The 4 P’s of Soul

The Internet today is filled with an over-abundance of information, short term opportunistic thinking, features posing as businesses and me too products (fast follows) and services all vying for our attention.  Only the strong will survive and the strong will always have a great product that solves a real problem, has a clear value proposition and a soul.

The soul of your product, service or organization is the one thing that is hard to copy.  It is the thing that makes you special and differentiated.  If you fight to protect it you will build a great brand that is distinctive, memorable and long-lasting.  Great brands in turn will find users and revenue in an organic and beautiful way and this is the only kind of business you want to start or work for.  The catch is you and your team must absolutely stick to your vision and not be swayed by others.  This can be very hard to do especially if you are starting a new company in a new market or trying to re-invent an old one.  You will encounter more people that tell you it won’t work than those that tell you it will.  If you can ignore the negative and soak in the positive you will stay on track and remain motivated through all the ups and downs.  All great things are hard. There is no such thing as an overnight success or free pass to greatness.  You need to work at it and be tested constantly.  How you react to these challenges will make you who you are as a person, team and company.

Your number one goal needs to be to create and nuture your soul.  Know what makes you special and fight like hell to protect it.  In order to birth your soul you need to know what components it should be made of.  Over the last 17 years I have built a system for developing your product, service and organizational soul.  While there was a lot of trial and error over that time period I was able to take what I learned and use it to create a definitive guide to creating soul, something I call the 4P’s of Soul.

The 4 P’s of Marketing

Before we get into the 4P’s of Soul we need to talk about the 4P’s of Marketing.  For all of you non-marketing and business school types the original 4P’s of Marketing are product, price, place (distribution) and promotion.   The Four P’s were first introduced in 1960 by Michigan State University professor Edmund Jerome McCarthy in an effort to simplify the concept of the Marketing Mix.
  • Product – The thing that you are selling that satisfies the customer need.
  • Price – The amount customers pay for the product or service.
  • Place (distribution) – Where customers can get this product or service.
  • Promotion – How customers find out about the product or service.
While you must continue to understand and master these fundamental marketing practices they are just table stakes.  Rising above the noise is much harder in todays world and you need to build a unique offering that creates a lasting relationship with your customer over time, you need to build a brand.
The 4P’s of Soul
Your soul is your brand.  It is the why behind what you do, your life’s purpose as a company and your reason for existence.  Defining your soul and stretching yourself and your team each day to reach it is how you become a great brand.  So how do you start? How do you define your soul?  What is the process?  How long does it take?
In order to start you must know the components that make up ones soul and work through an organic process to find YOUR answers not someone else’s.  This will require some soul searching for you as an individual and for your team as an organization.  This takes time, please do not rush the process, it must be organic or you will not get to the real answer.  Over the years I have found that there are four key components that you should think about in this order; Purpose, Passion, Personality and People.
Purpose & Story – Meaning, reason why, your story.  This is absolutely the first and most important stop on your journey.  This is something that should very closely reflect your own personal values and life purpose so you will not need much time to get to a nice starting place.  This is the foundation that you will build your entire culture, product and business on so make sure it is something bold, aspiring and longterm (7-10 years) so it can stand the test of time.  One of the best examples of a company with a strong purpose and story is Amazon.  Jeff Bezos is a great leader who not only created the mission but created a great story and communicated it in a way where everyone was aligned. Story makes you who you are and it drives your strategy by giving everyone the context they need to contribute to the overall success of the organization.  Ben Horowitz from Andreesen Horowitz articulated this well in his “How Andreesen Horowitz Evaluates CEO’s” post (excerpt below).

The Strategy and the Story

The CEO must set the context that every employee operates within. This context gives meaning to the specific work that people do, aligns interests, enables decision-making and provides motivation. Well-structured goals and objectives contribute to the context, but they do not provide the whole story. More to the point, goals and objectives are not the story.  The story of the company goes beyond quarterly or annual goals and gets to the hardcore question of why? Why should I join this company? Why should I be excited to work here? Why should I buy your product? Why should I invest in the company? Why is the world better off as a result of this company’s existence?

