Friday, May 30, 2008

A lesson in execution

My punk rock ideals make me a bit of a cynic towards anything even remotely "mainstream" or "corporate." I'm certainly not alone in that mindset, as we see more and more people rebelling against big business in favor of niche markets (enter The Long Tail).
The exception comes in execution: if a large or mainstream entity executes an idea incredibly well, it's very tough to hate or avoid. Apple is the biggest example--some, but by no means all, of their products are revolutionary, but from design to customer service, their execution is impeccable.
I just got back from lunch at a new location of Corner Bakery. I don't know who owns Corner Bakery, but I know it to be a large chain that competes with the likes of Panera and Atlanta Bread Company in the upscale fast food market. I had never been, but the experience will keep me coming back: there was a smiling greeter holding the door and handing out menus; while you wait in line, you can peruse the menu or check out the various packaged baked goods on the table next to you; they move people through the checkout extremely quickly without rushing anyone; between each checkout lane is a table full of fresh baked goods, which they ask if you'd like to add to your meal; the seemingly standard americana montage wallpaper actually includes many local pictures; they bring your food to you, quickly; the manager is on a constant roam around the dining area, smiling and checking with everyone to make sure they're enjoying their meals. Picking it apart, I can't think of a single thing they could have done better. And to top it off, the food was delicious!
The importance of execution is relevant to music as well. The example I come back to is Green Day--one of the biggest rock bands in the world, and notorious "sell-outs" from the early 90s. But I can't hate them, because they do what they do so well. They proved their abilities to me again recently when I watched their side project, Foxboro Hot Tubs, perform for a crowd of 500 in Dallas last week, the day after their album came out. The music of Foxboro Hot Tubs cops to many classic rock n roll styles, largely drawn from 1970s-early 1980s influences (from The Doors to Joan Jett)--it does NOT sound like Green Day. Yet I have never felt a cement floor move under my feet as much as at their show--the band, who are used to playing to tens of thousands at a time, sold each and every moment of their performance to a small group of folks who only could have listened to the songs a handful of times before the show. Without major label support or more tour plans, Foxboro Hot Tubs remains a test in word of mouth. So far, so good--the next night's show in Austin sold out before noon.
Regardless of what you're doing, attention to detail in execution gives you an extraordinary advantage over your competition. When mass advertising is no longer effective, people who notice the details drive your success--give them something to talk about.

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