What Happens When Your Drummer Changes the Beat

We all believe in some form or another we’re marching to the beat of our own drummer. Then for some reason the beat changes. Yet we don’t notice. This could be just as confusing to your inner rhythms as trying to dance hip hop style to a waltz. You may feel like your cutting it up, but chances are you’ll find (to paraphrase Billy Idol): “You’re dancing with yourself.”

Far too many start out in pursuit of a business or idea because they believe they have something to contribute, or something to say. Then little by little for some unexplained reasons they believe customers, fans, or others no longer find them as unique, (or whatever word fits) and they can’t understand why. I will assert it’s because they haven’t noticed the drummer they were marching too has changed the beat. Yes they’re still marching, but not in the same rhythm or cadence they began with.

Steve Jobs is known for his disinterest in customer surveys. He felt he knew what people would want better than they did themselves. He did, and delivered ground breaking products people still clamor to buy. There are of course far many more that loose this sense of their vision and begin to transform their products to fit everybody.

Not a product that everybody wants – but a product everybody says “they” want. Once you begin down this road potholes begin to appear. Eventually if you continue they’ll morph into sinkholes leaving oneself wondering: “Where were the warning signs?”

We see this happen with companies that were once considered cutting edge before they decide to go public i.e., launch an IPO. (initial public offering on Wall Street) Then suddenly it seems the company has changed its tempo from what they wanted to build for customers – to what they believe they need to build for customers that shareholders like just as much. The company feels it’s still pounding out the same beat, but to anyone listening and watching their tune has definitely changed.

Facebook® is a current example of this. The stated beat they don’t care about the money march has noticeably changed to have a rhythm more in line with what they want (or need) to hear at a Wall St. parade.

This happens everywhere, in all businesses. Wall Street can show it with glaring clarity so it makes for great examples. However it happens subtly but with the same affects all the way down to the solo entrepreneur. And just as hard as it is to remain disciplined at the Fortune 500 level, so too is it just as hard at the smallest companies. Sometimes even more so.

Imagine for the moment you were a baker of artisan breads. You decide for whatever the reasons your mission is to bring this style of bread to markets. You open your bakery in some location and begin selling your wares. As far as you believe no one offers what you do – except you. You feel a need, or calling, or whatever, so you start.

Almost out of the gate you’re endeavor takes off. It seems like your thinking was spot on and you try to improve daily. Then you begin to do something that seems innocuous but can change that beat you listened to if you’re not careful: You start asking for, and reacting to all suggestions people might request.

It starts with a simple suggestions such as, “Why don’t you offer any Pepperidge Farm® styled bread?” At first you laugh at such a thing. Then you begin to think, and say “Well maybe if I made one PF version in my style…” And you do. You think you’re giving people what they want. Maybe that’s true. However if you’re not careful the beat of this drummer just might be changing.

As you continue more requests or suggestions come in. They suggest if it tasted a little more like this, or shaped a little more like that they would enjoy it even more. You begin to oblige such requests because this new bread is now selling rather well. A good thing you believe because what you’ve noticed is the sales of your artisan breads have slowed. More customers are now coming in for the PF styled bread while it seems your artisan customers are falling off.

Business remains good. You attribute this to your listening skills of understanding the beats of others. You might begin to contemplate “It was a good thing you listened” because as you look over your cases the artisan breads you started with are no longer even a definitive part of your offerings. Those customers no longer visit your store. Now your bakery is full of what everyone said they wanted: Pepperidge Farm styled breads.

Your drum beat changed, and you never noticed. You were doing everything as far as you thought correct because as it was pounding, you were marching. You were going through all the moves but that beat was not the one you originally chose to listen to.

In an effort to please everyone what you did was displease the very customers you went into business for. The ones who needed you. The one who can’t get, find, or just enjoy your artisan offerings. Now they don’t seek you out. They don’t even come in. They know they aren’t your customer any longer. The masses are. They never understood why an artisan bakery would even offer a version of PF. They won’t return any time soon – if ever.

You’re now out of sync with the rhythms of your original intended customers. You no longer produce what they march for. But you shake it off because you think: “Hey I’m selling a ton of the PF styled bread, and making a fair profit to boot. Maybe I was right to change my thinking.” Then a real Pepperidge Farm bakery opens on your very street.

This scenario happens far more often than people realize. Yet it’s easy to see how. This is why it’s so important to stay true to your original vision, listen for clues in a change of rhythm. Yes you’ll make changes along the way. You’ll try to improve your products, try to offer products that meet the needs of more, and more customers. However it’s a very slippery slope that you must heed the warnings of before you venture down. Because sometimes you just don’t notice the pounding is no longer your drummer, but some parade you didn’t realize you became part of.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr