Business: Competing With Your Ears Wide Open
COW Library : Business & Marketing : Ron Lindeboom : Business: Competing With Your Ears Wide Open
Failure is a master teacher because its lessons are burned into your psyche and are rarely forgotten. Its lessons are often replayed over and over until every nuance of meaning is understood from many angles. A hard teacher indeed, one that does not "grade on the curve." There is little mercy in its final grade. Graduation is usually accompanied by bruises and scars.
I have seen plenty of failure in my life, and as I wrote in our Film Values issue, failure along with my father, have been my two greatest teachers. And while my father did not hold my failures against me, the world of business is not as forgiving. In the current business climate, it seems to grow ever easier to fail. But the COW seems to defy the odds. We never stop trying to understand why.
Since its founding back in April of 2001, the COW has grown until - for the last few months - we have been averaging a growth curve of about 100,000 new visitors a month. Last December we crossed Google's million unique users a month marker. January, we hit 1.1 million. February, we crossed 1.2. In March, we are nearing 1.3 million visitors a month and crossed over 2 million visits a month. Will we keep this up? Who knows?
WHY DOES THE COW WORK SO WELL?
People regularly ask what makes the COW work as well as it does. Why does the COW defy the pundits who say that print is dying and businesses are feeling natural market forces that can't be reversed, only weathered?
As we say to these people, if these forces are immutable, then what forces are we privy to that assure we aren't subject to these market conditions? Why are we not experiencing these issues? Creative COW tripled in 2008 and is well on its way to the same kinds of industry- defying performance levels for 2009, with advertising sales already up 30% in 2009's first quarter alone.
In the COW's Business & Marketing forum we regularly discuss the "magic ingredient" that has allowed us to excel in a bad market - a market that is in such a state of flux, even the pundits are befuddled. What is the magic ingredient? I like to say it this way: God gave you two ears and one mouth, and wants you to learn something from the arrangement. Listen before you act. The greater market is telling you what they are willing to buy.
Few listen or address the market and answer the question it is asking. Fewer still "answer" with a viable solution that truly addresses the need expressed by the market. Instead, most businesses try to charm or bully their way into a sale, selling themselves instead.
Back a couple of years ago, we had some meetings with some of the prominent publishers in this industry who asked us why we were going into print when, to quote some of them, print was on its way out. We told them that print was still viable, but you have to give the audience what they deem valuable - something worth cutting down a tree for. If you only see your magazine as a way to sell advertising, and give the audience pandering content driven by ad sales - you dishonor both the trees you cut and the audience you could be serving.
Watch and listen to the market, remembering that you cannot answer every individual in that market - if you do, you will be forever spinning your wheels. Pick your battles, answer the questions and address the ideas that your "greater market" is talking about. In our case, we build the content and the resources around our audience and serve the market. Do we please everyone? No. Must we? No, but we try. Your business is the same; whenever you meet with a client, your goal is not to sell yourself, but rather your understanding of what they truly want you to do. That builds trust. But never let everyone in a market be your target or you will become ineffective and unfocused. Pick your battles.
This magazine is really about its audience - which is why we don't have staff writers and instead change the writers based on the subject matter - finding experts who can give our readers genuine insight from people succeeding in that particular niche of the market.
Our goal has been to listen to and build a support system that answers as many requests as is humanly possible to answer, from among the many questions that arise across our community. We cannot answer them all, so we listen and prioritize, picking our target. We listen, weigh the possibilities of our greatest likelihood for success - then act. We consider every voice but know we are limited in both time and resources and must focus on those we can serve. That's our secret; use it, it works.
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