126: Your Company History Matters Less Than You Think
Small businesses and multinational corporations alike regularly tout how many years they’ve been in business. You’ll often see it in or near their logo. It’s that important to them. The longevity gives a sense of security to them which they hope represents reliability to potential customers.
Auction companies go so far as to translate their heritage into generations to make it more impressive. For a while, it was common to see an auction company’s history on the home page or one of the primary pages of their website. Now, most companies have moved it to the About Us area of their site, where it makes more sense.
See, consumers don’t care how long you’ve been in business. At least it’s not a priority to them. Buyers want to know that you have what they want when they want it. Sellers want to know you’ve got a lot of recent experience marketing this exact type of asset in current market conditions. Whether you’ve been in business eight years or 80 years only matters as a tie-breaker, if all other considerations are equal.
This coming September, Ebay will celebrate its twentieth birthday. In the past five years, they’ve almost doubled their revenues, which now gross over $16 billion per year. I respect the family operations that I serve and those I know through professional contexts. That said, no auction company I serve and very few within the industry put up revenue numbers like that. Not the second generation auction companies. Not the third generation firms. Not even the fourth generation brands.
Sears was founded in 1893. Amazon was founded in 1994. With which of these companies is the average North American consumer most likely to make a purchase in the next 6 months?
Encyclopedia Britannica opened for business in 1768. Google didn’t open its doors until 230 years later. But if you wanted to research anything—anything—which one would you consult?
In some exceptional sectors of the economy, your time in existence is still influential. Ivy League universities are Ivy League for a reason. For most commercial ventures and nonprofits, though, years in operation is only an interesting piece of trivia. It’s not that your company’s heritage isn’t an accomplishment. It’s just that the Internet, big box stores, and niche specialties have made retail business less about relationships and more about transactions. Rapidly-changing technology and media have made the standard recent success instead of longevity.
One risk a business takes in showing the black and white pictures of their past and using years that start with “19” in their institutional promotion is that you can give the impression of old fashioned. If you’ve got a local barbecue joint or funeral home, that might be a good thing. If you’re a company that wants to be known for online (or in-app) bidding and cutting-edge marketing, that might not. Typically, social media consultants aren’t AARP members.
As in other areas of advertising like message, design, and media, you have to push aside what matters most to you to make space for what’s most important to the customer. So, promote your solutions, your results, and your empathy. Spend more time on relevance than historic significance.
Taking It Personally
I was almost 25 years old, when I started my business. Even with 50 industry awards already under my belt through my previous employer, I thought my youth would count against me in an industry where the average practitioner was over 50 years old. So, I intentionally made all of my marketing materials look old. Hence: “biplane” and the sepia-toned images on my early collateral. (I even paid for the rights to use the Wright brothers’ patent drawings as a design motif.) As I got more experience across various asset categories and discovered that my age gave the assumption of a fresh perspective, I rebranded the look and feel of all of my media. I started writing blog posts and relied on my words—instead of my age—to convince people I was a valuable resource.
In my church life, I now regularly lead or even counsel guys older than me. It’s not because I’m some interpersonal guru—far from it. God asks his followers to bring people on the journey we’re walking, and he doesn’t specify ages or age disparity. The Apostle Paul told his young disciple Timothy not to let people discount his youth. We can be a friend at any age. We can be influential at any age. We can make a difference no matter how long we’ve been on the planet or on the journey.
Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com