Excerpts from Chapter 6: Flying Under the Radar: A Great Way to Crash and Burn

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Through the years, we have met with and counseled countless CEOs, company presidents, entrepreneurs, marketing directors and vice presidents, all of whom wanted to improve their businesses and gain a competitive advantage. Despite the fact that these bright, tenacious, success-driven professionals were meeting with us—public relations and marketing counselors (experts in creating heightened brand awareness)—many wanted to keep much of their success and businesses a secret!

For example, in the last several years, we have had meetings with a company that had an innovative method of retaining clients; another with a new manufacturing process that could transform the beauty industry; a software developer with a cutting-edge technology that could significantly impact the financial services industry; a fitness equipment maker with a clearly superior product line; and a food manufacturer with a new line of healthier snack foods.

However, in all of these meetings, each of these real companies had one thing in common: when discussing their business and marketing goals, they each told us that they wanted to—and I quote—“stay under the radar.” This was despite the fact they each had unambiguous, newsworthy differentiators that set them apart from their competitors!

Despite the fact that these folks met with our public relations agency, whose sole mission is to disseminate a client’s most compelling attributes, they were fearful that someone would steal their idea or try to knock them off. How can a brand or company be first or perceived as best in a category by taking this stance? Or even more importantly, how can a brand be the preferred brand of choice if nobody knows about it?
It boggles the mind.

We certainly understand the genuine need to safeguard proprietary technologies, business practices or inventions. As Jerry Baldwin, co-founder of Starbucks puts it, “You don’t want to get shot down. There are probably some businesses, especially in the tech field, where you want to get the product established and trademarked before the competition does. Coffee and tea are in the public domain. For us, execution is everything.”
However, if a product or service is ready to be sold and a distribution plan is in place, why not get it out there and own a category in the minds of your potential customers?

Jim Koch is an example of one of those who was reticent to show the flag in the beginning. He feels that when he began his Boston Beer Company in 1985, perceived competition from established national brands kept him under the radar initially. However, he did not remain there. By the mid-1990s, Samuel Adams was well above the radar, and one of the leading brands to have emerged from the craft brewing movement of the previous decade. The brand had become a household name. Today the name “Samuel Adams” may be better known around the country as a brand of beer than as the eighteenth century Boston political figure for which his brand is named.

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