If we ask any well know brand who their major competitors are the answers are reasonably predictable. It’s those brands who have that other part of the market share pie. This is what we all got taught during marketing class, and it made sense in the AC Nielsen TV ratings market share industrial era. The problem is that it makes a lot less sense as we transition to the digital age. An age where incumbents are constantly being exposed on the flanks, rather than by direct competitors. If we went back and asked a number of industrial world businesses who their main competitors were, the story becomes much clearer:
Kodak: At first it was Fuji & Agfa, closely followed by Cannon and Nikon…. but really in the end their nemesis came from a different planet. The planet of Apple, Google, Instagram and Facebook. What is Facebook really other than a Kodak moment 2.0?
Encyclopedia Britannica: Clearly World Book and later Encarta, the CD ROM based delivery by Microsoft. But in the end it was you and me who provided more accurate data on the subject of ‘everything’ as we populated both Google and Wikipedia. We turned out to be more accurate, more timely and we came at everyone’s favourite price – free!
Free to Air Television: First became very worried about movie rental stores (VHS, DVD) followed by cable TV. While now their real worry is the other screens in the home as Netflix, Youtube and Pirate Bay eat their lunch.
There are of course an unlimited number of examples with the same story.
But the lessons in a period of technological transition are two fold.
Incumbents: If your company or brand is in a battle defending revenue and market share from industry players, you’re focusing on the wrong area.
Entrepreneurs: If you’re aiming to disrupt an industry that has intense and focused market share battles, you’re focusing on the right area.
Startup Blog says: In times of transition, it pays to look to the sides instead of straight ahead.
I’m totally in love with Modern Seinfeld on Twitter (@seinfeldtoday). Each day I tune into the stream hoping for some more tweets which serve up 140 more characters of Seinfeld goodness. For the uninitiated, Modern Seinfeld is an ‘unofficial’ tweet stream in which each tweet is the synopsis for a fictional modern day Seinfeld episode. It really is the stuff of genius.
But it has another possibly unintended benefit. It’s also a short cut to an understanding of the world we live in. For anyone who has been asleep for the past 15 years, and missed out on the revolution, then all they need to do is tune into this twitter feed. 397 tweet reads later and they’ll be all over digital pop culture. Check out these doozies below as examples:
The other cool thing, is that the real Jerry hasn’t done anything ridiculous like asking them to take it down due to copyright infringement. Which is exactly what we’d expect from many old world media owners.
In 2013 I think we can all agree that there is no digital. There is only life. We all now move seamlessly between our digital and analogue selves. The transition is unnoticeable and omnipresent. It’s a surprise that most marketers and even some tech startups fail to realize this.
Key hint: If you have an on-line strategy something is wrong. The strategy is the strategy.
The increasing number of layers and channels is just another example of our world increasing in complexity and contextual differentiators. Something that will only continue on its current trajectory. And it is not just about retailers getting their digi-on. It’s also about those who live on line understanding how they can enter the physically world – it’s still where we humans live!
The advertisement below inspired this post. A great example of a few hallmarks in advertising:
- Humour when relevant
- Customer centric strategy
- Real world integration
Sadly most Australian retailers are still yet to realise we operate in a new world.
Industrial and bricks and mortar businesses are overcome by their need to ‘get on line’. Guess what? Digital and startup businesses need to ‘get off line’. It turns out that this revolution is a two way street. The new eco system is wide, and we ignore either side at our peril.
Here’s a fun example of the digital getting physical:
Attracting and serving fans has been a past time of brands for the past few years on Facebook. To the point where the accumulation itself became the objective. And while I keep looking for the cracks to appear in Facebook it seems to be able to continue to grow despite its huge size. Maybe the barriers to exit the service are too high for consumers to leave? Maybe the FOMO and connectedness matters too much? But one thing I am sure of is how I feel about it personally, and from a marketing perspective.
It made sense at first: After the 50 years of the top down TV industrial complex – a period when we got told and sold, it was novel to have a direct connection with the brands. To be able to talk to the big brands in town felt good. For once our opinion was more than a letter or ‘non caring’ customer service 1800 agent. I mean they had to care, it was all on display for everyone to see. A poor response from any brand would result in a digital lynch mob attack. Finally we had the respect we deserved as the supporters of the brands. It was the connection we always wanted. It seemed to make sense for both parties. So we all connected in every way we could – and filled our digital dance card.
