Brand Strategy

Companies Are Like People

Originally published on The Huffington Post UK

The Human Genome Project completed in 2003 gave us the miraculous ability to understand who we are through our DNA. And thanks to enterprising entrepreneurs, we now have tools to explore our own DNA and learn what our genes say about us: our origins, our coloring, our tastes and our propensity for certain diseases. Armed with this understanding, we can construct a lifestyle that is aligned with our genes to help us fight off the maladies that afflict our DNA type. 

Know your DNA and be a better you.

But just as people can understand much of who we are from our DNA, so too can companies. Like people, companies are organisms that reflect their creators, their environments, their obstacles, and their strengths. They carry a core instruction set that informs the actions and outcomes of their work. In short, they have DNA. Not chemical, biological DNA, of course, but what I call corporate DNA.

While human DNA is ineffably complex, its business equivalent is far simpler, made up of just three kinds of companies. That’s it: only three types of companies in the world, each with its own distinctive DNA. Just as I look the way I look because of my DNA and you look the way you do because of yours, companies are what they are because of their DNA, and every organization expresses the DNA of one of these types. 

Although it is less complex, each DNA type resembles its human counterpart: Mothers are customer-oriented companies, Mechanics are product-oriented companies, and Missionaries are concept-oriented companies. After having consulted for more than 30 years with hundreds of companies to help them find their optimal position in the market and tell their stories compellingly, I’ve come to the conclusion that all companies fit into one of these DNA types. I’ve also learned that knowing which type you are is extremely helpful in developing a go-to-market strategy that sticks.

All living species are influenced by a mixture of DNA and environment, and when it comes to corporate DNA, companies are no different. DNA affects a company’s culture; its structure; how it measures success; how it hires, trains, and rewards employees; how it allocates resources; how it frames its narrative; and how it decides what brand to send out into the world. DNA is the single biggest factor when it comes to identifying a company’s role and relevance in the market and determining its optimal positioning.

The key to maximizing competitive advantage is to pinpoint your corporate DNA and use it to your advantage, just like an athlete. The idea is to use your DNA to position your company in the market so that you can win. Your DNA and how it is reflected in your position should lie at the center of every single decision you make, from your go-to-market strategy, to the skill set you seek in your hires, to the way you invest precious resources. It is the foundation for all external messages and campaigns, from branding, to sales strategy, to web copy, to brochure design.

Knowing what you’re made of helps you make something of it.

Andy On CNBC Talking About Apple's Success & Her Upcoming Panel of The Women Leaders Who Worked with Steve Jobs

 Andy Cunningham on CNBC's Squawk Alley

Andy Cunningham on CNBC's Squawk Alley

Our founder Andy Cunningham appeared on CNBC's Squawk Alley to talk about Apple's earnings homerun, the allure of their products, and supporting women leaders in technology. To watch her interview click on the image above or follow this link: http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000438934

 

When is it Time to Throw a Thought Leadership Hand Grenade? A Lesson from FX Networks’ CEO John Landgraf

"There is simply too much television." This statement, announced by FX Networks CEO John Landgraf, sent a ripple throughout the TV industry and became one of the most reported phrases to come out of last week’s Television Critics Association (TCA) summer press tour. The Wrap called it a “hand grenade.”

boom 5

Landgraf put a thought leadership stake in the ground in a forum where controversial statements about the industry are rarely made. It was risky. And it was right. Tech leaders can learn a lot from the example. I’ll explain more, but first, a little background:

The TCA press tour is a twice-yearly confab where all the major broadcast, cable and streaming networks tout their Fall shows. They bring out the talent, talk about how well their shows are doing and wine and dine reporters from all over the world in hopes of eliciting positive reviews of their shows. The tone tends to be upbeat and promotional. It’s a not a likely place to hear visionary industry-shaking statements.

Yet Landgraf took the plunge and took everyone by surprise. He used his platform to pronounce a coming content bubble in TV land. He believes the number of original scripted series will continue to rise in 2016 but after that, economically, only the fittest could survive. “It’s going to be messy, inelegant process,” he said.

