Idea amplification

Hugh at gapingvoid continues to provoke. This morning, he offers this thought:

A company’s primary role is to function as an “idea amplifier”. Making and doing are mere subsets.

Most things companies make are actually pretty dull. Most things people buy are fairly mundane.

A computer is just a plastic and metal box you use to send e-mail write papers and whatnot.

A pair of running shoes is just some cloth and rubber that allows you to go jogging.

Coffee is just flavored hot water with some caffeine in it.

Yet Apple, Nike and Starbucks excite us. Why?

When I read this first, I really liked the idea of companies as ideas amplifiers. It put me in mind of the sort of fierce conversations that an organisation might have if it is to be a hothouse for creative thinking. As I read on, my initial enthusiasm waned. Because I for one don’t feel excited (well, not in a good way) by Nike and not that much by Starbucks. And in marketing, I have a soft spot for mundane products that do what they’re supposed to and spare me a whole lot of hoo-haa about changing my lifestyle.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Ideas are exciting but in marketing I think the big idea is way overrated. Hugh says

Think less about what your product does, and think more about human potential. What statement about humanity does your product make?

The bigger the statement, the bigger the idea, the bigger your brand will become.

I like the idea of connecting what we do with its impact upon our fellow man. It’s the “big” word that bothers me. My own experience of Starbucks is that it does a good job of big thinking about the environment… but its cafes in London are often messy. Take a look around and I think most brands are also-rans with ideas above their station.

What they need is not one monolithic idea but the honesty to pick up on the detail. Not one ring to rule them all, but sufficient variety of conversation that individual staff feel they can bring their own ego to work as well as assuaging those of the ad agencies. Idea amplifiers? Yes, if they build communities. No thanks if it’s just a megaphone for the self-deluding…

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