Tuesday 2¢ – The Power of No

One of the most powerful business words is “no”. Often representing the negative, the closed minded, the objection to change, but in this week’s Tuesday 2 cents I advocate the power of a purposeful and positive no.


How are some services simple to use? How are some products easier to use than others? How is the story one brand has told so crystal clear, that you remember it today, maybe years after it was first told?

Think of the last seamless customer experience you had. Was it developed because lots of people said “yes”? Was the purity of the Apple brand or the focus of the Dollar Shave Club or the seamless way that easy to use services like Spotify, Dropbox or Slack have crept into our lives developed by people that said yes? Maybe, but someone at these companies, at some point had to say no.

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

Steve Jobs

I reckon there are a lot of companies rueing the day they said yes, when some bright spark suggested they shift from their core business or story to chasing a new market or to diversifying their offerings. A Coors Mountain Spring Water moment , when a world famous beer brand thought it could trade it’s brand that to sell bottled water.

It’s not just in marketing, when I was in product development, I learned that the trade-off for “ease of use” is often to say no to an edge case user story, some flexibility in the configuration, a feature loved by the few or additional choices for the experienced user. To make something uncluttered and simple for the many, you have to say no to the few.

When I was running a Content Marketing practice, on one engagement I was identifying personas for a major financial brand. The best advice, they told me, I gave them was not who they should target but who NOT to sell to, who to stop creating content for.

As marketers it’s easy for us to run along on the hamster wheel, eagerly saying yes to every new opportunity to market, discovering a new niche, an audience segment, new partner, new acronym to toot our horn about. It’s much harder to say no.

Saying no does not mean developing the thick skin and personality of The Grinch. Saying no means having a very clear defendable story and strategy, and then to have the cohones to stick to it and stay the course to deliver on the brand promise.

Because, you know, sometimes, you have to say no.