‘Getting the vision right before you build the brand’
Having worked with a number of tech/platform startups over the past decade, whilst their actual product, target audience and starting points were different, for all of them, their vision being out there in the market was key to their success (or failure).
One of these startups has since grown to 1000 employees, with global offices around the world’s major markets and recently reached a market cap of $1.8 billion. Pretty nifty eh. Knowing the CEO and founder since it’s earliest days, I can honestly say that right from the start, marketing was as much his interest as the actual technology they were making was. So much so, the first few marketing directors didn’t last very long – why? Because they looked to simply bring what they had learned from other companies and apply it there. Now this doesn’t sound like a bad thing but the CEO understood that to stand out they needed to give wings to his vision, not a reworked version of someone else’s. To achieve that requires listening carefully and creating from scratch, not simply waiting for your chance to push an already conceived agenda. Indeed, this was his approach to how his own product developed, allowing customers to highlight what they individually connected with and what would make their lives easier in the future. In turn this allowed him to get their conversation with the market just right and proved to be a winning formula.
On the flipside, at another startup, this time an online B2C/B2B portal for employee engagement, online learning, community and volunteering opportunities and a digital personal profile to transcend all others to assist in finding work and like minded individuals (quite a mouthful already), all the emphasis was put on selling a brand and it’s macro ‘idea’ but not having the product to back it up. Don’t get me wrong the brand was noble in it’s holistic endeavour, offering some apparent value to business, consumer and education sectors, but what a mammoth task and even bigger audience to get it right for. The crucial flaw however was they never actually market checked their vision; testing for feedback from any of the intended users, to prove it’s worth as something they actually felt was needed, that they would use and importantly pay for (versus what they already had/did in these areas). But in this instance the CEO was so determined to carry out his own personal vision, in silo, that it led to a bottleneck in the business. No-one could move forward or prioritise work without his approval which in turn led to slow development and in the 3 years it took to almost get something built, many other providers had come out into the space with a finished product, which whilst did less, did very well in each of their respective, simpler focused parts. No-one actually wanted a holistic approach it turned out, just certain components done very well. Neither the intended users, nor his own management team agreed with his vision – This company went under. This is what happens when a company doesn’t listen to their audience, open itself to constructive criticism and doesn’t have focus and a clear demonstrable use but instead tries to tell them what they want.
Looking ahead, AI today is being marketing as something we should all want as consumers. Some markets in the world might like the idea of talking to a device in the home and having it play us a song, remind us of an appointment or answer a question so we don’t have to search for it. The fact is people don’t want every aspect of their home life replaced and they certainly don’t want a little spy in their home that feeds back information to the world’s biggest technology companies (Amazon & Google) what their habits are just to better push advertisers’ products down to them in other ways. However, these technology giants can put enough budget behind their advertising and message to develop the necessary critical mass, that makes owning such things as the norm in at least an American household. If you’re reading this blog you’re probably in a different league in terms of spend so this is why it’s absolutely critical to road test your concept/product with it’s intended customer, so you’ll be able to market with complete confidence how your audience see’s you/your value to them, rather than missing the trick and pushing how you want to be viewed at them instead. Give it away, listen closely, adapt, give it away again, listen closely again, adapt again..now you’re ready to spend money on the brand and strongly position it’s vision in the market knowing it’s already a winner!