It’s not that what Landgraf said was so novel. It’s that he said – out loud in a very public and unexpected forum – what many in the industry privately fear. That put the rest of the networks in the position of having to react to what he said. It was an audacious move and it could have easily backfired, but it worked. It was a masterful stroke of thought leadership.

Now, on to what you can learn from this. Nearly every company aspires to be a thought leader in their industry but many struggle to carve out a position that truly demonstrates thought leadership. The crux of an effective thought leadership campaign is a strong and meaningful manifesto – a public declaration of an informed position about an issue that impacts the industry-at-large.

There is always some fear about offending someone or prompting a backlash. However, true thought leadership always entails some risk.

Figuring out the right thought leadership strategy requires a deep alignment with the company’s positioning. It’s especially important to understand the company’s core (or DNA), the category in which you compete, the context of the market landscape, what your competitors are doing, and the community in which you operate.

Once you have that, here are five questions to help you determine if your company’s manifesto is worthy of a thought leadership campaign:

  1. Is it visionary? Are you predicting some seismic changes to come?
  2. Does it have broad implications for your industry or your customers?
  3. Is bold or controversial?
  4. Is it unique? Has anyone said it before? If so, do you have a unique take on it?
  5. Does it add new insight or advance the industry’s understanding of an issue?

I think Landgraf’s manifesto meets all of the requirements above. Of course, it goes without saying, that you must have robust proof points and data to back up your assertions. Landgraf came armed with research and a chart that has been picked up by numerous media outlets.

In addition, you must be clear about what action you want people to take. When you raise a critical issue, you do not necessarily have to have all the answers. Your campaign might entail rallying others to join you in finding a solution. Or, it might include curating other important voices in the discussion.

One last thing to note: authenticity is critical. Your company must be prepared to tangibly support this manifesto or it can seem like a toothless public relations stunt. This is another reason why it’s so important for your thought leadership program to be tied to positioning. When you develop your next thought leadership program, what will you change as a result?

Positioning the Underdog: T-Mobile as a Concept Company

With the recent success of T-Mobile, it's hard to believe it wasn't that long ago that T-Mobile was left for dead - a deteriorating asset waiting for someone like AT&T, Dish or Softbank/Sprint to pick up. It was losing customers thanks to no iPhone at the time, and its network infrastructure was late to the LTE game. Today, T-Mobile is the number three wireless carrier in the US, having just surpassed Sprint in the number of subscribers. It's worth taking a look at what they did from a strategy and positioning point of view.

Why strategy and positioning? A company's position is tightly coupled with a company's strategy and operations. Without that tie, a position lacks credibility from the inability of a company to deliver on its promise. Comcast has announced that it wants to be a "customer-focused" company, but given its organizational structure and internal incentives to reduce churn, Comcast has thus far been incapable of delivering on that message. Customer focus is not in Comcast’s DNA.

When we help reposition companies, we use a Company DNA framework to assess its ability to deliver on its differentiation. In our collective experience, we have found that technology companies can be categorized in one of three ways — Product, Customer and Concept — and each can be differentiated in one of two ways.

  • For a Product company, it's about features or value.
  • For a Customer company, experience or segmentation.
  • For a Concept, it's category creation or cult of personality.

All companies have aspects of these three categories, but only one can be a dominant personality. As a former client noted, DNA is the "first impression you give when you meet for the first time" (thanks Arkady).

T-Mobile decided that the only way it could win was by becoming a Concept company. In March 2013, T-Mobile launched its Uncarrier effort to position itself against the Big Two wireless carriers (Verizon and AT&T). The face of this effort is CEO John Legere, who has adopted a straight-talking customer hero persona that T-Mobile die-hards have embraced.

What's interesting is that T-Mobile executives made that conclusion earlier, but they didn't have the leadership with the right DNA to match until Legere took the job as CEO.

It was equally important to make radical changes to its products and services to credibly deliver on a Concept differentiation - no contract plans, unique phone payment plans, etc. These are changes that Verizon and AT&T had no choice but tofollow.

In many industries, but especially in tech, success is often times measured in marketshare. You could argue that if T-Mobile were really that successful, it should be #1 in marketshare, right? Actually, no. Concept companies are out there to change the world, and success is measured in how many believers you've acquired and what kind of outsized impact you've made to the world.

