Can publishers cheat their way to a more profitable future? Yes!
Oftentimes when looking for solutions to difficult challenges, we seek help from experts with decades of experience and past successes in their field. So when faced with the disruptions brought on by the digital revolution, it was only natural for the publishing industry to assume their incumbent, trusted executives would successfully lead the way forward.
I was no different. When confronted with a dilemma in my life and work, I would typically seek counsel from those older and wiser than me.
But then I met a young man named Brian Wong – a 25-yearold Canadian entrepreneur who graduated from university at 18, made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 three times and became one of the youngest people to ever raise venture capital funding – US$24M before the age of 25.
Wong launched Kiip in 2010 – a unique mobile advertising network that uses rewards to redefine how brands engage consumers. Named as of the world’s 50 Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company, Kiip powers rewards in 4,000+ iOS and Android apps and works with over 700 top brands around the globe.
Brian recently published his first book, The CHEAT Code – a collection of 71 bite-sized gems of cheats/ hacks/shortcuts that offer very practical advice for many business and publishing executives that find themselves running organizations in a rapidly changing and challenging, competitive landscape.
The book can be read in a day and reads just like he’s chatting with you over a beer. It will never win a Pulitzer Prize, but it does contain advice that is thoughtful, provocative and makes sense if you’re willing to open your mind to new “off script” ideas and strategies.
Brian’s cheats refute many entrenched business practices – practices that no longer work in this digitally-dominated world full of those maddening millennials.
This phenom is a breath of fresh air in a world that often stinks of status quo, conventional non-wisdom and corporate insanity – i.e. doing the same things over and over expecting a different outcome.
Here are a few particularly interesting “cheats” to which publishers should pay attention…
Cheat 1: Know your Superpower
Too often we try to get better at things we’re not very good at instead of focusing on investing where we excel and making that even better. To Wong, this is absolutely the opposite of what we should be doing. Brian believes that everyone has a “superpower”– a talent or skill that differentiates them – something that they do better than most other people.
In publishing, that talent is journalism and it created a US$65B industry that peaked in 2000. But soon thereafter, panic of losing print revenues kicked in and publishers started to kill the hands that had fed them for over 300 years.
Instead of nurturing what they were really great at in 2001
– quality content – publishers started down the slippery slope decimating their newsrooms.
Sadly, as the quality of newspaper content in North America took a nosedive and circulation plummeted, advertisers predictably hiked over to Facebook and Google because that’s where the money was.
Gause’s Law of competition exclusion states that “when two species that occupy a similar niche in the same location cannot coexist stably for extended periods of time, one species will either become extinct or evolve to fill a different niche.”
When we consider newspapers and social media, it’s hard not to think about Ross Dawson’s predications about the extinction of newspapers. But it doesn’t have to be a doom and gloom finale.
Music was in a similar predicament not that long ago and is making a reversal of its misfortunes. Its renewed focus on the superpower of super talented artists and in giving fans what they really want is turning the industry around.
So although the clock is ticking, there is still time for publishers to reinvest in what made them great: Engage with news-hungry audiences who want to participate in the creation of quality content and evolve to fill a profitable niche where their core competency is their competitive differentiator.
Which brings us to…
Cheat 30: Reinvent or Die!
We’ve heard this before, but do we know what it means? Brian gives two excellent examples to show it in action.
One was when Apple Inc. removed the word “Computer” from its name in 2007 and Steve Jobs started telling the world that Apple was now a lifestyle company. It was quite ingenious because it integrated Apple into people’s day-to-day lives, becoming something they couldn’t live without. Sounds a lot like how mainstream media was two decades ago, doesn’t it?
Under Armour reinvented itself by purchasing three apps that tracked health, fitness and nutrition. Almost overnight the athletic apparel company became a digital sports business and grew into the world’s largest network of health and fitness applications.
As Wong noted, “Those who adapt to change can eventually make change. Once you reach that level, adaptation is easy because you’ve not just predicted the future, you’ve created it.”
Cheat 42: Know When to Let Go
Knowing when it’s time to let go of an idea or company is a skill even the largest and most successful companies often fail at. Brian uses Kodak and its invention of the digital camera back in 1975 as an example.
At the time, Kodak made most of its money on film, so it basically abandoned the digital camera product and ended up bankrupt. It attempted to make a comeback, but never really succeeded because it left the door open for others to capitalize on the digital revolution. Today, Kodak isn’t even a player in the photo industry, relegated to the commercial printing business.
Kodak was another victim of The Innovators Dilemma with its inability to let go of the past. Sound familiar?
“Those who adapt to change can eventually make change. Once you reach that level, adaptation is easy because you’ve not just predicted the future, you’ve created it.”
Cheat 71: Imagine, What if?
Brian Wong is wiser than his age would suggest and in closing I’d like to share something he said that resonated with me, “Curiosity is the root of all ambition. There is nothing more powerful for igniting the human spirit than curiosity. It melds emotion and rationality into a transcendent state of mind that’s full of wonder.”
It has also been my experience that curious minds often spawn “strokes of genius” because instead of waiting for serendipity to happen to them, they often create it.
I invite you to be curious for just a few moments and watch this Spotlight interview with Brian Wong. And keep an open mind that you, with all your wisdom and experience, can learn something from someone half your age.
Then, try to hold on to that curiosity a little longer and put yourself in a position to generate your own serendipity by reading
The Cheat Code.