Finding your own light bulb moment

It is 50 years to the week that President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Among the many black and white TV news clips of speeches made by JFK that I’ve been watching this week, one sentence in particular struck a chord with me:

JFK2“In each of us there’s a private hope and dream which, if fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone.”

That may sound like a lofty ideal. However, I sincerely believe that as marketers, we all need the conviction to want to make a positive difference for the organisation or enterprise that we are part of and serve. Nothing less will do.

To create something valuable out of nothing more than a compelling vision, or set of principles, is what great marketing is all about. That’s the ‘light bulb moment’.

A few years ago I had the privilege of meeting one of the most successful businessmen of his generation, a gifted marketer in the same class as Sir Richard Branson.

Mike Harris was the founding CEO of telephone bank First Direct and internet bank Egg. He created two one-billion GBP businesses and was credited as one of the chief architects who transformed financial services worldwide.

Mike shared the story of being invited to meet Bill Gates at his palatial home overlooking Lake Washington, near Seattle.

“I was full of nervous excitement mixed with nervous anticipation,” he told me. “The Microsoft CEO Summit I was invited to attend is a serious event with heavy weight presentations and panel discussions. I finally got to shake hands with Bill later that evening and introduced myself to him. ‘I know Egg’ replied Bill. ‘I gave the keynote at a conference where one of your guys spoke last month.’ I went on to tell Bill that Egg and Microsoft had been working together for a while on some new ideas and how we seemed to share something of a common philosophy.”

What surprised and delighted Mike was that Bill Gates seemed to know a lot about Mike’s company, which was infinitesimally smaller than Microsoft. Given the hundreds and thousands of other such relationships Microsoft had all over the world, it was curious that Egg had made such an impression.

“The secret is to infect others with your enthusiasm,” said Mike. “Bill himself has said that sharing his enthusiasm is what he does best and he’s not alone in this fundamental belief. The ability to express your enthusiasm and instil it in others is the key to turning your big idea into reality.”

After meeting Mike I had my own ‘light bulb moment’ and created the cartoon series Guru in a Bottle.

Looking back at that conversation and subsequent advice from Mike, there are ten steps to finding your ‘light bulb moment’ that can apply to any situation where you are seeking to make a marketing impact.

Step 1: Unleash your enthusiasm.

The energy you have to engage with others in a new product, service, campaign or cause can make all the difference between success and failure even before you’ve got going.

Step 2: Create a bold and inspiring future goal.

For Mike, separating the ends from the means is absolutely vital to creating future success. Having a clear vision and purpose may sound simple, but in practice it’s one of the toughest challenges facing any organisation or enterprise.

Step 3: To create a compelling business and marketing plan, listen to critics who count.

This is part of the ‘proof of concept’ phase. It ensures that you don’t become blinded by your own shortcomings or get carried away with your own vision. It’s a reality check.

Step 4: Have the necessary customer insight.

In my latest book, High Impact Marketing That Gets Results, this is summarised as attitudes, values, beliefs, perceptions and behaviours.

Step 5: Produce a financial plan and ensure that adequate resources are in place.

Inadequate budget or capital will kill off a great idea.

Step 6: Know your ends from your means.

Mike explained that this means defining a set of interim ends (a year ahead) that is the first step towards achieving the ultimate goal. It means allocating resources in order to achieve those ends, allocating accountability for the achievement of each end, monitoring progress and knowing what was fixed, and amending the means to achieving those ends throughout the year if necessary.

Step 7: Embrace brand, reputation, public relations and marketing.

The narrative around the product, service, cause or campaign needs to be very carefully thought through and packaged as a compelling and memorable story.

Step 8: Create a culture to deliver the brand promise.

For Mike, this is about continually communicating what you believe in, what you are doing and why.

Step 9: Take smart risks.

Every step towards the big and inspiring future goal needs to be carefully chosen and well thought through.

Step 10: Create a dedicated team that share the vision and purpose of the product, service, cause or campaign.

Success can’t be achieved by a single CEO or CMO, no matter how brilliant they may be. It requires teamwork and choosing the appropriate people to accompany you on that journey.

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