Get To Aha! Author Interview with Andy Cunningham

Published on
December 11, 2017
Karina Mikhli
"Keep it simple. What you're doing either works or it doesn't and if it doesn't, try something else--and ask for feedback. This applies to the service you're selling and to the people you're managing."
Subscribe to digest
Read about our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Andy Cunningham, author of Get to Aha!: Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition, has been at the forefront of marketing and branding new technology, including helping Steve Job launch the original Apple Macintosh. She’s since started her own company, Cunningham Collective, and helped introduce several new categories, including video games, personal computers, digital imaging, and clean tech investing.

In this book, Cunningham shares what she learned by helping all these companies successfully position and brand themselves. She believes all companies fall into three categories—mothers, mechanics, or missionaries—and explains how knowing which you are can make all the difference between successful marketing and branding and a message that does not resonate. This is a must read for anyone who needs to understand how to better communicate their position and brand.

1. What made you decide to write this book? And why now?

In 1981, Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote a seminal book on the topic of positioning—the art and science of creating real estate in the mind of a prospect. It was called Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. It’s a classic marketing manual and is still considered the go-to resource on positioning products and services. But it was written in an era where advertising reigned supreme and was the primary vehicle through which brands were built. But in the mid-nineties, the emergence of the internet for consumer use changed everything. Today there are innumerable vehicles for communicating with potential customers and influencers and nothing had been written on the topic since Al and Jack’s treatise. It was time to bring positioning into the 21st century. I have been refining the concept for several years and have developed a number of concepts that apply to the digital age, not the least of which is that of corporate DNA. I felt it was time to share a new framework with the world.

2. I have to ask, how was it to work with Steve Jobs?

Working with Steve was foremost an honor and a privilege. He was many things, but above all, his extraordinary vision enabled him to see what people would want to do with technology and his leadership style made the impossible possible. He demanded perfection from those around him. If you didn’t add value or understand how to interact with the reality distortion field, you weren’t around for long. The two best things about Steve were these: He stretched you beyond the limits of your capabilities. He made you better. And… his agenda was pure. He enlisted you to help him change the world and that is all he wanted or needed from you. It was refreshing to work with someone so focused and so blind to race, gender, age, or anything else. He was very special.

3. How did you come up with the mother/mechanic/missionary framework? Were there other versions and/or number of company types before you settled on this version?

There were always only the three types of companies, but in the first few iterations of the framework, they were simply called customer-oriented companies, product-oriented companies and concept-oriented companies. I was sitting alone in a bar in London one rainy afternoon outlining the book when I realized I needed something more catchy than customer, product and concept to describe the categories. I came up with “Mother” first because Steve once told me that he wanted to “put a mother in every box” to make you feel cared for and comforted by Macintosh. I thought what a great way to describe a company that exists to care for and comfort customers. I realized as I recalled my conversation with Steve on that rainy day that Apple was actually a Missionary company, not a Mother company and that left me with one more “M” to conjure. I scoured my thesaurus and found “Mechanic.”

4. How has marketing evolved in all the years you’ve been in the industry? What do you think is the next big evolution to come to the field?

Marketing has evolved a lot with the emergence of the internet and continues to evolve at a blinding pace with all the new analytics and tools available. There are 1001 ways to reach your customer and there are tools to monitor your success with every one of them. But it’s important to realize that at its core, marketing is a practice that should create a friendly and attractive environment for sales to occur. And while there are many technologies available to help us monitor and measure everything we do, good old-fashioned knowledge about human behavior and how to influence it is still the hallmark of a great marketer.

5. It’s great that the second half of the book was all case studies. How did you choose these companies? Any great one that didn’t make it into the book that you can share with us?

I chose the case studies in the second half of the book because they were all super great clients and they represented the two genotypes for each DNA type so very well. The one case study that I would have shared had we concluded our engagement and completed the turnaround is BlackBerry. If you Google the company, you’ll see that it’s not the same BlackBerry of yesterday—the one that lost the smartphone race to Apple and Android. We repositioned the company as an enterprise software security company serving a burgeoning new market we dubbed the Enterprise of Things—the market for mobile security within the enterprise where mobile means not only devices, but also monitors, sensors and trackers that exist on every part, every vehicle of transportation, every warehouse and every distribution outlet. We created BlackBerry Secure, not only a name for the company’s mobile security platform, but also a “state of mind” for customers of the company’s security solutions. A formal case study will be published soon.

6. What’s the one thing we can all do to improve the effectiveness of our messaging?

Effective messaging must be genuine and authentic, it must reflect the substance upon which it is based. It also must be “meme-ified,” or turned into recognizable and catchy “memes” and injected into every single form of communication a company has at its disposal. And then the usage of it must be relentless. You will tire of your messaging LONG before the market has even heard it, so continuing to place those “memes” in all communication is the key. And that is the hardest thing to do because you have to herd the cats inside the company to stay on message long after they are bored with it.