Innovation, Marketing and Why Founders are Let Go!

By G Joslin Vethakumar

I keep going back to Steve Jobs often for my posts. But it has seldom been without relevance. More so for this piece about iconic leaders being ejected from the companies they founded and about how innovation and marketing blend to give brand building the impetus businesses need.

It is not a question of what takes precedence over the other as marketing, too, requires innovative, multidimensional concepts to fuel selling through delivery of a rich Customer Experience (CX) – from solutioning to messaging.

Innovation title pic

Strong Collaboration

Bringing to the market innovative products aligned with customer expectations often involves a strong collaborative effort among key teams across all areas of the business spectrum – product development, product management and field/corporate marketing.

It is this kind of collaboration that is behind the successes of most companies with pioneering ideas and ground-breaking inventions. Whether it is Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Nike, Uber, Airbnb or Ikea, they owe their grip on the market to their products that meet the changing consumer demand and to the innovative marketing strategies they invested in.

Relentless Focus on CX

The Ikea Catalogue app on my iPhone is conceptually brilliant, executed with finesse. It allows users to virtually place the furniture you have in mind in your room (using the camera within) and get a 3D visual feel before you make the purchase. That’s great CX both in terms of the product and the marketing effect.

For most firms, Apps have become an impactful marketing tool. Amazon even describes its vision as a “relentless focus on customer experience (CX).”

Never adele moment

“Utterly-Butterly Delicious”

To pull up another personal example from my India past, the country’s top dairy brand, Amul, enjoys a preeminent position in the market with US$3.4 billion in annual revenues.

I doubt Amul will have enjoyed the strong presence it has now without the regular creative “utterly butterly delicious” campaign (through hoardings, publications, etc.). The ad agency behind it is daCunha Communications, representing copywriting at its innovative and coolest best, always topical and fun!

Content Marketing Strategy

Significantly, they all had a broadbased content marketing strategy which has assumed great significance in an era where business success is tied to effective social engagement. Powering this strategy is a clear focus on a wide range of areas – blogging, thought leadership / white papers, traditional media, email / mobile messaging, visual communications, analytics and more.

Just as no business model can be static, even as the values and corporate goals remain stable, the content strategy can also be expected to evolve with the times. But the underlying themes can be the same – compelling, authoritative and appealing!

Phelps and Amul

The Marketing Man Who Fired Jobs

When innovation and marketing coalesce well the outcome can be phenomenal, and this is seen in the successes of both Apple and Microsoft. Shockingly, it was PepsiCo marketing man John Scully, the one Jobs hired as CEO who fired him within two years after coming on board.

Several forces may be at work when founders see themselves out of the companies they built brick by brick with avant-garde solutions they helped develop for a digitally connected world. It can be too tempting to dismiss it as the mere result of egoism or uncompromising arrogance when reasons can run deep.

When Lobbyists Become Winners – Clash of Ideas, Disagreements with Strategies

The factors that scuttle their conviction and focus include a clash of ideas, ego centricity, disagreements with business strategies and pressure from investors in a brutal short-term numbers game where lobbyists become winners.

Jobs found himself out of Apple in 1985, a decade after he had co-founded the company with Steve Wozniak. Apple had gone public in 1980, making hundreds of its staff instant millionaires.

Getting listed in the stock markets opens a company to intense scrutiny and brings into the board investors who may care more about quick returns than about innovation or long-term potential. Also, a founder having to deal with more stakeholders is hardly a welcome distraction.

No Visionary Appeal, No Revolutionary Offerings

If innovation hits the bumps no amount of marketing can save a company from slipping fortunes. The two go hand in hand as good solutions need strong market visibility which together help create a compelling brand.

The 12-year period when Jobs stayed out of the realm of Apple the company found itself hurtling down with neither a visionary appeal nor products revolutionary enough to stir the imagination of the market.

But being shown the door turned out to be a welcome augury for Jobs as he went on to start two other successful companies, NeXT and Pixar, before eventually returning to Apple in 1997 to lead it to the peak as the most valued company in the U.S. and the world’s most loved brand.

His return saw the company unleash the game-changing products of iPod, iPhone and iPad throwing then leaders Blackberry and Nokia out of gear.

Cisco Founder was Fired Too

For five years during 2005-2010, I worked for Cisco Systems, a visionary company that was the darling of investors before the dotcom bubble burst and the stock market went bust. The company was founded by Sandy Lerner and her then partner, Leonard Bosack, in 1984.

Cisco went public in 1990 and Sandy found herself fired soon after. One of the company’s early investors was said to be behind her dismissal. In protest, Leonard quit Cisco and that left the two founders out of the company.

Amazon AirFacebook co-Founder Saverin Lives in Singapore

Among the popular leaders who had faced a similar predicament is Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, who moved to Singapore in 2009, renounced his American citizenship two years later and is now an angel investor. Saverin was let go from Facebook after disagreements with co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

A similar experience also befell Noah Glass, one of Twitter’s cofounders. He is credited with having coined the Twitter name but was sacked from the company in 2006.

Such examples abound in the ruthless world of business. But they are innovators who go on to make their presence felt through other ventures.

Celebrity CEOs

Only a handful of the founders become celebrity CEOs – like Steve Jobs, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Larry Page / Sergey Brin (Google/Alphabet), Jack Ma of Alibaba, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jerry Yang (Yahoo) or Tata and Birla in India.

Some brands become market icons (the likes of Sony, Nikon and Toyota) with their founders staying away from the limelight. Their marketing focus is rightly on the products they push with the business impact intact.

Whichever way we look at it, innovation and marketing are integral to the future of business. At least until the next bold new evolution!

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Business, Innovation and Marketing, Technology and Communications

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