You’re not that important. Seriously, you’re not “all that”.
The Bad News
If your business disappeared tomorrow, people would get over it. Sure, some might be inconvenienced, but eventually they’d move on and find something else to replace you. If my little business disappeared, and this blog disappeared, my clients and readers would live. They might mourn a little, but the void in their life could be filled very quickly by someone else.
And it’s not just small businesses that aren’t important, it’s the big ones. If McDonalds, or Microsoft, or even Apple went belly up tomorrow, we’d get over it. Yes, even my Apple Kool-Aid drinking friends would survive. We’d move on. We’d flourish. The sun would still rise.
The fact is, that in the grander scheme of things, none of us is that important. We are all replaceable. Not one employee of any company is irreplaceable. We might say they are, but if they took another job with another company, guess what: we’d…replace them.
I was thinking about this the other day while talking about radio formats with my son. (Yes, these types of conversations do happen.) Last year the local smooth jazz station (think: Kenny G) changed to a classic rock format. Add to this that it was the only smooth jazz station in the area, and there are several other stations that would classify as “classic rock” in the region. So they went from being the only game in town, with no head to head competitors, to jumping into the fray against quite a few stations.
Might not make sense, but I’m sure it was an economic decision driven by a desire to get more listeners in better demographics so that they make more money. Smooth jazz fans now had nowhere to go; at least not on broadcast radio. Were they upset? Yes. Did they voice their displeasure? Probably.
But the sun still rose and life went on. They’ve moved on to either different types of music, or satellite radio, or their own music collection on CD or MP3.
They filled the void…with something.
If none of our businesses are all that important, what are we to do?
It comes down to the value proposition. While we are here, while we are in business, we need to figure out who we are and what we offer, and more importantly, what makes us different. What sets us apart from our competitors? How am I as a marketing and communications strategist and consultant any different from others in my field?
It might be cost. It might be customer service. It might be a superior product. Or greater value.
None of those makes my business indispensable and irreplaceable. But they do help in setting me apart from others.
The Good News
OK, so I’m being a bit of a downer today, but it’s just to make a point. The fact is, while our businesses might not be all that important, we as individuals are incredibly important. We value people more than we value businesses, organizations, and institutions. And that’s the way it should be.
Think about your most meaningful business connections. More than likely your tie to a business is more about a personal relationship with an individual in that business, than the actual business. Of course I’m thinking mostly on the scale of smaller businesses here, but this principle can translate to larger businesses, as well. We are more loyal to people than we are to businesses, products, or brands. And as individuals that operate within a business framework, we need to value our customers in the same way.
Captain Gus Understood This
I thought about this a lot this past week upon hearing the news of a local businessman. Gus Karpouzis emigrated to this area from Greece at the age of 6. In 1968 he opened up Captain Gus’s Steak Shop just three blocks from where I now live. I ate there in the mid 1980s while working in radio in the area, and remember talking to him at that time. When I moved back a few years ago, I was happy to see that he was still there, and have enjoyed a few cheesesteaks as well.
But when word of Captain Gus’s death hit my local Facebook community, there was one word I kept seeing over and over again:
Everyone loved Gus, and described him as a legend. Larger than life. Legendary. And this was just in a few posts. It seemed as if just about every one of my local friends was talking about Captain Gus, either by posting something about his passing, or sharing memories as they commented on posts. News of his death was prominent in the local news outlets as well.
But the interesting thing is that Captain Gus’s didn’t really do any marketing to speak of. They have no real social presence online and don’t even have a website. If you went to Captain Gus’s Steak Shop for the first time, you might actually be underwhelmed; at least on first impressions. It’s not the most compelling building, there is very little parking, and quite frankly, I bet the decor inside isn’t much different than it was back in 1968. Very few upgrades and improvements. The building sits on a plot of land that by today’s standards would not be considered a good location for a restaurant. In fact, I think if Captain Gus’s disappeared and someone tried to put a new restaurant on that land in 2012, they would probably fail. There is very little parking.
But Gus understood something. He understood that more than marketing or location, he first needed a good product. But beyond that, he was all about community and customer service. Gus got to know his customers well. For more than 40 years he did more than serve food. He sat down with his customers and shared stories with them. He did magic tricks for the kids. He talked about fishing. And it wasn’t uncommon to walk in and see some squash, zucchini, tomatoes, or other fresh vegetables from Gus’s garden sitting on the counter, for anyone to take, for free.
In short, he became a part of their lives.
Take some time to watch this news report on the passing of Captain Gus. Listen to what is friends, customers, and family have to say about him and his legacy.
He understood that the best marketing is to do your job, do it well, and treat your customers well. And now that Gus is gone, people are remembering him fondly.
As you conduct business in your particular market, what kind of legacy are you leaving. Are you seeking only to be rich, or are you seeking the same kind of “wealth” Gus sought after? How will people remember you? In your work and in your life, what kind of mark are you leaving?