Then we discovered we didn’t have much in common: Both us and the brands struggled with our new found direct connection, our co-operative digital love affair. We’d read each others stuff, try and be loyal to each other and support the give and take element in this new world. We even designed new products together, made advertisements for each other and really embraced the new tools we were afforded. But it got kinda boring. I mean how many conversations can we have about breakfast cereal, tomato sauce and canned tuna? So the brands took their lessons and got wise. They realised that they had to live a layer outside of what they sold in order to create value beyond what they actually sold. They realised they had become a resource and knowledge bank in related realms to thrive in a social world. So cereal became about diet and health. Frozen meals became about a life well lived and what’s on in the city and dish washing liquid became about tricks and tips around the house. The campaigns and related brand pages sprouted like mushrooms And all this worked out pretty well…..for a while.
Until it became a spam fest: At first, we got useful information and respected and rewarded brands in the process. So brands did what brands do. More of what works, and copied those who did it first and best. The great likenomics battle of 2010 and beyond…. Until everyone’s feed was so full of junk – it became like the letter box we have no joy in opening – A letter box just filled with flyers, bills and credit card offers. The dance floor wss too full, the music was too loud. In a social media marketing sense it is the equivalent of 3am and we all just want to get some sleep already. We are over it. I don’t think I am exaggerating here, it is probably how most of us feel right now. And I haven’t even touched on all the people we said ‘yes’ to on facebook, who we haven’t seen since grade school. Like I said, it was interesting and novel at the start, but it is very difficult to care for the babies of someone you have seen in decades.
So now I’m done: Yes, there are some brands I love. Some whose products and services really matter to me. But it is certain that none of these brands ever find their way into my shopping trolly, are my finance provider or power my home. Yes, non of them are boring products from the industrial era. The only brands I play with and want to converse with are those I spend my spare time with. That’s my current definition of where I draw the line on being ‘friends’ with a corporation. And I really think it’s over for most brands trying to make their way in the social sphere – even though the numbers and analysis on brand engagement on social forums probably don’t show it yet.
Yes, brands need social: It is foolish to think that brands shouldn’t be in social media, or use the tools. It is the first place we’ll go to find them – their facebook page, or find their twitter handle. And you can be certain we’ll want an answer within seconds. It is the new call centre and probably alot of other things as well. What it isn’t, and wont ever be, is part of peoples social life. I’m betting people will gravitate back to saving that for other humans.
It’s in our make up: There only so many relationships we can have in life. Whether they are people or personified brands, we are genetically programmed to only be able to manage so many interactions. Dunbars number is the simplest way to explain this phenomenon. It’s a basic safety mechanism that ensures stability and safety, and it’s what will drive us back to a limited number of social interactions (physical & virtual).
Brands need to know where they belong: The key element to all this is knowing where we belong in peoples lives. I’m far more likely to interact with a brand that I invest my spare time with. The brands that play in my passion space. The other brands I am happy to purchase, need to understand that they are associates, micro interactions, whom I do not have time for or want dealings with outside of what they thing they actually deliver.
It’s time everyone (brands & people) realised where they belong, and took a human approach to our connections. If everyone tries to maximise social connections simply because the gates have been opened, we’ll end up with closed doors and reduced potential for trust with the connections we actually want to have.
A part of life ‘on-line’ is that it requires a certain amount of administration. Stuff needs to be set up, logged in and authorised. It’s also a big part of getting people into a start up. So we most often ensure that the barriers to entry are reduced…. we let our new users do the admin later. Maybe, on their next visit. The only problem with this is that administration should always be undertaken when motivation is the highest, and that’s usually at the start of a process or project.
This video was a nice reminder of what motivates people in life. I dig the animation, but I did think that the examples were kind of naff. In the spirit of de-naffing – I thought I’d list out the 6 key motivators, and then give an example of how a startup can employ it in a cool way that makes sense.
According to the science these are the key drivers that persuade people to take action.
Reciprocity: Be the resource first. Give to an audience something valuable, without asking for anything in return. Advice, information, news, utility. When I think of this, I think about the freemium model. I think about Google serving data points and monetizing later. How can your startup help in the first instance?
