Conversation: Roy Osing, author of "Be Different or Be Dead"

In a time of so many business closures, it's refreshing to hear someone talk about business marketing in dire terms....

By Lance Henderson

In a time of so many business closures, it’s refreshing to hear someone talk about business marketing in dire terms.

Roy Osing, former chief marketing officer with Telus, Canada’s second largest telecommunications company, recently released his first book titled, “Be Different or Be Dead: Your Business Survival Guide.” In the book, Osing relays ideas and experience gained over 33 years in a complex and growing industry. He spoke at Fairhaven’s Village Books on Jan. 13.

Osing said his time at Telus exposed him to all aspects of the telecommunications business.

“That allowed me the opportunity to learn a lot and try a lot,” Osing said. “The book itself is based on my experiences of doing stuff, trying stuff, failing at it, winning at it, etc. It really is based on stuff that I did. It is not theoretical mumbo jumbo. It’s founded in solid business principles, but it works. I actually did it.”

Osing said since his book is based on experience, it is focused on the execution of the book’s principles and is filled examples and practical applications. The book also reads more like a text book with easy-to-understand main ideas and review points at the end of each chapter.

“There is no sense learning this stuff if you can’t do anything with it,” Osing said.

To learn a little bit more about the “Be Different” strategy, The Bellingham Business Journal sat down with Osing to discuss being unique, adding value and creating dazzling service experiences.

The Bellingham Business Journal
: Why do you think being different is key to business survival?

Roy Osing: Right now, the marketplace is characterized by a ton of competitors, a whole bunch of communications clutter, multiple choices, the Internet, which empowers people to research who they want to do business with, and fickle customers, who will leave you in a heartbeat for a better offer. Given those dynamics, businesses need to create relevant, compelling and unique reasons why people should buy from them. If they can’t, they won’t and if they don’t buy from you, you’ll die. It’s as simple as that.

My thesis is to be relevant and understand the compelling needs of your customer, create unique value that only you provide and deliver it flawlessly. If you can do that, you’ll not only survive, you’ll thrive. Your top line will go through the roof and you won’t have to worry about survival because you will be so busy growing.

BBJ: Why is this message relevant in today’s economy?

RO: This material wasn’t created because of the recession. It was created independent of any economic cycle. The reality is it has applications in every economic cycle because they are basic fundamental axioms to succeed. In these recessionary times, I say, ‘Guys, let’s take a step back and a deep breath and let’s renew our business. You have an opportunity here.’ I think of the recession as a friend, in a way, if it forces you to reflect on creating a “Be Different” strategy for your business. It is an opportunity to reform yourself and be successful and survive even in a recession.

When times are really good, you can hide a lot in a business. If your top line is healthy, you can hide a lot of inefficiencies, but in a recession, you stand raw naked to the world.

BBJ: What are some ways that a business can look within to assess if they are being different?

RO: I, as part of the book, included an organizational assessment. It’s on my Web site as well. It’s called, “The Be Different Quiz.” It’s 40 questions. A business can actually go through and rate themselves, according to 40 “Be Different” attributes to find out if they are “different” or at the other end of the spectrum. It is supposed to be a fun little way for people to do a self-assessment against the practices that I advocate in the book. It is a tool that is supposed to enable you to focus in on an area that you might want to pay attention to. I have had some really interesting commentary saying, ‘Oh my God Roy. I think I am dead!” That’s good, in the sense that at least you know where you are. (Take the quiz here.)

“I think of the recession as a friend, in a way, if it forces you to reflect on creating a “Be Different” strategy for your business. It is an opportunity to reform yourself and be successful and survive even in a recession.” —Roy Osing, author of “Be Different or Be Dead”

BBJ: If that is looking within, how can a business find out from customers where they find value?

RO: It’s not a periodic thing. In the book, I talk about a concept called, “customer learning.” I differentiate that from traditional market research. Market research is something most businesses do. It’s Marketing 101 stuff. You go out and conduct periodic studies to learn about your customers. There is nothing wrong with that except it is not different. Customer learning describes a continuous process of learning about the secrets of your customers — not the needs, but the secrets. The learning process is something that the institution needs to set up as a core competency of the firm, so that every time you touch base with a customer — you learn something from them. Marketing in a “Be Different” way is all about personalization. It’s not about mass markets. It’s not about flogging a product to 100,000 people. It’s about flogging 100,000 offers to 100,000 different people.

BBJ: You use the phrase, “unique value” a lot in your book, what does that mean to you?

RO: First, let’s differentiate between products and value. Part of my focus on value is because the marketing efforts of most organizations are on ‘let’s sell products and let’s create technology that sells products.’ There is nothing wrong with that; the problem is that it is not different. What I advocate is that marketing today should be in the value creation business, not the product supply business. Value is basically a set of benefits that meet the particular requirements of that particular customer.

Studies have shown that people are happier when they get experiences as opposed to things. The “thing” approach is what I am advocating we not do. That is the product flogging approach. The experience is the value. Marketing professionals have a hard time thinking about their work in terms of value because it is kind of an intangible concept, but one of the reasons it is intangible is because they have not made it tangible.

BBJ: What mindset should a business have when seeking to “Be Different?”

RO: I think the mindset has to be different. It’s all about leadership. You have to have a mindset that understands that the source of economic opportunity is being different. It’s hard to be different, but it is the only thing that is sustainable. If you have that, then your organization will constantly be looking for ways to be unique. If you don’t have that, they will be sucked into the vortex of the traditional ‘let’s copy.’ Copying is not consistent with being different, yet how many people live to copy?

If you have a mindset that you want to create value, that is a major difference. If I were a small business in Bellingham, I would know everything there is to know about every competitor here. I would know their strategy, their value proposition. I want to know how they are trying to be different. I would know everything there is to know about what my top 10 or 20 customers want. Then I would be looking to provide something in a different way to those customers that can’t be matched by competitors that I know about. This is not a complicated process. It’s a matter of asking the right questions, challenging businesses to seek the right information and staying on top of them until they do it.

BBJ: What is the central message you would like people to walk away with?

RO: In the book, I don’t advocate a “silver bullet.” Being different is about doing a bunch of the right things right. I have four themes that I advocate for in the book. First, take a look at your strategy. It has to be relevant, compelling and unique. Relevant in the sense that it addresses the top requirements of your customers. In terms of marketing, you need to be in the value creation business. In terms of serving customers, you need to be in the business of creating dazzling service experiences.

It’s not what people get from you; it’s how they feel when they get it. In sales, it’s about building deep relationships, not flogging products. The sales effort is not about selling stuff, but creating intimate relationships and having people buy stuff. It’s a huge difference. If you do this stuff, you will create a change in the culture of your business and create loyalty as you go.

For more information or to purchase Roy Osing’s book, go to his Web site.


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