From Mustangs to MSPs

Photo caption: Ryan Cox with his Acapulco Blue 1966 Ford Mustang.
“I spent years restoring it, and banging my head against the wall, until it was completed in 2015. If I can roll-up to a red traffic light fifty years after the car rolled off the assembly line and still see heads turning, then Ford certainly found a formula that worked and we may all benefit from becoming students of their example.“

When I think of innovation in business, I think of Ford Motor Company in the early 1960s. This team gave us the first generation Ford Mustang – and fifty years on, we’re still buying them with zeal! How’s that for brand-building and business continuity? Perhaps a better question: Are there any lessons that we can take from Ford Mustang’s ‘dream team’ in support of continued brand-building and continuity efforts?

The Ford Mustang celebrated its off-the-assembly-line debut in Dearborn, Michigan on March 9, 1964 and it was later introduced to potential buyers on April 17, 1964 at the World’s Fair in New York. The car was an immediate success and sold an astonishing one million units in just over eighteen months.

The new headliner with the catchy name ‘Mustang’ had a short deck and long hood, it was recognized early on as a modern engineering marvel by consumers and competitors alike. The world at large viewed Ford’s product as further evidence of America’s ingenuity, creative spirit and industrial might. Ford had its winning horse, and with keys in hand, the company embarked on a long and very profitable saga through American automotive history.

This special decade began with a call to “ask not” and concluded with a successful journey to the moon and back, but it was Ford Motor Company that invited us for a Sunday drive toward the farthest corners of the human imagination and it’s a journey we’re still on. I sometimes try to imagine how incredible it must have felt for the team of dedicated Ford engineers at their product’s launch. The study and practice of business would be forever changed.

But how was this all possible? The following is what I consider to be four guiding principles that made the Mustang a huge success, and key areas that may elevate the MSP business in 2016.

1. You Cannot Offer Solutions, If You Don’t Know Your Client
Conducting a rigorous analysis of your customer’s wants and needs and determining what your competitors are doing to address those needs & wants is exactly the type of fertile ground from which innovation may flourish. Being open to new ideas and understanding that with expansive exploration comes effective innovation. Back in the ‘60s Ford spent a considerable amount of capital finely tuning these key strategic areas. All of these efforts created the foundation for the Mustang to be successful.

Some critical thinking questions: What challenges are your customers facing? What are competitors doing? (or not doing?) Start a real conversation with your leaders about these topics. We cannot build our very own ‘Mustang’ without first having these meaningful conversations to generate a targeted purpose, direction and message.

2. Develop a Strategic Roadmap
A roadmap outlines specific steps and/or checkpoints for your intended outcome to be successful. For Ford, this meant turning all the research outlined in the first point into a tangible road to a completed product. In the MSP space, this could mean a subtle change to process or technology – or an entirely new service offering the industry hasn’t yet seen- but was born via the spirit of innovation (Beeline’s Onforce Capability, for example).

3. Innovation is Leadership
In creating the Ford Mustang in the 1960s, Ford’s leadership was considered methodical in aligning internal teams and keeping colleagues individually and collectively vested in the company’s vision. At Pontoon we also understand that our greatest assets ,regardless of the finished product or service, are our internal colleagues.

The capital spent internally in support of colleagues’ continued development and advancement should be viewed as a strategic business investment. There may be an idea not yet realized by a person or persons within our ranks – holding the key to continued elevation. Seem far-fetched? Well, the individual responsible for the development of the Ford Mustang, Lee Iacocca, began his career as an administrative trainee with Ford in 1946 and eventually served in roles such as VP of Development and ultimately President of Ford Motor Company. Quite simply, it pays to invest in people. They are the ones that keep innovation alive.

4. Tirelessly Generate the Appropriate Buzz in the Industry
All those good things you’re doing? They should not go quietly into the night. Share them!
Many organizations find challenges in bringing clients new and innovative ideas without having a “proof of concept”, a friendlier way of saying “trust but verify.” It’s almost a Catch-22, because you know your idea is wonderful, but your efforts are stalling because not everyone shares your vision. This is normal and we can certainly take a page out of Ford’s playbook in the area of narrative building. For example, when the Mustang debuted in ’64, it was announced on all three major TV networks, it was even featured in the 1964 James Bond film, Dr. No.

So, while we’re preparing to jumpstart our 2016 roadmaps, let’s not forget to add a little horsepower to winning new business opportunities by following in the footsteps of a brand as iconic as the Ford Mustang.

Until then, I’ll see you on the track!