Show me a well-established brand anytime, and I’ll counter with a startup that is absolutely taking that niche by storm. The cut-throat rules that brands stuck to for managing and marketing their products have gone out the window. But, when it comes to startups, they are playing it by the ear. Not simply content with bending the rules, they are rather innovating the rules altogether and making their own.
To sustain this rat-race, brands need to switch from the slow and steady lane to the fast & furious freeways of startups. Big brands with well-established categories have been upended overnight. As a matter of fact, brands are blindsided by the disruption caused by young and hungry brands.To clamber out of the rut and back on to the track, brands need to navigate forward with an out-of-the-box ‘beginners mind’, rather than a run-of-the-mill experienced sage gait.
I have a knack for reading a lot. And with that in mind, I’ve gathered around some lessons that big brands can learn from startups. Here are the key takeaways for global giants, or anyone else for that matter who is willing to jump-start their business but don’t know where to begin.
The problem with big brands is that they tend to play it safe, instead of venturing out into untapped horizons. Right from the top, the culture is not to take any risks that you don’t know about. And for the cherry on the top, brand leaders/managers don’t even get a pat on their backs. In fact, brands fall into the habit of trying out data that works and ignoring everything else.
On the other hand, startups are more susceptible to failure. Of course, there is a risk but the risk doesn’t hold back the founders from moving away from their comfort zone. And often times, success is found when you dare to step far away from your home ground.
As a startup initiator, I know what it feels like to nose-dive into the chilly waters of failure. And not just go pear-shaped, but to learn from that failure and muster the courage to get back up on my feet and start from scratch. With startups, there is no going back. Either you are in the mud, or you are floating on a rowboat.
Fear is one thing that stops big brands from taking calculated risks. Knowledge surely declutters the mind but evolution starts with baby steps. So, it is high time that big brands stopped playing on the defensive and leaned more towards an offensive approach.
An up-and-coming startup entails its founders to hone in on their social skills. One mistake that big brands make is when they purchase small startups, divide their existing teams and isolate the culture prevalent there. Instead of doing this, brands need to learn how to monetize their social skills to glean unconceivable gains.
Kristen Hadeedinher book,“Permission to Screw Up” talks about starting a Student maid service in her shared apartment with a roommate.
“It was insane. We started with three people and whenever we satisfied a customer, we asked them for a review. These reviews gave us some more room to breathe in. And within a short period of time, we created a tribe.”
Seth Godin in his TED talks explores the concept of creating tribes in more detail. One thing he mentioned was “When startups connect with their tribes, they embark on an uphill journey of exponential growth.”
The problem with brands is that they tend to focus more on the rivals than on themselves. Startups on the other hand focus solely on establishing relationships with their rivals. Even if they are not friends, the startups allow them to be apart of their tribe.
Because startups initiate their business with small internal steps, they have room to iterate their internal processes as soon as they feel that something is not going right.
Startups follow an iterative process of building their brands, with extreme flexibility towards fast-to market-results.It is okay to take 100 shots if a goal is not met. Taking the route B when strategy A doesn’t work will lead to various lessons learned along the way.
Of course, processes are indispensable to fueling-up the vision of the leader into those less-glamorous functions. But what big brands need to do is to spend their energy on eradicating unnecessary shackles. Instead of hiring creative gems, brands often get caught up in aimless procedures that don’t amount to anything in the long run.
Demandingprotocols can sometimes punish early thinking, chuck creativity out the window, and focus everything inside the organization rather than outside with the customer.
On any given day, startups are more aligned with their customers than their mammoth counterparts. Giant brands often hesitate to use customer feedback seriously.
When I was in the throes of operating an e-commerce store, I would do my due diligence on various brands. One brand that passed my scrutiny was GiftsNideas. When the brand started out, its stellar customer service instantly caught my eye. They would listen to you to no ends and solve your problems on the go. But as the brand grew, they started ignoring their customers altogether, something which was their mainstay. Now, on their Facebook fan page, they have even removed the review tab altogether. This besmirched their brand reputation and their fandom took a plunge from a whopping 80K to a sad 20K.
With startups, a new concept of empowering customers is rising on the horizon. Listening to them and resolving their issues as quickly as possible can go a long way. And the focus is more on creating a memorable experience for the customers rather than just milking their wallets dry.
Brands need to avoid ignoring their customers. Instead, they need to reward their loyal customers and treat every patron with respect. It’s an ongoing exercise. Some big brands could take a page out of the startup playbook and view testing as a pivoting exercise, not simply as an identifier of a one-time “truth.”
Fuse experience with youthful exuberance
One big reason that transforms simple startups into million dollar companies is the undying attitude of its young leaders. And big brands can learn a lot from small brands and inject the right attitude into their business practices as well.
In fact, on a more positive note, Industry Moguls can leverage their myriad experiences and fuse them with the outlooks of young Entrepreneurs to create a mélange of glory. After all, experience can add perspective and context to fresh ideas and helps to make them happen.
As I mentioned earlier, if big brands aspire to sustain their position, they need to start out with a fresh and unbiased mind – the beginner’s mind. As a former Kraft CMO once said, “You can get fired for doing something or for doing nothing. At least if you get fired for doing something, you’ll have a story to tell.”
A little learning is a dangerous thing. Whether you are a well-established brand or a struggling startup, you can always learn a thing or two from those who’ve already traversed the difficult path.