In movies, television shows and magazines, entrepreneurs are idolized and presented as individuals with laser-focused plans who are willing to work through obstacle after obstacle to make their big vision a reality. While most entrepreneurial success arises from an understanding of where you are and where you want to be (i.e. the big vision), this emphasis on stubborn determination is a bit overblown and, frankly, bad for business.
The truth is: great entrepreneurs must be willing to change. The really good ones understand that new businesses and products are unreliable, and they will likely need to change their idea at some point in the future. In the startup world, we refer to these changes or strategic shifts as “pivots.”
In the past, many marketers sought to create messages that spoke to a broad audience. Because interpersonal communication wasn't possible at the same speed and ease that it is today, many brands competed to have the largest megaphone, blasting out the most creative message to large swaths of customers.
More recently, with the rise of new digital technologies and platforms, customer engagement has become an increasingly two-way street. Brands that have discovered meaningful ways to have a conversation with their customers, instead of just talking at them, are reaping the rewards of brand advocacy. Wendy Lea, CEO at Cintrifuse, highlights this in an article for Inc Magazine,
“[Companies are] using social technologies to form meaningful, ongoing relationships that involve frequent online interactions… [and] customers who engage with a brand online report spending 20% to 40% more on that brand, or on that company's products.”
So, how do we get our customers themselves to advocate for our brand? Let's take a look at good ways to start a conversation and build a relationship.
While I was reading the other evening, I came across a tremendous metaphor. Conner Forrest, a writer for TechRepublic, equated admitting your own business’s failures to calling your own child ugly. No one wants to admit that their ideas aren't all that revolutionary or innovative. Acknowledging flaws in our products — ones we have built, invested in, and grown — can be a painstaking process.
However, our success is often defined by how well we handle failure. Not one successful person has achieved their goal without encountering several setbacks and learning experiences along the way. It's certainly difficult to feel like we're on the road to success in the face of a languishing product, but we can refocus our efforts to learn why our product is failing and how we might push it through to market success.
Let's take a look at a few ways to accomplish this:
In my experience mentoring startup founders, I've interacted with many entrepreneurs who have put together fantastic products and services, but have little awareness about the proper branding strategies to give them a boost as they go to market. Many of them assume that they can emulate the strategies of similar products to gain their share of customers.
It’s no secret that there is a link between powerful branding and success in business. However, in an attempt to attach themselves to the success of established corporations, many entrepreneurs employ similar branding techniques as the organizations that have been in the marketplace for decades. More often than not, these entrepreneurs are left confused and frustrated. They wonder why their own campaigns failed while these older brands continue to succeed, even though their products might be more innovative and of superior quality.
Kick-Starting Your Brand
Building a brand is different than maintaining one. Most new businesses don't have the resources to burn through marketing budgets with expensive TV ads and experiential marketing events. So how can new products compete?
Many of us have fantasized at one point or another about starting our own business. Whether it's a a bakery, a law firm, or a tech giant, the American dream has always been to create and pilot your own business to prosperity. It's no surprise then that there are over 400,000 new businesses created each year, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
However, building a new business (or launching a new product) takes a leap of faith that's not for the faint of heart, even if you are an experienced entrepreneur. The steps leading from idea to reality are treacherous, time-consuming, and can be extremely costly. As a result, many budding entrepreneurs and businesses are smart to consider: Is my idea worth pursuing?
Quelling the Questions
The answer to this question will have ramifications on our finances, our families, and our future careers. There are no guarantees in the startup world — something everyone learns quickly — so there are important steps to take before quitting your job and committing everything to a new idea. Let's examine some of the very first questions that we can ask in order to validate our ideas and launch our businesses on the proper trajectory.
Our companies aren’t defined by the numbers of employees we have, the size of our offices, or even the revenue we gross each quarter. Any successful CEO will tell you that there is more to business than numbers and sales. That it isn’t the products that define who we are, but the brand.
At the heart of our brands are the interactions we have with our customers. Every chat, every email, every product purchased has an effect on how our brand is viewed in the market. While this insight isn’t new to any of us, it is remarkable how often we ignore it, sacrificing customers’ desires to save time, money, or both. Brushing past one customer’s request is acceptable, but how many times have we passed over just one? One becomes ten, ten a hundred, and soon we are out of business because our brand is associated with disinterest and apathy.
Don’t believe me?
Technology and innovation are exponential functions — that is to say that advances in technology inevitably beget even faster rates of new technology and innovation. One of the best ways to illustrate this trend is to look at the advancements of cell phone technology over the past twenty years. The clunky mobile phones of the 90s quickly became the sleek flip phones of the early 2000s, which soon turned into today's pocket computers that just happen to also make phone calls.
However, there are a quite a few industries that haven't yet experienced the same kind of exponential innovation. Whether because of lagging standards or the enormous investment that is required when implementing widespread change, there are a handful of business fields that remain at a tipping point of innovation.
Let’s take a look at four industries that I believe are poised for big innovation breakthroughs in the near future.