October 22, 2013 / BRANDS ARE LIKE PEOPLE AND PEOPLE ARE LIKE BRANDS
October 22, 2013
Why do number ones not seem to stay number one very long? Being the best in the industry, and being a top-of-mind brand, doesn’t seem to provide the sustainable competitive edge as it once did. In fact, it seems that once you’re on top, it’s a sure sign there’s danger ahead. Perhaps this is why we see companies like Nokia, Blockbuster and Bang & Olufsen—once well-known companies—rapidly slipping down the slope of success after being the number one for so long.
Not so long ago, being number one was a key indicator of long-term success. If you were the top-of-mind brand of your industry, or the number one choice in your product category, being on top simply kept you on top. Buzz would spread and create a rallying cry for your brand, ensuring popularity.
Today, pity the brand on top for they are living in a glasshouse—facing overwhelming pressures, being in the center of the pubic eye and often the target of the social conversations. All of these factors can psychologically impact a brand making them extremely vulnerable to “The Curse”—the fatal mindset that sets in when a company’s focus shifts from “let’s win” to “let’s defend our lead.”
But there’s hope. The solution is to understand the simple psychology of soccer’s 2-0 lead and its dark side: the danger of being totally stupid.
We all hate to see our favorite brands struggle to survive and unwittingly commit self-sabotage. So in the spirit of cheering on our winners, I’d like to share the secrets of The Curse and The Cure that Danish soccer teams have discovered to win games once they are ahead.
The Curse: The Paralysis of Advantage
In professional soccer, a 2-0 score is considered a very dangerous lead that leads to the paralysis of advantage. Coaches, players, and spectators have all come to dread it as losing the game, when leading with two goals, has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A 2-0 lead means the team that’s ahead has superior competency which, in principle, should build confidence into tactics, actions, and skills, and take the lead farther. Winning the game 5-0 should be the logical outcome, not struggling to pull out a 2-1 win or eventually losing the game.
But there’s a reason why being in the lead actually often jeopardizes the win.
It’s what drives the universal curse plaguing all the number ones. When the game begins, both sides are equal. But once one team is ahead, the mentality shifts—instead of focusing on great execution, they start worrying about defending their lead instead of winning the game, which inevitably diminishes their game. It’s the mental state of passion, hunger and courage that brings the team to the lead, while panic, complacency and fear that ultimately lead to failure.
The Cure: Never Look Over Your Shoulder
In the turbulent business environment, with its constant flow of change and new brands sitting on the sidelines waiting to attack, defending the lead is a losing proposition. Don’t sit still and wait for someone else to make the move. Focus on the real game—your customers—not your competition to keep the competitive flames fanned. Companies and business leaders need to keep listening, keep caring, keep creating, keep innovating, and keep sharing new value with their customers. Keep your eyes on the ball and not the scoreboard.
Just before Blockbuster lost its lead, Netflix wasn’t even a major player in industry. But as the playing field started to shift, Blockbuster started to see their 2-0 advantages starting to slip. Could they have cured the curse by diving deep into their customers’ ideas and experiences? Working harder to learn and react to the shifting passions and preferences for watching movies? Could Blockbuster have avoided their painful fall by escaping the traps and stupidity of their dangerous lead?
If your brand or company is leading your industry today, imagine the following scenario… It’s halftime. You’re the coach. Your team is ahead 2-0, and you’ve got a 15 minute break and a second leg at your disposal. What do you do to keep your lead? Simply ask this question before your competitors or some kid from Stanford or India or Denmark does: “How can we avoid looking over our shoulders and getting sucked into self-sabotage, and instead watch the ball and drive hard toward our next goal?”
Ratchet up your passion, urgency, creativity, speed, and courage. The lead is yours to lose.
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