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The Way of The Cheetah

By Mark DiMassimo Founder and Chief of DIGO.

You can take the elephants and the dinosaurs – I like the Cheetahs.

I’ve spent the better part of my career working closely with leaders of innovative, fast-growing midsized organizations. I’ve coined a term for these leaders and their companies – I call them “Cheetahs.”

It is a privilege to be able to work intimately with these visionaries. Every working day is like going to the school of my dreams. As a young man living in Paris in the 1920s, my former client, the late Roy Neuberger, founder of Neuberger & Berman money management firm, studied art working along side such figures as Pablo Picasso (Neuberger was born in 1903, died in 2010 at age 107). I imagine he felt as I do, with the chief difference being that my masters are business artists.

Of course, the Cheetah is by far the fastest land animal, clocking bursts of up to 110 MPH. I’ve found that Cheetah leaders do move faster, eliminating or hurtling obstacles to growth. I’ve learned so much working with Cheetahs – about what makes an effective growth leader, and how to best accelerate growth in Cheetah companies, divisions and brands – that I’ve accumulated a great deal of writing on the subject.

In between my daily sprints, I’m working on a book on the most important things I’ve learned, titled The Way of the Cheetah, which I expect to be available by the end of the year. In the mean time, with my PR partner Eric Yaverbaum, author of PR for Dummies and several other business bestsellers, I’ve released an early draft of much of this material in a free e-book, titled Digital@SPEED – How to think, act and lead like a digital marketer in a time-starved world. It’s available for download here, absolutely free, for reading in a variety of e-reader formats.

So, how do luxury, fashion and retail brands out-pace and out-grow their larger competition?

What luxury Cheetah brands know is that the customer experience is everything. This experience happens inside of the customer in response to what you orchestrate around the customer. Watch Coach and Kate Spade, for example. The Luxury Institute reports that Coach has the highest brand familiarity, purchase intent and recommendation rate among affluent consumers “by a wide margin” and the Institute report goes on to attribute this “unprecedented success” to at “a highly disciplined customer culture” and a “consumer-centric brand built on strong core values.” Kate Spade is building a strong international brand with the same customer-experience centered evolution.

Customer centricity and customer service are the ultimate keys, responsible not only for the enduring strength of Nordstrom but also for the emergence of Zappos as a major force. The kind of service that seduces prospects into repeat customers and generates word-of-mouth stories is what it takes to build a powerful luxury brand. Luxury customers come back for an experience that they love and can repeat. Understand what the luxury experience means to them and deliver at a legendary level.

Cheetahs pay close attention to the intersection of new technology and consumer behavior, pouncing on opportunities to use technology to create a new and more exciting customer experience. Witness Gilt Groupe, Rue La La and Bluefly. By creating exciting luxury buying experiences that start online and in the email inbox, these brands have grown to own significant pieces of the luxury and fashion buyer’s dollar.

Cheetahs don’t let anything stand in the way of a dizzying pace of improvement in customer experience. They know that slower animals are never far behind. Whatever the obstacle, Cheetah leaders will either outrun it or hunt it down and chew it up. Which leads me to my first rule of working with Cheetahs:

Be the hunter not the prey. In other words, never be the obstacle.