In marketing and business, we get quite caught up in all that’s come before, where we are, all our history.  Yet there’s no greater enemy to small business than “that’s how we’ve always done it.”



Sometimes, it’s important to reset, to tear it all down. If we were starting today, then what? If we lost everything, what would this look like? How did we get here in the first place?


Start at Zero


I’m a big fan of comic books. I started reading them when I was five and my grandfather bought them for me on his candy sales route. They helped me learn to read, and they gave me a bigger perspective on the world than I otherwise would’ve had. In that comics industry, there’s a kind of necessary cliché that’s said when a new team takes over a title, especially something like Spider-Man or Batman.


“We’re going back to the basics.”


And that means they strip away all the weird stories currently running in the comics, like Spider-Man having clones or Batman with a team of other people pretending to be him, and so on.


This is something we can do with our businesses, only without capes and tights.


What Does Zero Look Like?


If you launched your company today, what would be the cleanest, simplest representation of it? What is the bare bones version of what you sell? How do you talk about it? How do you sell? Who is your best customer?


Volkswagen recently showed off its “new” logo. It pretty much looks like the old one, only now it’s “flat” so that it can be used in lots more ways, like on applications or charging units, and so on. If you’re not a designer, you’ll look at it and say, “Looks pretty much the same.” But it’s new. And that “new” is a zero from where they can race towards an intentional path forward.


But anything can be a zero point for your business.


    1. Logo. Pricing. Offering. Customer base. Locations. Hours. Any aspect of the business can and should be reconsidered.


Dunkin Donuts rebranded as Dunkin. Why? Because people like the coffee and there’s a mixed feeling about their donuts when it comes to health. Ditto KFC instead of Kentucky FriedChicken. Both restaurants still have bloated menus and could really get even closer to zero, but there’s a caution.


Less Than Zero


There’s one catch, one warning. You canaccidentally throw away the wrong part.


    • Kodak had digital camera technology patents and prototypes long before that market came and crushed the company.
    • Coca-Cola fumbled by launching New Coke in the 80s.
    • When the Internet came around, many print media companies gave away content online  and it took them years to reclaim even a fraction of the revenue lost.


You can throw away the wrong part of your business. Will Dunkin be wrong for dialing back donuts? I can’t see it, but we’ll all know if that happens.


Can It Fit on an Index Card?


One easy way to know if you’ve brought your company back to zero in one way or another is by answering the question, “Can it fit on an index card?” If you can explain the entire concept with one 3” x 5” card, chances are, it’s a really simple business.


This is one area where small businesses have a chance to thrive. Something big like Disney can’t ever do the index card test. They might be able to sum up various divisions that way, but not the entire enterprise.


Your company, however? The answer had best be yes.


Try It


You don’t have to take my word for it. Try it. Start with an index card and write/draw out what your business looks like at zero. What’s the smallest “menu” of offerings you could make? What’s the simplest way to describe your business? What’s the easiest way to handle the customer experience journey? And so on.


It’s okay if you need a few cards to get started. Crumple up all you want until you find the right zero for your business.


It’s an exciting exercise every time


About Chris Brogan



Chris Brogan is an author, keynote speaker and business advisor who helps companies update organizational interfaces to better support modern humans. The age of factory-sized interactions is over. We all come one to a pack. And it’s time to accept that we are all a little bit dented. Chris advisesleadership teams to empower team members by sharing actionable insights on talent development. He also works with marketing and communications teams to more effectively reach people who want to be seen and understood before they buy what a company sells.


Web: Twitter: @ChrisBrogan

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Bank of America, N.A. engages with Chris Brogan to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. The third parties within articles are used under license from Chris Brogan. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.


Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

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