Apr 28, 2011

Attention to Detail, Not Just for the Little Guys

When we think of big, established, multi-national corporations we often think of tired, slow, lumbering behemoths. In fact, it is my personal opinion that the corporations of the world actually create most of the entrepreneurial opportunity in this country. From their misguided approaches, to their lack of agility in being able to respond to market changes, most corporations are usually only good at one thing, generating a profit. And through this single-minded focus, things like excellence and innovation almost invariably get sucked out.

As entrepreneurs, often it is precisely these missteps which give us our opening. Plus, if our little companies were not able to stand in stark contrast to the daft, profit-sucking, soulless machines that most corporations are, no one would really ever care about what we are doing. That is, no one would get too excited about fighting the man if the man were already doing a good job. No, forget that. Down with the man, because the man sucks.

Most corporations are saddled with so many layers in their decision approval processes that they simply cannot help but to only approve the most unimaginative, least daring ideas. In my mind, corporations are more about defending resources against loss than about really doing something special. Oh sure, if they are able to do something special along the way that is fine, but really matters is being able to “make the quarter”. After all, no amount of innovation, creativity, or even customer goodwill can be a truly effective counterweight when you are losing your stockholder’s money.

Since many corporations are focused on only the end financial results, they can often miss many, many details along the way. That is, since they are not as focused on what they do as they are on the result of what they do, they can (and often do) make missteps and gaffes along the path of relentlessly pursuing the elusive profit growth they are after.

In contrast, most entrepreneurs get their start because they are able to solve problems in a better, more efficient way. Entrepreneurs get their ideas because they ARE paying attention, especially to the details. They know that the details are often what shape the customer experience, and if a big corporate incumbent is flubbing the experience, they can step in with their better mousetrap. By obsessively, and passionately, focusing on the details, many entrepreneurs are able to build something truly wonderful for their customers. In addition, most successful entrepreneurs I know are FAR more focused on the work they do than arbitrary awards they may receive someday. To them, the work is the reward, and all of the other items end up being perks (albeit sometimes rather nice perks) of the job.

However, sometimes, and I really mean just sometimes, there are big corporations who really pay attention (and thus make going head-to-head with them a much, much harder game to win). I came across one example of this today when I was browsing the Rolex site.

Now, I won’t go into how annoying I think the Flash element of their site is (to me, when Flash is used as the main navigational component of a website it almost cannot help but be annoying from a user-experience perspective). When I was browsing through their site, though, I made a very interesting observation. I noticed that the date on the watch I was looking at showed a date of “28” (today is April 28th). I thought this was a funny coincidence. Well, I thought this until I looked at every date watch on their site (even on the home page). Every single one of them read “28”.

This blew me away. For a detail that is so small (I am guessing that most visitors would miss it), a fair amount of work had to go in to creating this “feature”. Additionally, this idea must have been integrated into the site design early in the concept stages, since the mechanism to keep the dates all correct and in-sync had to be built into the site’s core framework. Instantly, I had a higher opinion of Rolex. I love these sorts of “think harder” approaches to design, and often these little touches are what endear me to a brand. Now, many of you might say, “Well I hope they are thinking harder, $8,000 is a lot to pay for a watch whose main features are a stainless steel band and sapphire crystal.” Be that as it may, this was a clever touch, one that, at least to me, shows they are paying attention.

So, hat’s off to you, Rolex (said the microscopic speck of plankton on the back of the gray whale). It is precisely these special touches that make it fun to be a consumer, and as a merchant of anything, isn’t that what it is all about?

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