Business is often portrayed as a battle against others. Metaphors run rampant about winning the game and beating competitors. Analogies talk of fighting a war for a limited piece of pie. It’s like a massive game of Survivor where you need to outwit, outplay, and outlast the others. But how do you play when an unexpected fiscal tsunami strikes and hits the entire island? You do so by running your business more like an episode of the three little pigs than Mark Burnett’s famous TV series of Survivor.
Just look at those three little critters. A small porky group of four legged animals. All appearing to be equal with each having the same opportunities available. All three open to the pending doom of the big bad Wolf of Bay Street, yet each stay in control of their own efforts and decisions. Three characters who can teach us a lesson about ourselves and the world of business.
Consider Ben. He was the first little piggy. He was an impatient piggy, always wanting to find the easy way to the trough. Times were good, everyone was feasting, and Ben wanted to be part of it. He too wanted a beautiful house of his own. So, one day along with some friends, Ben set out in search for materials to build his new house. He had financing and a desire to succeed. It wasn’t long into his journey when Ben met a farmer along the road with a load of straw. Ben was pretty sure it wasn’t the best material he could use, but he didn’t want to wait. He wanted to build his house as quickly as he could and start getting orders. “No waiting for me,” said the impatient little piggy. “There’s orders to fill and producers to serve. I’ll build my house quickly and get on to more important things.” And that he did.
Ben bought the straw and quickly built a fine straw house. He hired a freelancer to come up with a cool name, and he made himself a pretty neon ‘BenCo’ sign to mount on the side of his building. It was good. Everything was okay, and it was all he needed while things were booming. The phone would ring, and Ben would find some friends to fill orders and answer calls from producers too busy to be choosey. Unfortunately though for Ben, he thought all he had to do was be at the right place at the right time with any house, and dinner would be served. A lot of mistakes could be covered up during the days of $100+ bales of hay, and Ben was making one of significant proportion.
The second piggy, Bob, also wanted to be part of the feast. He was already eating well, but like many, he wanted more. You see, Bob already had a house. It was one that was built years earlier by his dad. It was a well-built house made of field stones and sticks, but Bob wanted it bigger. “It’s too small,” said Bob. “If it’s bigger, I can make more and take over the whole county.” So, he brought in some advisors, secured funding with his bank, and set out to expand his house.
Bob knew bricks would be the best material to use in building up his existing house of stones and sticks, but bricks would take time and require more effort to get. Not wanting to miss out, he decided to take a short cut. “I’ve already got sticks and stones, and I can get more without much effort. I’ll expand in no time and get back to the table quickly.” So, Bob set out to get his sticks. With one quick call, he found the first farmer available to bring him his load of sticks. They were ‘good enough’ for what he needed, so he purchased them and set out on building. They’d work fine to expand his house. They would certainly do.
It was only the third piggy who actually did what needed to be done. That piggy was Fred. Fred had a reputation as someone who never took the shortcut. While straw and sticks were readily available, he knew bricks were also there for his use. It took a bit more investment in time and effort than the other options required, but he knew it was necessary for when the storms would come and the wolves would gather. Unexpected situations would always arise. Fred wasn’t going to be the little piggy who’d get roasted. So, before the clouds could peak on the horizon, Fred invested in his house and his future. While he could have taken the easier route to pick up straw or pick up sticks, he knew the value in having a solid foundation. For Fred, it wasn’t so much about beating the other pigs. It was about surviving even the huffiest of puffs.
And, as the story continued, with the storm now past and the Wolf of Bay Street having fed on those other fat little piggies, Fred’s house was the only one to survive. And, based on the situations of the others, we might say he even thrived.
So, what’s the moral of this modern day tale? How can we learn to be more Fred and less Bob or Ben?
Start with a focus on your future, more than your today. Invest in the things that will provide long-term returns and stand the test of time. Research has shown investing in a well-positioned brand outperforms the S&P 500 and MSCI with an average return of 103%.
Then, work to beat the wolves more than you work to beat your competitors. When all the little piggies are battling the same big bad wolf, everyone must band together. And, although big bad wolves come in different shapes, sizes, and forms (i.e. government policies, environmental trends, socio-economic constraints, etc.), if it huffs and it puffs, it’s likely a wolf. Much of the marketing efforts we’ve put together for our clients have focused on reaching across industry associations and leveraging industry colleagues to grow their entire segment and ultimately their own business. It’s true all ships lift when the tides rise.
Lastly, never build a straw (or stick) house when bricks are available. For our clients in the B2B space, shortcuts will often lead to failure. We provide our clients with the insight and activities they need to grow their business. It’s about figuring out what makes them unique and valued, and it’s the foundation of being able to present their offerings in a way that stands out and gets them the attention they deserve. Building a sustainable value proposition must begin by knowing the real value you bring to your market and not by taking a shortcut to build upon what you ‘think’ they care about.
So, for those looking to survive beyond storms and wolves or any other unexpected calamity, take your time to build a solid foundation. It’s better to be huffing and puffing from putting in the work than to be the victim of a bigger huff and puff. Only survivors will thrive.