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Strategic insights
What Does Being Awesome Mean?

Written by on May 2, 2014

Earlier this week, I posted a Plus article about how brands often forget that the most important social channel is what other people do about you. And I wrote how the key to your social strategy is to create 'sharable influence':

It's easy to create sharable content, and it's even easier to get people to like something. But creating sharable influence is something else entirely. A funny or motivational message can create sharing, but influence is the product of awesomeness.

You can't do this with advertising. You can't do this with search. And you can't do it with shallow social tactics. It's the product of being the best, and the one who is the most awesome.

This leads us to the obvious question. What does it mean to be awesome?

Actually, it quite simple. Awesomeness is not hard to do. It's the result of two elements. At first, you need to exceed people's expectations so that you raise above the crowd. And then all you do is to stick with it in a consistent way.

Awesomeness is surprise mixed with the feeling of value. And it's not hard to achieve.

Let me give you a couple of simple examples.

The first one is something so simple. NFL player Jordin Tootoo was greeted by a fan, and instead of just the indifferent 'hey' that one would expect. He instead stopped and gave this boy his hockey stick. The result is amazing:

Just look at the expression on this boy's face. Tootoo just secured himself a fan for life, and not just from this one boy, but from the millions of people who have seen the video.

This is the essence of awesomeness.

All you need to do is to act in a way that people don't expect you to. Everyone expected him to just be indifferent about it. It was just another fan. And while the actual interaction only lasted a few seconds, he generated instant awesomeness by ding the unexpected.

Granted, this example was spontaneous, which is not something you can plan or do as a strategy. Instead, it's all about culture and how compassionate your employees feel when they are engaging with your customers.

This is, sadly, rarely something we see in today's businesses. Instead, many employees see their customers as an annoyance, and their management teams are constantly trying to optimize the results to 'meet demand'.

The results is the opposite of awesomeness. If you only do what people expect you to do, people will never feel special about it.

But how can you translate awesomeness into a business strategy. Something that you do 'on purpose' as opposed to just random chance?

One good example is to look at the smoke alarm from Nest.

First, what do you expect from a smoke alarm? Most would say: "Something that beeps when it detects smoke in a room... oh, and looks nice." That's it.

This is exactly what you find when you go to your local hardware store. You will find 20 different smoke alarms, each doing exactly the same thing, but designed in a slightly different way.

This is what 'filling a need' looks like.

And, thus, the market for smoke alarms is quickly oversaturated and incredibly boring. Nobody makes any real money, and everyone is wondering why. Nobody is awesome

...until Nest arrived on the scene.

Nest is a company that is defined around being awesome. But how do you do that in a market that is as boring as with smoke alarms? It's simple. You exceed expectations. Instead of just filling a need, you look at what the market expects you to do and then you take it up a notch.

And this is exactly what Nest is doing.

As one person wrote over at Google+ (sorry, I can't find the link): One day, while sitting at work, his phone alerted him that there was smoke in his kitchen. With a normal smoke alarm, it would just beep, which he couldn't hear at work. And he would have returned home to a burned down house.

Now he could do something about it, so he called his wife at home who sheepishly admitted that she had burned some food.

But it's not only that. The Nest smoke alarm tells you where there is a problem, using the speakers in all the other smoke alarms in your house. So if you are upstairs listening to music and the smoke alarm goes off in your basement, you might not hear a normal smoke alarm, but the Nest alarm, in the room that you are in, will say "There is smoke in your basement".

And these are just some of the many features. Nest also makes an amazing thermostat, which works with the smoke alarms. As they write:

If Nest Protect's carbon monoxide alarm goes off, your Nest Thermostat automatically turns off your gas furnace-a possible source of poisonous carbon monoxide leaks.

How cool is that?

The amazing thing about all of this is that none of it is hard. It's not difficult to make a smoke alarm play a sound file saying "there is smoke in your kitchen", instead of just making it go 'beep'. It's not hard to send the signal over WIFI/internet and connect it to your phone. Just plug an Arduino circuit board into it. It's not hard to use the same connection to make all your other smoke detectors sound the alarm as well. Nor is it hard to design and code a mobile app where you can control it all. In fact, the mobile app is incredibly simply made.

What it does require them to do is to think and to dedicate the effort into being awesome. The reason why all the other manufacturers fail is because they don't really care about their product. They see 'effort' as a cost, whereas Nest sees effort as a strategy for success.

The result is quite telling. While most other manufacturers are living a life in obscurity, and focusing on optimizing low margins. Nest was just sold to Google for $3.4 billion, and its growth is booming.

And this is a company that makes something as boring as smoke alarms and thermostats. This is the effect of awesomeness.

What's really amazing about this is that brand value you get out of just one act of awesomeness. You don't actually have to be awesome every day. You just have to do it once to propel you up a level, and then you can stay there tweaking your product while the rest of the market tries to catch up.

Granted, once the rest of the market does catch, you need to be awesome again. But in the case of Nest, two acts of awesomeness are enough to make them the market leader for years to come. Even if someone else comes along with a similar product, people would still buy prefer one from Next.

It's the same with Apple. They created the iPhone which was awesome. But since then most of the competitors have caught up, and have even exceeded Apple in many areas. And while it's true that the iPhone is starting to feel a bit dated, it's still the number one phone by far if we look at single phone sales.

And we see so many examples of this.

Being awesome simply means that you look at your market and identify what people expect from it. Then you take that up a notch and you do something they don't expect. This creates instant awesomeness, because you are doing something that surprises people. The effect is a sense of value that provides you with a ton of brand credit.

And it's not hard to do, but you have to put in the effort. You can't do this if you approach is to just do things the cheapest and most optimized way possible. All the things you usually hear people talk about at management meetings is what is preventing you from being awesome, because they don't want to spend the effort of being special.

Being awesome applies to any industry and any product. And it's worth it.

Don't just fill a need. Surprise people.

...and don't forget to read: The Mystery of Our Social Traffic.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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