4 min

The one idea that will change your company forever

Clarity is key

When people ask me what my major takeaway is from running businesses for the last 20 years, I always say: clarity is key.

When a company’s leadership can finally nail their colours to the mast and get super clear on what their proposition is (e.g., what they do best, what they love and where they’re the most profitable), it is only THEN that a business can really start to thrive.

So many businesses move away from their core passion and expertise due to a client leading them astray. Clients often say, “Oh, could you help us out with____,” which distracts companies, and veers them off a central path. For example, a brand agency might be asked to dabble in search — but then fail, since it’s not their core skill. Nine times out of 10, straying from the course leads to a disappointed client and highly unprofitable work.

I don’t ever hear the words, “What we need around here is a little less clarity!” Clarity and singularity of vision set companies apart and lift the excellent from the mediocre.

I once had a client at the top of a large, corporate company; they were looking for a fully-integrated digital agency. I knew we’d be a good match — except in one area — and I let the client know that from the get-go.

In following the courage of my convictions, I ALSO risked losing the whole deal.

However, by showing confidence in our core offer we did not push the client away. Instead, it had the opposite effect, and it drew them towards us leading to a highly profitable and successful relationship.

The Hedgehog Concept

In my opinion, one of the top ten business books of all time is Jim Collins’ Good to Great. In the book, Collins investigates why certain companies outstrip their competition. One reason, he believes, is the Hedgehog Concept.

The Hedgehog Concept is based on the old parable, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”. Foxes can try to attack hedgehogs in many ways. They are crafty, and approach problems from different angles. However, hedgehogs only have one mission as their focus — defending themselves — so they slowly, carefully roll up tightly into a ball. Time and time again, they win out over the cunning fox.

There are many “fox” companies in the world: Like FedEx, which does shipments, but also office services. Time Warner was once a “fox” company, owning AOL, Warner Music Group and more.

However, there are some hedgehog companies that really get it right. Krispy Kreme is an example of a hedgehog company. Krispy Kreme has excelled at one thing since its founding — doughnuts — and they’ve never tried to market themselves as anything else. Another company that gets it right is Wyzowl; they make only animated explainer videos, and companies from across the world seek them out as partners.

In business, companies that try to conquer too many things at once won’t necessarily succeed. Instead, companies should be focused on one big thing, like the hedgehog, then devote all their energy, time and efforts to it.

Finding your ‘Hedgehog’

If you are frustrated that your messages are not getting heard, that clients are tough to win and keep, and that you are not attracting the right kinds of projects, I would recommend taking a step back and re-connecting to the reason you started your business. Ask yourself:

  • What do I love doing?
  • What are we exceptional at?
  • How can we do that profitably?

Your answer should uncover the real clarity of what you should be selling and to whom — like the hedgehog in the ball.

Resources

Below are some resources for you to dive into if you are interested in learning more about strategic positioning:

Books

Good to Great

Win Without Pitching Manifesto

Small Giants

Podcasts

Blair Enns