Inbound Marketing Summit 2011 – Embracing Your Negatives

The genius can be in the negative. That was the message delivered by Youngme Moon, Chair of Harvard’s MBA program, at last week’s Inbound Marketing Summit in Boston.

All companies have weaknesses. Marketers often try to cover them up by highlighting the more favorable qualities of their product or service or investing major resources to improve them. Others just pretend they don’t exist altogether. But if you’re trying separate from the market, according to Moon, shying away from your negatives is a poor idea. The better strategy: embrace them.

Your customers will always tell you how to improve and evolve your service, but most of the time, their feedback will only make you more like your competitors.  If your goal is to stand out and be different, lopsidedness outweighs well-roundedness. In other words, it’s better to be known as great in a few things and below average in something else than just all-around average in everything.

Take a look at these two examples. When Google and Twitter entered the market, they were pressured to change and improve what the public felt were major flaws. But today, their ‘weakness’ is what separates them so much from everyone else in the market:

Twitter: “140 characters only – are you kidding me?” That, in a sense, represents the flurry of negative media, corporate and consumer feedback that Twitter received when it first launched. Today, its 140 character limit is what makes Twitter stand out so boldly.

Google:  Five years ago it was crazy to think that a platform could offer advertising but limit advertisers’ creativity by giving them no say over the style, font, size or pictures of their advertisements. Today, the Google platform is the model for online marketing.

For Google and Twitter, the negatives in their product not only helped them stand out, but turned out to be their genius.

The lesson: your customers can always tell you how to improve, but they’ll never tell you how to be different. That’s up to you.