When a company clearly articulates its story, the context for everyone—employees, partners, customers, investors, and the press—becomes clear:  When a company fails to tell its story, you hear phrases like:

  • “These reporters don’t get it.”
  • “Who is responsible for the strategy in this company?”
  • “We have great technology, but need marketing help.”

The CEO doesn’t have to be the creator of the vision. Nor does she have to be the creator of the story. But she must be the keeper of the vision and the story. As such, the CEO ensures that the company story is clear and compelling.

The story is not the mission statement; the story does not have to be succinct. It is the story. Companies can take as long as they need to tell it, but they must tell it and it must be compelling. A company without a story is a usually a company without a strategy.

Want to see a great company story? Read Jeff Bezos’ 3-page letter he wrote to shareholders in 1997. In telling Amazon’s story in this extended from—not as mission statement, not as a tagline—Jeff got all the people who mattered on the same page about what Amazon was about.

Some other great examples of purpose and missions that are big, bold and long term are:
  • Google – “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”
  • Southwest Airlines – “Dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service deliver with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride and Company Spirit”
  • Zappos – “Provide the best customer service possible.  Internally we call this our WOW philosophy”
  • Twitter (new mission as of 2011) – “To instantly connect people everywhere to what’s important to them”
  • Facebook – “To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”
While these are just a few you can get a sense for how important the bigness and boldness are.  As an organization you cannot have a purpose that is too easy to attain or you will constantly be recasting your mission to reach for something more grand.  Spend the time to do this part right and get to the true answer.  Everything you do will be based on this mission.  If it is clear you and your team can get through anything.  If it is not you will be a ship without a rudder.

Passion – Drive, Energy, Best At.  The next question to ask and answer is what are you passionate about.  What do you obsess over and constantly think about?  What do you feel you and your team were put on this earth to do?  What vault of experience do you have (10,000-hour rule) to draw from that creates an unfair competitive advantage for you?  What are you the best in the world at?  This is a tough question for all organizations especially ones just starting out.  My advice is to build on top of your newly created purpose foundation.  Your passion should be closely aligned with your purpose.  You should get a vision of the future by looking to your past.  Do forensics on your resume and the resume of the team.  Look at everyones individual journeys over the years.  What got you all here and ask the question why do you think you are all now together.  The answer will feel like it is presenting itself to you as you go through this process.

Personality – Identity, Voice, Style and Taste.  Most magazines, talk shows, movies use the same format or structure.  Even though the form may be the same the personality can be totally unique and different.  This is what people will remember.  How will you communicate your purpose and passion?  How will things resonate with an audience of like minded people?  How will you speak to them?  You must think of your organization as a person.  Would this person be serious or funny, dad-like or nurturing?  Would they lead by action, inspire and comfort or will they get results more through hard driving, analytical, school of hard knocks means.  There is no one way that is right or wrong there is only what is right for you as an individual and your team as a group.  In order for you to be happy and fulfilled you must be in agreement with who you are both inside and outside.  Your personality is the merchandising and packing of your inside so make sure it is 1) accurate, 2) hand crafted and 3) differentiated.

Love the personality that comes through in the marketing copy "at least you are not on hold"

People – “Create Rabid Evangelists”, Guy Kawasaki.  The greatest power of soul is a positive by product of doing all of the above correctly.  If you create a great product or organization with a meaningful purpose, passion and strong personality you will create an army of evangelists. They will sell for you, market for you and defend you day in and day out as long as you continue to delight them.  No business or organization today can survive without the power of the people in this global, social, real-time, always connected, computer everywhere world.  This is truly the greatest reward of the entire soul creation process.  When you see millions of people absolutely in love with your product, service or company culture you know that you have done something that will change the world in your own little or big way.

Start your soul creation process today, the sooner you do the sooner you may enrich someone else’s.

Some great tips on how to make meaning from Guy Kawasaki, longtime Mac evangelist and VC.