As the head of Governors Island, Leslie Koch put a forgotten little 172-acre island off the coast of Manhattan on the cultural map.
In just a few years, she increased visits to the island from 8,000 people to over 275,000 and got the city of New York onboard with ambitious development plans, including a potential NYU satellite campus.
So how did the former Microsoft exec do it? Koch shared these five simple lessons on marketing, strategy, and life at Behance’s annual 99% Conference:
1. Listen – really listen – to your customers.
Truth is, many of us are guilty of either not really listening to what people are saying about our products, or of discounting their honest feedback (they’re not smart enough, they just don’t “get it,” etc.). Particularly in marketing and sales, it’s easy to fall into the trap of getting so excited about pitching the product that we fail to take in the body language of the people we are talking to.
Koch tells a story of feedback falling on deaf ears during her time at Microsoft. In the early development stages of “Word,” she questioned how challenging the product was to use. The response from a software developer? “Uh, user error.” But the product wasn’t being made for software developers, it was being made for non-software savvy people with word processing needs. And, in fact, it took two more versions of development before Microsoft Word was ready for market, and ready for the general user.
2. Understand the customer, the product, and the market.
If you’re managing a product, you need to know who the customer is, what their needs are, what the product does, and what the market is. You also need to be incredibly honest with yourself about the true strengths and weaknesses of your product.
Koch describes how, on Governors Island, they initially thought that their customer was the organizations that would make their home on the island. But they quickly realized that the true customer was the larger public, the City of New York.
Identifying the real customer – city inhabitants rather than developers – allowed the Governors Island team to revise the problem they needed to address. It wasn’t – as they’d previously thought – how much it would cost one of the organizations to rent a building. Rather, the problem was how to make people believe it was worth traveling from the city to a small island inaccessible by taxi or subway.
3. Develop a strategy and stick to it. BUT make sure your mother can understand it.
Once you’ve identified your true customer – and only then – you can develop a realistic strategy. The first part of Koch’s strategy for luring New York City inhabitants to Governors Island revolved around answering the question: “What can you do on the island that you can’t do anywhere else?” The unexpected (and surprising) answer was: Play a miniature golf course designed by artists. It’s unique, it’s free, and it attracts people from all walks of life. But more importantly, it’s emblematic of a whole host of activities that you can do only on the island.
Yet, as important as having the right strategy is making sure that absolutely everyone in your organization understands it. What’s more, it should be a strategy that anyone – even your mother – can understand.
It’s easy for businesses to fall into using a vocabulary that’s completely self-referential. But ultimately, the wider world will be using our products and services. The ideal strategy allows us to use the same words when we talk to each other internally that we use when we talk to our customers externally.
4. Think big and act small.
Don’t be afraid to think big. At the same time, don’t let planning get in the way of doing. Make sure you’re taking the small actions every single day to push your product forward – and make sure that they map to the strategy you’ve laid out.
If everyone from the head honcho on down understands the strategy, even the small actions count. As Koch notes, when the janitor on Governors Island picks up a piece of trash, he’s not just blindly doing his job – he’s fulfilling part of the strategic plan to make the island into a world-class park.
5. Marketing is all.
Marketing is the act of trying to figure out what motivates people – and it’s embedded in our DNA. Rather than being an afterthought, it should be a driving factor behind our companies, our visions, and our products. If we aren’t mapping our products to how people work and think, we won’t achieve anything.
Everyday Koch and her team are marketing Governors Island. Everyday they’re asking questions like: Who are we talking to in the press? How can we improve the services on the island? How can we explain our strategy better? You can’t just create the vision, you also have to sell it – day in, and day out.
This post is based on Leslie Koch’s talk at Behance’s 99% Conference. You can watch Koch’s full, 20-minute talk here.