
Todd: I guess it depends upon what stage you're in. Let's assume that it's mid stage. You've got a number of employees. You've got some structure. You've got some assets. Number one, you've got to be decentralized. You have to let decisions be made at the periphery, at the tip of the spear. If as a Marine rifleman, I had to call back and ask, “mother, may I?” Well, we wouldn't be that effective. I'm going to put a plug in here for veterans working in corporate America, you were trusted literally with the lives of your own troops, and you were trusted in life and death situations many, many times, why would some VP not trust you with a business decision?
If not, then maybe the wrong leader's in charge. It has to be a decentralized organization that can go ahead and work around a central mission. If your tactical action supports that central mission or that central objective, take it. And that has to weigh against the question, is speed more important? Patton would always say, give me an 80% solution and execute it perfectly versus wait for the perfect plan and have poor execution. I firmly agree with that. Have something that's going to advance the ball, and if you can advance the ball let's say 80% or 90% in a direct course, it advances a heck of a lot faster than the person who is crawling along at the perfect direction. You're going to beat that person to the pie every time.
Josh: Yeah. One of the things that is a crucial dependency for what you just said is, you have to have clarity on what that central objective is. In an environment where stuff is changing rapidly, I think it's incumbent on leadership to make sure that people know what that objective is, so that then they're empowered to go and do what they need to do. That model breaks down where there is confusion or there is not clear information among the people who are actually out trying to make those decisions.
Todd: The one thing that I definitely want to leave with you and your readers and listeners is that when we're innovating, it's almost like how you and I met over a controversial statement. I encourage people to go out there and really advance disruptive ideas. If there really is value in it, the customer is going to show it to you, by you working with them, having them filling out your value chart, finding out what's really of value to them, that's important. The art of discovering, finding out what really works.
I used to walk in as a young sales or marketing guy and say, look, I'm going to save you 75 seconds on your cycle time. I'm a genius. Buy my stuff. And they would show me why it was no value to them. But if there's real value and you're working with a customer, find something that's different, find something that's controversial, find something that's big and go out there and keep pushing it. Eventually you're going to find the person who gets it. And that's going to be the person who helps you scale it within your own company or outside of your company or whatever. We're always going to push for incremental improvement, but get that big idea and just go with it. Push it hard. Eventually, if it's really true, someone's going to get it.
Josh: What if you're wrong?
Todd: On the big idea?
Josh: Yeah, what if you put yourself out there, you get the megaphone, you start shouting it from the rooftops and you're wrong, or you're afraid you're wrong. You're not validated quickly enough. What is that like?
Todd: That's the person I want on my team because if the person can be wrong, and put themselves out there like you said, that's the person who's going to advance the ball. If you don't fail every once in a while, you're not pushing the envelope, you're leaving a sick amount of profit on the table. You're leaving a sick amount of personal development for you and your team, undeveloped. You're not an A player then. I want that person on my team.
I remember I made a mistake early in my career at Ford Motor Company and this seemed like huge money at the time. I don’t even remember what the mistake was and it probably cost Ford maybe a 100 grand or something. In the grand scheme of things, that's peanuts. But to me it was like, oh my gosh, my whole world closing in on me. And I was ready to quit over it.
The boss said to me, “what are you doing? You just got a $100,000 education. If you make the same mistake twice, then I'll fire you. So get out of here. Go put to work what you just learned.” And that's a lesson that stuck with me. That's the person who's eventually going to get a big idea over the finish line, versus the person who is going to go into the corner and sulk and be a wimp and not want to push that envelope. I think those are the people that lead Marines, those are the people that lead companies and those are the people that lead in general.