Are your company's "best-kept secrets" hurting your brand and appeal to customers? Many companies today are scrambling to stay relevant and keep pace with the competition. As a result, it can be tempting to keep your best ideas "under wraps" and hide your ideas in development until they are ready for the market. Although that may give entrepreneurs and leaders a sense of security, this move is actually creating the opposite effect with customers. As the Millennials come of age, they increasingly demand transparency, openness, and authenticity.

What this means for businesses is that to remain relevant, they must network and learn to prize relationships over isolated genius. The social age, with its abundance of access and information, bluntly reveals that the value is not so much in the inspired concept as in its execution and evolution.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the "idea" is no longer valuable, or worth patenting and protecting. The danger is not in solidifying one's claim on one's idea; it's in the fact that founders and inventors can miss out on visibility by over-prioritizing secrecy. Because, let's face it, a well-kept secret is hard to market.




1. The social age has redefined "exclusivity."

Exclusivity can no longer rely on inaccessibility. In our information-inundated lives, the inaccessible represents inconvenience, rather than intrigue and allure. In other words, companies can no longer afford to play coy. So, what creates exclusivity, if not lack of access?


Taking a stand. Whether that stand is for luxury or reaching a particular demographic, branding goes hand in hand with defining your audience and creating value.

Have something extraordinary to offer? You don't have to give it all away, but by creating a body of relatable content that educates, informs, and entertains, you increase the odds of being the company that's associated with that need or want in the marketplace. Competitors may "borrow" from you, but customers will also flock to you. And ultimately, being known for what you do protects you from the less-than-ethical activities of your competitors.


2. Ideas don't exist in a vacuum.


Great ideas carry momentum. They're dynamic. They grow and adapt. They require business acumen, as well as insight. A competitor may be able to steal an idea, but they won't be able to steal its history, or its background, or its founder's intimate knowledge of its potential.

A code or an industry secret can get out, but it's much harder to transmit the collaborative, collective wisdom of the team that's been involved in its application for years, or decades.


3. Value is a complex proposition.

It's worth asking where the value is in what you do. Is it truly in the fact that no one else does it, or is it in how you do what you do? Is it an amalgamation of your quality standards, your respectful treatment of business partners, and your intentional and strategic marketing efforts, or is it because you've been able to keep your protocols airtight?

In some instances, it might be the latter, but in most, brands will find that their "proprietary blend" is just one piece of the value proposition.

Further, with the Millennial market growing, transparency and knowledge sharing become more foundational than ever. In other words, a brand that hosts a webinar to facilitate discussions of its industry's hottest topics will likely grow faster than a brand that directs its energy and resources to keeping its vaults sealed.

4. Focus on establishing trust as much as, if not more than, control.

Trust isn't total abandon, but it does involve a certain surrender and free exchange. It doesn't happen instantly, but when established, it serves as the bedrock for loyalty, continuity, and mutual benefit. If brands can shift their focus from controlling what information their competitors can access to winning their customers' trust, they're likely to gain a powerful advantage in the marketplace -- a good reputation.

And a good reputation can outlast the most cutting-edge advancements, loss of originality, and even intense competition.

5. Amplify what makes you unique.

If you look closely, your technical know-how might not be the most unique or interesting aspect of your brand and business. Beneath that, there might be a story, an ethic, or an orientation that you can fully claim and amplify.

In the social age, customers don't just buy products; they buy modes of relating and expressing themselves; they buy status symbols and social stances. This applies to B2B businesses as well, though less obviously, as, at the end of the day, executives or professionals want to work with a company that is supported by relatable and responsive individuals. Some of this "personability" will certainly be staked in your company's technical expertise and industry knowledge, but much of it will be in your delivery and communication of your expertise and knowledge. In other words, the power may rest not just in what you know, or what you're the only one who knows, but what you can teach, integrate, and develop to its full potential.

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Shama Hyder is founder and CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, a best-selling author, and an internationally renowned keynote speaker. Her most recent book is Momentum (May 2016).

Published on: Apr 26, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.