Why Having a Ferrari Taste on a Honda Budget Drives Failure for Otherwise Savvy Brands

Red wireframe of a Ferrari that’s on a black background. The image is an animated gif that pivots from side shot to rearview shot of the wireframe stylized blueprint of this Ferrari drawing that’s done in red.

Things are revving up again — you can feel it. I recently got hooked on Formula 1 racing thanks to the Formula 1: Drive to Survive documentary on Netflix. And, of course, it reminded me of a childhood obsession with Ferraris.

Cover image of Netflix Documentary series, Formula 1: Drive to Survive. This is an image of a white drag racing car making a sharp turn, creating sparks that are flying off its wheels.
Image Source: Formula 1: Drive to Survive Netflix Documentary Cover Image, What’s on Netflix Website

As the only team to compete in every season since Formula 1 racing began in 1950, Ferrari knows how to go the distance.

Of course, that takes an incredible investment: time, money, craftsmanship, training, technology, originality, creativity, and people.

This gets me thinking about what it takes for businesses to get the kind of mileage they want out of their marketing strategy. When it comes to expectations, I see a lot of Ferrari taste on Honda budgets.

I’m not saying this to be salty. I think this is as much on the service provider as it is on the brand.

In my opinion, it’s our job as marketing consultants and designers to educate our clients on what’s possible and what’s not. So, let’s take a spin around the biggest obstacles to success that challenges both brands and consultants alike to see how together we can clear the road forward and drive growth.

Don’t Buy the Fast & Furious Lie

Do you remember the original Fast and Furious movie? In the very first scene of the franchise, you see a handful of badasses driving modified black fifth-generation Honda Civic coupes take down a truck full of electronics and fly off into the night.

Image from the opening scene of The Fast and the Furious (2001 film). A man is standing on passenger seat of a black Honda Civic sticking out of sun roof as the Honda is trying to out maneuver a white truck behind it.
Image Source: The Fast and the Furious (2001 film), screenshot of opening scene

That’s the essence of being fast and furious — it’s all about how to hack the crap out of an inexpensive vehicle and turn it into a beast.

Even though you can take a Honda, turbocharge the motor, drill in some strategic bolts, and soup it up with nitrous oxide to make it run faster, it’s only in movies that strategy works. A Honda Civic isn’t designed to be a race car; it’s meant to be a reliable, inexpensive, low-maintenance vehicle.

This is a fitting metaphor for today’s businesses. Everyone is trying to hack growth, which is all about driving relatively inexpensive platforms to find edge cases — those rare, boundary-pushing scenarios that can make (or break) a system.

The goal is to scale at lightning speed and beat the competition like world-class organizations, such as Airbnb, Nike, and Uber, that seem to do this effortlessly.

I get that, and also, I have some bad news: as awesome and powerful as low- and no-code platforms are to get you out of the gates, they can only take your business so far. You’re not going to be able to just sign up for an off-the-shelf solution like Shopify+ or Klaviyo and assume it’s magically going to power astronomical growth.

Workarounds, also helpful in a lot of ways, won’t do the trick, either. If I had a dollar for every time we’ve opened up a client’s codebase, only to find a mess of Band-Aid fixes and over-complicated technology — well, I’d probably be able to buy a fleet of Ferraris for my team.

Truthfully, the problem isn’t with the platform or the client’s desires.

The problem is with expectation management.

Understand the Mechanics

How fast do you think a race car would run, or how far would it go if it were leaking fuel?

One of the first things I see as a consultant is the amount of waste even the most ambitious companies tend to have. They’re slowed down by things like internal politics, which eat budget and time. They choose a platform over a custom build because they think it will be less expensive and then don’t bat an eyelash at the platform’s cost — which can be a small fortune for not much pay-off.

For example, we recently had a client who spent over $300,000 a year on marketing technology. They were using maybe 10% of the platform’s capability. And because their team wasn’t up to speed on the functionality they did use, the output wasn’t optimized.

Lucky for them (and me), they realized they could use a pro to look under the hood. We immediately recognized that a simpler solution would suffice. Our advice saved them a big chunk of time and money. More importantly, today, they’re driving impressive business results that their team can execute against.

Similarly, you can’t drive a car that’s massively out of alignment. In the example I just mentioned, less was more. But for many businesses who have their sights set on driving millions of dollars in incremental growth, it takes an investment aligned with a goal. Most aren’t in touch with the cost and benefit of a consultant or agency with experience, expertise, and talent.

This results in sticker shock, which sucks for the client and the consultant alike. The ask and the investment have to be aligned. Otherwise, nobody wins.

On the flip side, it’s on the consultant to demonstrate that they know what to do, how to do it, and then go and do it. These are three entirely different things. Talent alone isn’t enough; you have to know how to maneuver around constraints, both known and discovered along the way.

This brings us to the mechanics of proper strategy. I think it’s all about asking new questions that unlock new possibilities. There needs to be a true value exchange based on what the provider is paid and the value that they deliver.

Sizing the Problem Shapes the Solution

I think the curse of digital transformation is that there’s an idea that there’s some kind of Holy Grail that springs from digital or cloud technologies that will solve all your problems. And it will usher in what everyone wants: disruption, upward mobility, and growth.

But what I’ve learned as a marketing innovation consultant is that it’s as much about change management as it is about the actual change. Some problems that can be solved in a few days or a week with technology end up taking months, if not years, to solve because of the human-related blockers.

So, for me, it’s usually straightforward to see the steps necessary to create change. It can be simple to map out and implement. But that doesn’t factor in all of the different barriers that are a part of that complex adaptive system beyond technological choices. They include:

  • People
  • Beliefs and Principles
  • Mindsets
  • Consensus

These things create a massive challenge to consultants like me when it comes to convincing, persuading, and coaching leadership to move forward. You can’t have an informed or accurate scope without defining and investing in discovery, strategy, and tactics.

Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it begins with having a full definition of the challenge.

As the adage goes, if I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes defining it and five minutes solving it.

That’s the challenge that I believe service providers are battling today. And I think that being able to manage expectations clearly and meet all stakeholders’ expectations is the key to drive innovation.

This is where having Ferrari taste vs. a Honda budget doesn’t matter. Once the provider and client are in alignment on that challenge, then the options open up. A talented provider will be able to come up with alternatives. For example, there might be a $200,000 way to do it (Ferrari), a $150,000 version (Acura NSX), and a $25,000 (Honda Accord) way to solve the problem.

There are so many races nowadays for brands to beat the competition — to market, to up-level service, and ultimately to win the hearts, minds, and wallets of customers. Trying to hijack market share by jerry-rigging strategy won’t work.

The right combination is a consultant who knows how to steer, a brand that’s invested in the ride, and the constant recognition that the customer is always in the driver’s seat.

Founder and Force-multiplier @digitalsurgeons. https://www.linkedin.com/in/petersena/ & http://petesena.com/

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