I love working with “Starters of Startups.” Entrepreneurs. They are the coolest people I know. They have courage. Brené Brown, leading researcher and author of the book Daring Greatly, tells us the root of the word Courage is “COR.” COR, in Latin, means heart. Historically, courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Today the word courage is more about being heroic or brave. When I started my own business, I felt the complete opposite of heroic or brave. I was scared to death. But I did feel authentic. My idea pushed me, I didn’t feel like I was pushing my idea. That’s when I knew I was really onto something. As I speak with new entrepreneurs, I see the same thing in them that I felt 7 years ago. They have more heart than bravery. Real courage (whole-heartedness) from a startup perspective is a lot like the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz. He thinks his fear makes him inadequate compared to other more qualified “Kings of the Jungle.” But in the end he found out he had amazing courage because he faced fear authentically. Entrepreneurs don’t have to be the best public speakers, the tallest people in the room, have the most hair, or be the best looking. But they do have to have heart. Follow your heart, whole-heartedly. From there you will find your courage and voice.
Today Shutterfly accidentally sent a highly targeted email out to a (much) larger group than intended. “Congratulations,” it said, “There’s nothing more amazing than bringing a new life into the world.” I chuckled at the message because of the irony. My own “new arrivals” are now 8 and 10. Being played out today on social media, the happy Shutterfly message could be ironic, painful, funny or insensitive, depending on the personal circumstances of the recipient. Moms dealing with infertility, babies in NICU, single moms, estranged dads. As a sympathetic marketing person whose at least once in their career hit the ”SEND” button too soon, I felt bad for the unintentional damage it did. OK, so let’s pretend Shutterfly had sent this email to the right group instead of the wrong group of people. Does that make the message smart? I’d say not. Regardless of today’s technology in data mining, traffic stats, and cookies, we still cannot over-assume. We run the danger of projecting our own definition of how life should be, a dangerous slippery slope. “Now’s the time to send out thank you notes,” with a “tip” that thank you notes are better late than never. Excuse me? Startups, VCs and marketers aggressively look for the “pain points” as market opportunities but rarely are these REAL human pain points. As entrepreneurs and marketers, it’s better not to “go there.” Let the customer go there, and you can help them out, good times and bad. People don’t need to be told what’s important in their lives. They already know.
Here’s a Venn Diagram with three key elements to startup success. It’s really a three-legged stool. When one leg is missing, the stool falls over, the startup fails.
COOL NEW PRODUCT. Many startups think this is the only element for success, it isn’t. But it is certainly the most important.
MONEY. Re$ources. Enough to secure the idea legally (patent, etc.), Tier I web design, development, manufacturing, and people.
GOOD MARKETING. One could argue that $ can buy good marketing, not necessarily. Good marketing is a spot-on message, imagery, logo, and of course, killer PR.
If you have a GREAT IDEA, $, but insufficient marketing, I call it the “wink in the dark.” You’re there, but people will either not find out about you or miss the point completely. What happens when you have $ and GOOD MARKETING, but lack the GREAT IDEA? “DOA.” People will admire the effort, buy they won’t buy it. The third scenario: Cool New Product, Good Marketing, no $. Lots of energy goes into the product and execution, but entrepreneur never secures trademarks, patents, the right web development or people. Someone bigger and better will come along and do it right, or blatantly copy the idea.
A “Home Run” occurs when $, Good Marketing and a Cool New Product are all in sync. People will love the product, enhanced ny great marketing. Since the entrepreneur has secured the proper people and intellectual property, @** holes won’t try to copy it as easily.
Now, go out and hit your OWN home run.
Perception = Reality. Someone said that to me (from a marketing perspective) a couple decades ago and it stuck. Now I see through marketing schemes with a clear lens. I am no sucker. January 2, though, the all-new American Girl Doll launched their Girl of the Year with uber amazing fanfare. “Isabelle! The Dancer! She’s great at hip hop, ballet, yoga, and jazz, you name it!” Cool. Coming off the “high” of the holiday season, Mattel launches this Girl of the Year the week you can hear crickets in any other toy store or online retail outlet. I excitedly showed my young daughter the catalog, which conveniently plopped into our mailbox January 2. No other retail catalogues that day, either. ME: “They announced the Girl of the Year! And she’s a dancer!” The little girl inside me was jumping up and down about this new doll, Isabelle. My daughter: “Mommy, she looks the same as the dolls from the last two years. There was Saige, with dark blond hair, and then Mckenna before her. But they are all the same doll. And, I already have Julie Albright, with long blonde straight hair, and she looks exactly like Isabelle.” Wow. Me, the 40-something, “jaded” marketing geek-mom, had actually fallen for the hype. American Girl (Mattel) had effectively marketed and convinced me that Isabelle was new. Different. Special. My perception was my reality. And my daughter’s reality, was, well, more in line with what was real. What do kids do with a doll that has the exact stamped face as another, with slightly different color variations? God bless them for adding ethnic variations, but where is the creativity there? Granted, my daughter hadn’t seen the hype and PR on the new doll. She didn’t read the social media chatter of other moms. To a child (my child at least), If the dolls look so much the same, they must be the same. Unless it’s a big deal to your target market, it won’t be a big deal to you secondary market. Mattel and American Girl are smart to market to moms. Little girls may just be a little too smart.
