You start off with a grand vision, the big thought. You can imagine the person who will go crazy over your offering right in front of your eyes.
As you find yourself diving head-first into product development, in many cases your target audience starts to automatically widen and with that you run the risk of your startup turning into a factory of…meh.
A Meh Factory is pointing towards, and hitting the center of the bullseye perfectly. A good thing you’d assume, but the bullseye is smack in the middle of everything: not too this, not too that, it’s just right in the middle. A product that tries to appeal to everyone and do everything. It is not the cheapest, not the priciest, not the coolest, not the best – no, it’s just right there, sitting stagnant in the middle of it all and by hitting the target spot-on, it is missing its target audience, its initial reason for existence, entirely.
Becoming a Meh Factory is an even easier trap to fall into for an existing brand that is losing its soul, a great example being Gap (You can indulge in this story, exemplifying a brand’s quest to remain relevant).
As a startup you can protect yourself from falling into this gap (sorry!) early on. As you enter the development phase, remind yourself that as a new brand on the market it has to be your main goal to work towards reaching someone’s heart and not everyone’s mind. Only if you get one ‘tribe’ to not only like, but fully love your offering can you create a cult brand. And that is exactly what you should target. Shoot into any corner, just don’t point towards the center as you’d be missing your target – you know, the person you were thinking of when your idea first popped into your head. Make her love your brand, others will follow.
I had a fun time chatting at the Techweek panel two weeks ago about branding and marketing for startups (Amazing location, can’t beat that view). As panels go, it’s always a bit awkward and one can never predict the outcome. In my case, I was surprised that I could not stop talking about Topgolf. And I am not even a golfer. Here’s why:
Topgolf is a chain of golf entertainment centers that cater to the very audience (Millennials, 18-34) that every other golf-related business is afraid of, because data, major news outlets (WSJ, Businessweek, Forbes) and Dick’s Sporting Goods’ golf layoff story has taught us that they just don’t care about golfing anymore. Topgolf created a cool environment that is about having a drink, a great time socially, and lastly about golfing. They flipped the things that made golf unattractive for Millennials and made them into a social media love fest, a place that demands you taking pictures and videos. You actually want to show off that you are golfing with friends. Pretty remarkable.
In the beginning though it seems like Topgolf (as most startups would have done) was driven by data, so they went after families and pros, based on a recent article in Inc. Data and ‘insights’ often turn into a safe zone for leaders to base their decisions on (like hiring IBM to feel job security in the old days – A.K.A. Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), and it often leads to mediocre brand strategy and marketing results. I don’t believe it takes half as much data as it takes brains and guts to define your perfect target audience to market to.
If everyone says ‘don’t go there,’ perhaps they just did not take the right path.
This was one of many topics I was asked about by a croatian startup site prior to the speech I gave two nights ago at the University of Zagreb for the Founder Institute. The interview was published in croatian, which you can peruse here if you speak the language (and want to analyze and help me understand why the Backstreet Boys invaded my Brand Atmosphere), but for the rest of you, here it is:
You created a robust business (or launch) plan and a solid brand platform. You hired a great branding firm to tackle the important task of creating a brand identity on time and on budget. What could possibly go wrong?
There’s one thing that can come between you and a winning brand identity: You.
Before you start your hate mails, think about it with me for a second. You have superior taste in art and design. You know your new service or product better than anyone else. You need to see it succeed. How could you possibly turn into a road block? Because of exactly these reasons you will want to create a brand identity that you will like. Colors that speak to you, shapes you like, a concept that resonates with you, fonts that feel current to you. That’s a whole lot of ‘you’ even though this is not at all about you, it’s about Julian, Rich and Adrienne. Your target personas. What you need to like is that your new brand identity will resonate and be liked by them.
Will you like the new brand identity design? You surely should. Does it matter if orange is your color and that you prefer sans serif typefaces? No, it does not. Nor does it matter what the Designer or Creative Director ‘likes’. What matters behind every creative decision is why it was made and how it will further improve adaptation by your customer. This is extremely difficult as an entrepreneur, or even CMO, to personally detach from, but it is what will make the brand ID a success for your audience and in turn for yourself.
We advise our clients to dive deep into 3-5 target personas with us. We give them names, research and ‘listen’ to them. We encourage our more advantageous clients to create life size cardboard figures of them to place around the office. Next time you nod your head during a creative presentation and say ‘I like this, the colors are beautiful, the type is cool and the concept really resonates with me,’ take a step back and say ‘Adrienne would really like this, these colors disrupt her world just enough to stand out and I see her adopting the icon easily.’ You will like what you