OPINION

Riding the Wave to Success

As I travel and speak at meetings around the country, one of the key topics that has been capturing a lot of attention is something I call “the Wave.” This seems to be as interesting to the audience as it is to the executives who invited me to speak. In fact, I am often invited back to spend some one-on-one time with company leaders to discuss it further. I have been speaking for 25 years, and this seems to have hit a chord. Everyone wants to hear more. So what is the Wave to success all about? Let me give you a brief introduction.

You may not realize it yet, but you are already on this Wave right now. So is your company. I think we must be born with an instinctive understanding of the concept. It’s a truth everyone knows, but never really thinks about or puts into words. It is something brilliant marketers understand at their core. Most others don’t yet understand, but when they hit the ball out of the park every once in a while they want to know how to make lightning strike twice — and the again and again.

Think of the Wave as a line going from left to right. A line that rises until it reaches the top then comes down the other side. The rise and the fall can be rapid or slow depending on what is being measured, but the rise and fall are always there.

Everything and everyone is somewhere on the Wave. Part of this has to do with the power of branding and how it has to continually be adapted and expanded to be successful on an ongoing basis.

Motorola’s Wave

Let me give you an example. Motorola was a long-time successful company that grew to be No. 1 in the cell phone business through the mid 1990s. It was on the growing and building and exciting side of the Wave. Customers loved the company. Investors loved it. The media wrote stories about all its hot new wireless toys. It was an incredible success wave that kept building.

I remember the CEO of Ameritech showed me his brand new StarTac phone the company had just started to sell when I was speaking at one of its meetings in Chicago. It was tiny and hot. The only color it came in was black. However, it seemed Motorola was bulletproof and everyone was tickled.

Then the industry changed. The networks switched from analog to digital. Motorola was analog. The company’s leaders never thought the industry would switch without them. They were wrong.

Suddenly the new standard was digital. Motorola didn’t understand branding and sub-branding. Bottom line — it was not able to successfully update its brand. What happened next?

A tiny company called Nokia saw the opportunity and took it. Nokia built its brand on the digital handset model and became No. 1 over the last decade. I am not sure if Nokia knew about the Wave idea either, or whether it just got lucky.

Now, after a decade in the lead, Nokia is beginning to feel the same pinch Motorola has been wrestling with. Suddenly, the marketplace is changing from digital handsets to super-smartphones, and Nokia just does not have a brand in that area. Can it expand its brand?

After several years, Motorola finally had a comeback with a device called “Razr.” That was a popular handset. Reporters were confused when I told them this was great, but it was just one Wave. They thought the company was on its way to repeat its past success, but I kept asking about the company’s next Wave? Without a next Wave, Motorola would simply ride its success up, then down, and be back in trouble again.

Unfortunately for the company, that’s exactly what happened, and Motorola spent the last several years at the bottom.

Now Motorola seems to have another chance. It has struck gold once again with Google Android and Verizon Wireless. Its success during the past year or so has been inspiring, but once again I ask, what is its next step? What is the next Wave for the company?

Fortunately, Motorola is taking some additional steps. It is now expanding its Android handsets to other carriers. This will help it spread the risk around among different companies, which is good. However, this is still part of the same Wave. Is it enough? This sounds similar to the Razr so far, doesn’t it?

Motorola is now getting ready to start another Wave with its tablet computer. If successful, this could become another long-term success. That is the key. It has to make this successful. The category is brand new and seems hot.

So, it has to market an incredible device. Its challenge is to create another Wave in a segment that is brand new but getting crowded. Then, after that, it needs to create another Wave and another. A few months ago, I wrote “The Drivers Steering Motorola’s Comeback”, which discusses this more in depth.

Planning for the Next Wave

Companies must realize every hot opportunity they ride is actually a Wave with a limited life span. The Waves have been getting shorter over the last decade or two. That means companies have to manage multiple Waves. They have to create the next Wave before the first Wave collapses — eventually, it always does.

One more corporate example is where local phone lines are on the Wave. Until the mid 1990s, local phone lines were not hot, but when the Internet popped up, they became red-hot. We got extra phone lines to connect to the Internet. However, that Wave crested during the last decade and is on the decline.

We no longer use phone lines to connect to the Internet — we use DSL and cable TV lines. Wireless phones are growing rapidly. So are other technologies like VoIP, where Skype and Vonage and cable television companies are selling phone lines over the Internet.

So the local phone line business is on the decline now. That’s why companies like AT&T and Verizon are now focused on other areas like cellular, Internet and television. The next Wave. And they are still growing.

Here is an example of how the Wave affects you personally. Where are you on the Wave? I am sure if you think about your life, you will remember times when you were in the growing and exciting period. You were unstoppable. Invincible. Then there were also times when you were coming down the other side, not growing.

We as individuals usually have multiple Waves going on at one time. Some are young and growing, while others have passed the peak and are on the decline. Our lives are a mix of ups and downs.

Where are you on your work Wave? What about on your family Wave, or your marriage, health or money Wave? There are so many we juggle every day. That’s part of the reason why some days we feel up and positive, and other days we feel down and negative.

It depends on which Wave we are most focused on that day. If we are thinking about our sick child or money lost or an argument with our spouse, we feel down — but when we are excited about an opportunity we are riding, we feel great.

This is the basic idea of the Wave. This is what I have been spending so much time discussing lately during my speeches, which is becoming surprisingly popular. I want to open as many eyes as I can to this discovery. It’s something we all experience but something that is not taught.

Understanding the Wave and the Brand are two important keys to success, whether personal or professional. Everything is either on the growing or declining side of the Wave.

Understanding Your Waves

So where are you? Where is your career? What about your company? Your investments?

What about companies like AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile, Clearwire, Qwest, CenturyLink, Windstream and other service providers? What about mobile platform developers and handset makers like Google, Microsoft, Apple, RIM, HP, Samsung, LG, HTC and Ericsson? Where are they on the Wave?

What about the company you work for? Where is it on the wave? Is it on the early, growing and exciting side, or on the declining side?

What does the next year look like for you and the companies you care about? Some are doing well, while others are struggling. Where each is on the Wave is key to what is coming next for them. What about your children? Do they understand this concept? If so, they could choose the right company from a group of competitors to work for, couldn’t they? There is so much about this topic that is exciting and empowering.

As I continue to travel and speak, I have been urged to write a book to discuss the Wave in more depth. I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and suggestions for companies and individuals and where they are on the Wave, good or bad. Drop me an email and keep an eye on my website for news about the book.


Jeff Kagan is an E-Commerce Times columnist and a wireless, telecom and technology analyst, author, speaker and consultant. Email him at [email protected].

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