It was the year 1880 when a man approached a candle making firm and told them about his new invention “incandescent light bulb”. His invention was rejected straight away as the company holders thought that this new invention won’t work and will be rejected by the customers as they can’t afford it. It was only then the man replied that “We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.” This was not just a statement this was a vision of a great inventor, innovator and entrepreneur Thomas A. Edison and guess what today GE is twice rich than the candle company.
Today we have reached almost close to that era when candles will become antique objects and only rich can afford them- the fancy candle light dinners at high end hotels is an example. So how come Edison’s invention became so successful when he defied the law of modern marketing of “Customer’s Perspective”. How was it that a drink of carbonated sugar water became the most successful running business in the world, when the customer actually never craved for it to begin with? No one had even thought of flying, yet the product of Wright Brothers is still famous after so many decades. Man never asked for computers, yet Charles Babbage’s work changed the world. How come it is true that what these men produced or marketed products that no one knew before, no one needed before, no one asked before and still they managed to run their products for more than a century, when others who were customer centric faded away in a matter of decades or less.
“Customer is the king”. One comes across this line many times a day, be it on paper, TV, in a shop, restaurant, insurance office, a roadside hoarding or a book. Many of us or it may be proper to say, that most of us actually believe that being a customer is being a king. A king, who can boss around in the market, accepting the things or services of his choice and rejecting others. A king, who can demand anything from the sellers and that too, if the king is willing to pay out the price asked from his personal treasures. A king who gets anything that he desires. Not only people believe this thing at personal and individual level, but many big corporate houses have this line in their Vision or Mission statements as well.
These two paragraphs are contradictory to each other as on one side we see a bunch of people who give the customers whatever they like and on the other side we say ‘No, the customer is the king, he takes what he likes.’ So the real confusion is that among the two groups who the real kings are. Is it the customer who has his bargaining power, or is it the inventor who has his invention? Is it the consumer who has the money or the innovator who has the innovation? The decision is hard to take and to declare one party as king and to dethrone other is not an easy way out. But history has provided us with facts and reasons to believe that these innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs are the real kings of the market. They have defied all laws to make products that have withstood the tides of time. If one closely tries to read the biographies of these men he will find a thing common in them a trait they all had and a virtue they all possessed. These all had a similar character of being “Visionaries”. They had a vision of producing the things before their need was actually felt by the customers itself. They were proactive in their approach.
Has anyone thought about the greatest invention of mankind ‘The Wheel’? When it was invented in around 4500 BC who actually needed it? Did its inventor make it because of its high demand? No! Of course not! Yet he marketed it so successfully that thousands of years have passed by, but the wheel retains its criticality to human life. So it seems quite clear now that it is not the customer who is actually the king. Rather it is these great men- these entrepreneurs- who are the real kings. So what lessons does the life of these men teach us? What is the message, the legacy they left for us to follow? The message is quite simple- ‘If you believe in yourself, let it come out’. These men believed in themselves, they defied the common sense of man and produced stuff that was not meant to be produced. They made us feel the need of their inventions, even when we didn’t have the need. All of us would have quenched our thirst by drinking tap water but these innovators and entrepreneurs passed their dreams as our need. Now we feel the need to drink aerated or carbonated water. Our forefathers never would have asked for light and we would have never demanded electricity, if the vision of a single man would not have transpired in our lives. We were happy with post offices till someone pulled out a box from his pocket. The dreams, the ideas of these great men have transformed our lives and look how successfully how they have marketed their products, that even if they left this world, their legacy endured in their products.
The lesson for today’s marketer from these kings of market is quite simple, ‘Market your ideas, market your innovations; innovations that would change the market, inventions that would transform lives, products that will make customers and services that would generate needs.’ It is easy to sell an already existing product in a new packing or added flavour but it is difficult to add a new one. It is here where entrepreneurs are ahead of others. One is mistaken if he thinks of USA as a superpower because of its latest state of art weaponry or its huge GDP. America is a superpower because it has been the home of these entrepreneurs, these visionaries and innovators. From Thomas Alva Edison, John Jacob Astor, Andrew Carnegie, James Buchanan Duke, Durham, J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Leland Stanford, Joseph Seligman, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Madam C.J. Walker, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, Estée Lauder, Vinod Khosla, Drew Houston, Steve Huffman, Alexis Ohanian, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Kevin Rose, Sam M. Walton to Mark Zuckerberg- all have been from this country alone. USA alone has thousands of patents in different fields to its name.
According to The Economist, between 1996 and 2004, USA created an average of 550,000 small businesses every month. Many of those small businesses rapidly grew big. The world’s largest company, Wal-Mart, was founded in 1962 and did not go public until a decade later; multi-million dollar companies such as Google and Facebook barely existed a decade ago. This is where all other nations and markets have failed. We always went for the easy ways thinking that customer was the king whatever he orders it should be fulfilled.