Think Small

Think Small
Jamie Lee Wallace - Mon Jul 06, 2009 @ 06:40AM
Comments: 18

Seriously - I mean it. Think small.

I've been working on a series of branding projects for the past few weeks. The thinking involved in this kind of work is BIG: strategy, the BIG idea, the grand vision, the mission.

In the midst of all these BIG thoughts, I am reminded how important it is to also think small. BIG thinking if often needed to inspire, but there are two important things to remember about BIG ideas:

  1. They are not actionable
  2. They are not your everyday currency

Big Ideas Are Not Actionable
Whether you are building a new company or marketing an existing one, your process will certainly involve BIG ideas. BIG ideas are fun. They are often easy to come up with: we want to be the biggest telecom company in the US, we want to have the best customer service department in the hi-tech arena, we want to support the most well-known financial institutions on the east coast. BIG ideas are by nature rife with gray areas. (Just read a handful of "About Us" pages on business Web sites and you'll get an idea of what I'm talking about. As Savvy guest Ardath Albee (@ardath421) described in her post about whether your Web site provides a competitive advantage, BIG ideas are often both "fuzzy" and interchangeable.)

The trouble with BIG ideas is that you can't really do much with them except shout them from the mountaintops. This is not a highly effective strategy. First of all, shouting from mountaintops - be they literal or virtual - is rude (you don't want to be "that guy" or a "me monster"). Unless you have something to back up your BIG idea claims, people will quickly become numb to your marketing message - relegating you to the "noise" category instead of bookmarking you as a valuable "signal."

In order to make the most of your BIG ideas, you have to break them down. That's right - you have to transform them into a series of small ideas that you can actually implement.

Think about it - could you effectively implement the idea "offer the best customer service?" I doubt it. But what if you were asked instead to implement a number of smaller ideas that, aggregated, build the best customer service: replace auto attendant with real people, respond to all emails within four hours, follow-up on every inquiry to ensure customer satisfaction. Bite-sized and measurable, these tactics are much easier to tackle.

As a bonus, think about how those small actions translate into marketing messages. You can now get really specific about what you're doing to back up your claim of offering the best customer service. You've created specificity and credibility. People will listen.

Big Ideas Are Not Your Everyday Currency
No matter how BIG the BIG idea is, we now understand that it's made up of smaller parts. These smaller parts, not the BIG idea, are your everyday currency - that with which you build your company's reputation and your business. In the same way that the most enormous machine is made up of myriad small parts and the most complex software is comprised of many separate lines of code, each relationship is made up of single interactions and each component of your marketing materials is created by combining individual words and images to convey specific messages to particular segments of your audience.

It is the foundation of these small ideas and unique interactions and messages that uphold your BIG idea. Think of it like a pyramid - thousands of small interactions at the base supporting a series of incrementally bigger ideas until you reach the apex where The BIG idea sits.

Although the devil may be in the details, the opposite is also true. Pay attention to the small things and you will find it much easier to build the company that lives up to your BIG idea.

How does your company pay attention to the small ideas and details? What type of exercises did you go through to define what the all-important pieces of your BIG idea?Have you experienced another companies small ideas in action?

More posts by Jamie Wallace

Related Posts:

Eight Things Your Prospects Wish You Knew by Michele Linn

Great Positioning Spins a Story that Matters to Your Audience by guest Rebel Brown

Customer Relationship Marketing - the Other Side of the Marketing Coin by Kate Headon

Comments: 18


1. Jonathan Kranz  |  my website   |   Mon Jul 06, 2009 @ 10:38AM

Agreed, Jamie. Big ideas tend to be either baggy thoughts or empty boasts. That's why I turn to my favorite marketer -- T.S. Eliot (he who wears his trousers rolled) -- for advice: look for the objective correlative, the concrete, material thing that communicates the big idea by embodying it. Example: David Ogivie could have written about Rolls-Royce's build quality and attention to detail. Instead he wrote, "At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock." The right detail trumps the big idea every time.

2. Jamie Wallace  |  my website   |   Mon Jul 06, 2009 @ 10:47AM

Ahhhh ... T.S. Eliot. Wonderful.
You're right - as in fiction, details "trump the big idea every time."
Details allow us to create a picture and pull us into the story - whether it's a novel or a marketing piece. Details lend authenticity and add interest.
Love the Rolls Royce example - makes the point poetically, doesn't it?
Thanks for stopping by!

3. John Bottom  |  my website   |   Mon Jul 06, 2009 @ 12:18PM

Lovely post Jamie. A friend (@markwschaefer) recommended your blog and now I know why. So it seems curmudgeonly to point out that BIG ideas have a really useful benefit in being really easy to understand and follow. And if you have a BIG simple idea it gives you a nice, broad direction to follow, allowing individuals to use their own initiative in creating their own small details, safe in the knowledge that they are working towards a common (and officially sanctioned) goal. But in the interests of balance, I thought it needed to be said. I will be back. RSS. Click.

4. Jamie Wallace  |  my website   |   Tue Jul 07, 2009 @ 08:18AM

So very nice to meet you. I'll have to thank Mark. :)
I appreciate your comment. I agree that BIG ideas are important in many ways - they inspire, provide an ultimate destination, and are - as you point out - simple and broad. I don't think you're being a curmudgeon at all for pointing these facts out.
Ultimately, BIG and small ideas need to exist in a sort of symbiosis, right? The BIG idea provides the goal while the small ideas provide a way to reach that goal. The BIG idea inspires and fuels the efforts while the small ideas provide the tools that allow you to make measurable progress.

Just visited your blog - you also have a new fan. In your words, "Rss. Click."

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