Scarcity: One of my favourite marketing strategies is when brands who know they have something cool and limit the distribution of their thing. Invites to Google+ and Pinterest come to mind, as does the retail strategy of many premium goods. This also has an important impact on our ability to price more profitably.
Authority: People want to deal with experts. One thing smart startups can do these days is build credentials in related spheres to what they sell. Smart brands do thought pieces on their industry, share intimate knowledge they have learned, and even give away perceived trade secrets. This is a smart way to fast track reputation and gain authority. A company blog is a great start. Talking at relevant industry conferences, getting articles published and mini doco’s are also great ways of developing a brand as an authority. Another old school method is gaining borrowed interest via sponsorships.
Consistency: In a world of exponential change and category fragmentation, it would be easy to think we desire unique and changeable experiences. But the opposite is true. While our tastes are becoming more niche, every niche experience we have we want to be consistent with our expectations. In technology Apple does it extremely well with their interface. But the true master would have to be McDonalds. When it comes to homogeneity of experience, they are the true masters. A simple question we can ask ourselves is this: How will the system we are building facilitate a ritual? Humans are creatures of habit and certainty – brands that serve this, have a chance at generating loyalty.
Liking: While this doesn’t appear in many strategy documents, people do business with people they like. The science says we like people and companies that are similar to us, and co-operate with us. When it comes to startups, a fast track to doing this is to personify the brand. Have a set of values that people can relate to, to stand for something politically and environmentally. The days of corporate fence sitting and both party political donations are over. The best way to be likable is to take a stand and find the people who value what we do. The others are irrelevant.
Consensus: With humans being social animals, we look for decision validation within our reference group. This doesn’t mean that the wisdom of crowds is right. In fact, it might mean the wisdom of a closed group of people we trust. My best current example is that the popularity of Facebook and its ever growing user base assures me that it isn’t right for me.
While it is hard to do all of these, it’s a nice reminder of the type of activity we need to undertake to inspire people to take action.
What are some of the methods that you’ve used?
While it is clear that the birth of the omnipresent web has changed our business infrastructure, it’s not clear that most people understand the truth about digital as it pertains to business, brand or startup strategy. Here’s a simple phrase to help remind us:
There is no digital.
There is only ‘life’. We seamlessly move between a variety of technologies in our day. As we have done since the beginning of time with all forms of technology. We don’t have a digital life and an analogue life as much as we don’t have a sitting on a chair life or a sitting on the floor life. A chair is just a piece of technology like the latest shinny thing in our pockets is. And it’s about time we started recognizing that a digital strategy is a flawed one by definition. All that exists is a strategy that makes sense – one which is technology agnostic. One that achieves objectives by considering all of the methods and tools at our disposal.
The days of digital strategy are over. Anyone who doesn’t get digital, doesn’t get strategy. We need start to think again in terms of utility for the audience – it’s only when we focus on their needs that we can ever hope to be a solution in their day.
I came across 3 really good pieces in the past week that I really think are worth sharing.
- The first of the these was a blog post from Jason Calcanis on the topic of how moderate success is the enemy of breakout success. Something I spoke about earlier this year. But this post is totally insightful and potentially direction changing. While we all espouse staying the course – maybe the course isn’t to stick to a particular idea, but to stick to being in startup land. Instead we should pivot quickly and frequently until we find the right path. His contention being that when we are on the right track, we’ll know within a few short months. Read it here.
- The second is two important pieces from Seth Godin. This first is a video where he is very candid about his previous failures, which for me was important because he talks so often about the power of failure and for once we hear more about it – some of his past ventures where pretty out there. It was a great video interview – watch it here. Another post of his stood out to me as his best of the year. It was about confusing being good with being lucky. The post explains itself very clearly – the lesson to take is not to be alarmed if you haven’t been lucky ‘yet’. While others, even revered Silicon Valley wiz kids may well have just been lucky. In fact, some get so lucky we may never find out if they are actually any good. Read it here.
- The last is a story about startups by Sriram Krishnan that were told they couldn’t succeed and were ‘Not Fundable‘. What I love about this post is how convincing the negative arguments are. They are indisputable – but you’ll know what happened to these ideas… More proof that anything can happen during a technology revolution. Read it here.
I’d be keen to hear about any links you’ve happened upon which provide some poignant end of year lessons for us to consider over the holidays.