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Will Smith: Good Actor and Even Better Business Man

Will Smith investigated the marketplace before he started his movie career, analyzing the top-grossing movies and developing a strategy. It is a lesson for every business.

Will Smith is the most successful actor of his generation, grossing in excess of $4 billion for his movies — but it is his business acumen that got him there. It wasn’t luck or charm, although he certainly possesses considerable charm. There’s a bigger story here.

When Smith decided to enter the movie business, as he told the television program “60 Minutes,” he did so in a very deliberate fashion by doing his due diligence on what constituted success in the movies. And every business can take a page from his playbook.

First, he gathered the right data — information that was current, accurate, relevant and sufficient to make his decision. Second, he analyzed it for patterns or insights, and discovered that the top 10 movies included special effects; nine of 10 included special effects with creatures; and eight of 10 included special effects, creatures, and a love story. His first two movies, “Independence Day” and “Men in Black,” followed that model, and grossed $1.3 billion combined.

Third, he didn’t look to his competition for guidance. In the mid-1990s, when the biggest movie actors were Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks, Smith opted against making the same films they did. Instead, his strategy was to look at the top-grossing movies, and analyze what made them so — and most importantly, give the movie fans (the buyers of his product) what they wanted.

So how does this strategy translate to everyday business?

Yes, Smith might have chosen another direction; and yes, he might have been equally successful. He might have studied the Oscar winners — though they were not all box-office successes. He might have followed the path of other successful stars, but even they have made some losers.

Instead, he chose not to rely on his “gut feeling” for what might make a successful film. Rather, he looked at what the customer wanted and responded with a product to suit them.

The strategy is simple. It is powerful. And it got the results Smith wanted. This is a lesson that every business can learn. In a constantly changing business world, gut or past successes are less and less reliable for knowing what the market wants and will buy. Good decisions require homework and objective investigation.

The message here is to study what the market wants and buys and then respond accordingly. It is a basic approach that is often forgotten in the life of a business. While each successful business started with a product or service that customers wanted, somewhere along the timeline the business began to believe that, paternalistically, it knew or knows better. This is a mistake, and this is why so many businesses fail or fail to grow. They rely on yesterday’s knowledge and yesterday’s gut feel.

But, the market changes every day, and so do customers’ tastes. This is why Smith investigated the marketplace before he started his movie career, and it is a lesson he can teach every business. Do your homework and verify or learn what is true — today!

This article was originally published in LA Watts Times.

Seena Sharp authored the recently published Competitive Intelligence Advantage: How to Minimize Risk, Avoid Surprises, and Grow Your Business in a Changing World (Wiley). She founded one of the first competitive intelligence firms, Sharp Market Intelligence, serving clients from Fortune 500 firms to those whose names are unfamiliar – throughout the US, Europe, Asia and Africa. She speaks to business groups globally and has published numerous business articles.

Visit www.sharpmarket.com or www.competitiveintelligenceadvantage.com.

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Sharp Market Intelligence

Sharp Market Intelligence

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