Are You Tony Hsieh or Henry Ford?

Miles Branman (BUPRSSA VP) and I debate two ways of thinking in the business world.  You can read more of Miles’s writing at MilesPerHr.

In the consumer marketplace, there are two schools of thought:

(1) The Tony Hsieh Way


(2) The Henry Ford Way

When you work in marketing communications or decide to start your own company, its important to understand what message you want your brand to convey.  But which CEO is it better to emulate: Tony Hsieh or Henry Ford?

Tony Hseih (Zappos) by Maurice Rahmey

Zappos is a great example of giving customers what they want. The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh built his company around outstanding customer service. People wanted online buying to be as enjoyable and interactive an experience as shopping in a store. Hsieh saw the opportunity to craft a truly customer-centric enterprise and capitalized.

Although Zappos is still a relatively young brand, they’ve become one of the most well know companies to give customers what they want.  Hsieh believed in creating the ultimate online shopping experience for consumers by ensuring that the customer is always right.  This meant never arguing about returns, treating good customers well, and responding to complaints and inquiries lightning fast.

In an era where social media is omnipresent throughout the web, listening to your customer’s needs and creating a business for them is extremely important to succeed now more than ever. Although Zappos may not be the flashiest site or have the most innovative products, people still visit the site in droves everyday.  Businesses and marketers sometimes think too far outside the box when they mold a brand — they forget the most important aspect of their company, the consumers, and instead focus on the things that don’t matter to stand out from the crowd.

Taking a non-Tony Hsieh approach to business leaves your customers out of the picture and that’s a problem that can have a serious financial impact on your brand in the long run.

Henry Ford (Ford Motor Company) by Miles Branman

Henry Ford once said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”  Unlike Tony Hsieh, Henry Ford built his brand on innovative products and tools customers never knew they needed.

The Steve Jobs of his time, Ford understood innovation is extremely important when building a brand or company.  Although listening to what customers want is important, it can get in the way of being a visionary and blazing new trails for your brand.

In order to be successful in branding and building a business, it’s important to be a thought leader moreso than a thought listener.

Consider automakers in recent history. The major US brands failed have failed in the markets in recent years.

But why did they fail?

Companies like General Motors stopped offering vehicles people desired in place of maximizing profits trying to give consumers what they thought they wanted. Consumers stopped buying because they didn’t feel the “need” to purchase a new automobile.

Recently though, some automakers have completely overhauled their stereotypical brands. Appropriately, it was Ford, nearly a century after its Model T, who took the lead with its new media campaigns and fuel economy improvements. Then brands like Hyundai followed with advanced technology, beautiful styling and unique marketing campaigns to attract customers’ needs they didn’t know they had (check out Hyundai’s marketing campaign).

Suddenly, through the aid of unique branding campaigns, consumers realized these were features, designs, and performance improvements they should want. Even without true relief from economic concerns, buyers returned to the automotive marketplace. The brands which recognized the need for change, adapted and innovated to find success.  They didn’t listen to what people wanted but created

Although Henry Ford may no longer be around today, his innovative way of thinking is still a part of his automotive company’s brand. Without continuing to be an industry leader, creating products people never knew they wanted and marketing to those appeals, Ford’s branding campaigns wouldn’t be as effective as they are today.

Who’s Right?

Brands have some very tough decisions to make when asserting themselves in the marketplace. Will they identify themselves as a trustworthy brand people can go to for what they want? Or will they be the cool and revolutionary brand consumers never could have imagined on their own?

In order for many brands to succeed they need to incorporate both the Hsieh and Ford ideologies, sometimes in different situations.

For example, in larger scale situations it makes more sense to be an innovator and a thought leader.  However, when you are dealing with smaller things like customer service, you should listen to your consumers.

Utilize the philosohies of each of these great entrepreneurs when cultivating a brand and it’s a sure bet you’ll distinguish yourself in the marketplace.


1 thought on “Are You Tony Hsieh or Henry Ford?

  1. Two visionaries with seemingly disparate approaches. Neither is wrong. Of course, Henry Ford did offer five color choices in the original Model T. It’s just that when demand threatened to outstrip supply, he opted to go with a faster-drying color (black) that could meet his customers’ needs.

    We’re very lucky at Ford Motor Company to be continuing on Henry Ford’s vision of opening up the highways to all mankind, but now we’re making sure that it’s fuel efficiency and smart design for all – not just those who can afford it. And we’re doing so by listening to our customers and delivering on what they want and value.

    Scott Monty
    Global Digital Communications
    Ford Motor Company


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