The founders of startup Goldie Blox™ are facing a hard lesson in basic intellectual property (business naiveté, not maliciousness, IMO) but that’s a “Whole Other Show” (as Oprah says). I’d like to focus on the magic and genius which got Goldie Blox™ ad 8 million hits, features on national TV, international recognition. As far as startups go, it’s got to be the biggest PR coup of 2013. Founder Debbie Sterling discovered a valuable niche in the kids’ toy industry. But the way the STORY is told in the ad itself that has captured our hearts, minds and credit card numbers. WHY? Joseph Campbell, American mythologist and writer, would tell us the ad captures all the elements of a great myth. Campbell’s concept of monomyth (one myth) refers to the theory that sees all mythic narratives as variations of a single great story. Star Wars, Finding Nemo, Harry Potter, the Bible, ancient mythology. George Lucas credits Joseph Campbell as his inspiration and the real A-HA in the final writing of Star Wars. The key to great PR and great marketing can be broken down in the same elements and momomyth. In order to capture hearts and minds, companies need to tell a story that resonates. Does your product story have a hero with a call to adventure? Goldie Blox™: A little girl. Call to adventure? Engineering their own toys. Who is the villain? For Goldie
Blox™, it’s the sexist-stereotyping pink toys. If your startup does not have its story, it needs one.
“I want every little girl who’s told she’s bossy to be told instead that she has leadership skills.” – Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In
My otherwise amazing 8 year old daughter is, well, bossy. Playdates come to a screeching halt when her friend (or brother) complains, “She’s telling everyone what to do and when she doesn’t get her way she just yells!” She’s creative, talented, and oh-so funny, but when the group wants to do one thing, and she wants to do another, she loses it. We’ve been working on better leadership skills. Being a leader doesn’t involve talking down to people. She is finding out first-hand that in group situations, you usually get more flies with honey than vinegar. Bossy never worked for me (I tried). And, we tend not to like it in others. I love Lean In and its message to girls about empowerment. But I have the opposite view on encouraging “bossy” in girls (or boys). When I think about the great bosses I’ve had (male and female), bossy is never is at the top of the list. The most effective male bosses I’ve had possess the traits I admire in dads: no-nonsense, fair, honest, charismatic. The most effective female bosses I’ve encountered have the traits I admire in good moms: strong, empathetic, nurturing, motivating. My daughter will do great in life, but the reality is she will be working for someone long before she’s a boss or a mom. I’d rather teach her to lead by example.
Some brands hit the sweet spot where people want “it” because it’s expensive. Lululemon: $98 yoga pants. Genius. Are they better than the $69 alternatives? No. Remember the $2,000 “designer” washer-dryer sets that came out in 1999? A friend of mine was working as a brand manager at that company. They planned to price them at half that. But in research, the higher the pricing, the more moms loved them. So, they launched at double what they should have been and the rest is history. As a startup, keep this in mind. Many people will want it just because it’s expensive.
I was surprised when I saw Yahoo’s new logo. Boring: yes. Unoriginal: yes. But to me, the oddest oversight was the shape itself. It’s a socially awkward rectangle in a world of confident squares. These days, a square logo can be a brand’s best friend. Symmetrical logos won’t get cut short (literally) by social media. They make life easier: Apps, web searches, favicons. One month after launch, Yahoo’s new logo has watered itself down to dozens of variations instead of one icon. Advice to startups? Start square. Some savvy brands found out it’s hip to be square, everywhere:
* “It’s not too hard to figure out, you see it every day. And those that were the farthest out have gone the other way. You see them on the freeway, It don’t look like a lot of fun. But don’t you try to fight it. An idea who’s time has come. Don’t tell me that I’m crazy, don’t tell me I’m nowhere. Take it from me – It’s hip to be square!” - Huey Lewis, 1986
My 8 year old daughter took a look at the top of my home page on Facebook, where it says “Search for people, places and things.” “Mommy,” she said, “couldn’t they just say ‘Search for nouns?’” I am psyched that she shares my fascination with words, but slightly bummed I didn’t think of it.
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