When Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough

In the early 1940’s executives at Gibson USA decided that the company needed a new slogan. As one of the premiere guitar manufacturers in the world they wanted a catch phrase that would really capture the essence of what their company was all about. So their Marketing Department got together and came up with a phrase that they believed did just that. “Only a Gibson is good enough!” they proudly declared. It’s a good slogan: “Only a Gibson is good enough.” The company’s executives didn’t just like it: they loved it! They decided not to just use it in print advertisements; they had it painted it on the actual guitars during the production process. From that day forward, everyone who purchased a Gibson guitar would see the words, “Only a Gibson is good enough” featured prominently on the head stock. I don’t mean to repeat it so much, but it is a good slogan. I’d have to say that it’s almost the best I’ve ever heard.

Marketing Execs at Gibson’s chief rival thought that it was a pretty good slogan, also. In fact, executives at Epiphone were concerned that it was going to lure customers away from their company. So they realized they needed to come up with a new company catch phrase. After doing some research, and a very clever bit of benchmarking, they came with a new slogan: “Epiphone…when ‘good enough’ just isn’t good enough.” That’s the best slogan I ever heard. “Only a Gibson is good enough,” never appeared on another Gibson guitar.

Gibson learned the hard way that priding one’s self on mediocrity doesn’t lead down the path to success. As we’ve discussed here, we live in an era where the expression work ethic is an oxymoron. Dave Palmeroy, A Nashville session bassist, once commented that “Bass players should look at the minimum number of notes they can play in a song and then play half of them,” but many people today take that approach to their jobs and to life. That just isn’t going to cut it anymore these days. In order to be successful you have to push yourself to do your best all the time.

As an example of this philosophy, I’d like to use an anecdote from the life of a gentleman I work with. Bob Grazioli began his professional career as an electrician’s apprentice. On his first job in that field he worked for a gentleman whose daughter he happened to be dating. (You can say what you want about Bob, but you can’t tell me he’s not brave. My grandfather was awarded two Purple Hearts in WWII, but I’d have to say Bob is the bravest man I ever knew.) Bob was installing an electrical socket into a kitchen. After he put the box in he asked his boss if it was “good enough.” His boss looked at him and asked, “Is it perfect?” Bob replied, “I don’t know.” “Then how do you know if it’s good enough?” Bob got the message. He won his bosses’ respect, became a professional electrician, and he got the girl. (He and his then-bosses’ daughter have been married for over twenty years.) Bob Grazioli is currently a Maintenance Supervisor for an international manufacturing company. I guess that socket was perfect.

Gibson USA also got the message. In 1957 they were facing stiff competition from an upstart rival called Fender. At the time, all guitar companies used single coil pick-ups in their instruments. They enabled the sound of the guitar to be amplified and heard, but they also caused a humming or hissing noise to come through the amplifier, but the tone was “good enough” for musicians at the time. Gibson hired an engineer named Seth Loving to see if he could correct this anomaly. Sure enough he invented a device he called a “Humbuckler” that produced a cleaner tone that eliminated the hiss and the humming noise. Gibson got a head of the pack. And, oh yeah, around that same time, they bought Epiphone.

Legendary Marketing Guru Theodore Leavitt had a great expression: “It’s not whom we know, it’s how we are known by them.” Joe Girard exemplifies that. He is the world’s greatest salesman. He sold 13,001 cars to individual people. In one month in 1973 he sold 174 cars. That is a world record that stands to this day. How did he do it? He explained in a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review that, “When you bought a car from me, you just didn’t get a car. You got me. I would break my back to service a customer; I’d rather service a customer than sell another car.” Mr. Girard emphasized that he loved his customers. Unlike today where many companies view their customers as a hindrance, Mr. Girard saw the opportunity to put food on the table for his family. He was born poor and he was down on his luck when a manager at a car dealership decided to give him a shot at sales. And he never forgot it. Mr. Girard said that he sincerely appreciated every person who ever bought a car from him. He would tell customers, “I thank you, and my family thanks you. I love you.” Mr. Girard didn’t see a sale as the end result. He saw making a satisfied customer as the goal.

I’ve described Marketing strategies that work, the power of persistence, and success. I’ve talked about people and companies that are winners. I think it fitting to close with a remark by one of the greatest winners of them all. Vince Lombardi used to tell his players that “the day you can tolerate coming in second, it makes it that much easier to tolerate coming in third. And that makes it easier to accept coming in fourth and so on.” So the next time you do something, don’t ask yourself if it’s good enough, you ask yourself if it’s perfect.