Has T-Mobile’s repositioning been a success? Absolutely.

The Middle (Where You Don't Want to Be)

3stooges One of the things they drill into you when studying strategy is never to be in the middle. The canonical example is the trade-off between being low-cost vs. high value / differentiated. If you are neither low-cost nor high value, you can't compete on price, nor can you deliver high enough value to customers to sell at a premium price. Samsung is a timely example of a company with a product line caught in this kind of squeeze – its smartphones are not inexpensive enough to compete with the multitude of cheap Android devices, yet not delivering the complete experience that Apple does at the high end.

Beyond the classic analysis, I find evaluating whether or not being in the middle of two strong positions to be a useful construct in general. You can see it in professional sports (h/t:Paul Sytsma), where some teams actively tank — hello Sixers fans! — to get the top draft picks to build championship teams, while other teams maintain mediocrity.

An illuminating example is the fate that befell Compaq when it was trying to compete with the Dell in the late 90's. Compaq, for those who aren't old enough to remember, had a very strong and successful channel model. Its supply chain was specifically designed for this type of model. Dell, with its direct model, leveraged the web to create a configurator that approximated mass customization. Dell's go-to-market took the PC world by storm, and grew quickly, jeopardizing Compaq's leadership in PCs.

How did Compaq react? By trying to add this direct-to-market model while maintaining its channel. I am aware of a number of consulting firms that were engaged in the late 90s to try to figure out how to implement some flexibility in Compaq's supply chain to address both conflicting approaches. As you can see from the results (a merger with HP, which is now being spun out into its own company), it was not a successful endeavor.

It wasn't just the supply chain, it was the business model and go-to-market itself. Compaq was unwilling to commit fully to the new world, which would upset its channel. The end result was a muddled mess, where it couldn't compete effectively with Dell online, yet its legacy partners were still upset.

Compaq was caught in the middle.

Being in the middle can seem to be a good approach for two-sided marketplaces. After all, they act as the hub and facilitator for transactions between two independent parties. That great... except for the part where it's too easy for the two parties take their transactions and interactions off-line. Once the parties meet, there is nothing to stop future transactions from happening outside the marketplace.

Consequently, those marketplaces started building up capabilities to become more sticky. But where do you start? The first is identifying who is your real customer. Is it the buyer or the seller? Consumer destination sites like eBay and Amazon Marketplace chose the sellers as their real customers - spending a lot of money and effort to create tools to make it easy to onboard sellers, create offers and manage their businesses.

Business marketplaces took the other approach - for example, the Ariba Commerce Supplier Network came bundled with Ariba's procurement solutions. They focused on big buyers where they had leverage to bring their own suppliers on the network. However, in the past few years, Ariba, now a part of SAP and calling its marketplace the "Business Commerce Network," has been trying to have it both ways - not only still selling buy-side solutions, but also jacking up supplier fees. Needless to say, this approach has been causing some consternation with the suppliers on the network.

Can Ariba/SAP have it both ways? It remains to be seen, but I'm doubtful.

So, how do you know if your product or company could be caught in the middle? What is really helpful is thinking about the tradeoffs you have to make for your products, operations and/or marketing. If a decision you make puts you in a place that does not satisfies any of the desired strategies or requirements — where one action that supports one requirement would be detrimental to another, or makes things more confusing — it is definitely worth stepping back to see if you are putting you, your company or your product in the undesirable middle.

In the end, trying not to be in the middle is all about having strategic clarity and focus. It's the business version of "you can't make everyone happy, so stop trying…."

Secret Number 2 to Branding Technology

I talked about the first secret to building a technology brand, aspiration, in my post last week.  I described aspiration as the emotional hook to get your target customers on the line.  The aspiration of your brand is indeed critical, but if you don’t follow it by delivering something meaningful, your customers will drop you like a hot potato.  Deliver something meaningful: sounds easy enough.  But how do you know that a new technology is meaningful?  And more importantly, how do you make sure it stays that way, so you can keep selling your stuff?

The more addictive a product is, the more meaningful it is.  Think of the addictive qualities of your smart phone, your Fitbit, your Facebook account, your Twitter feed, your Netflix views, your Pandora station, your favorite apps.  There’s something inside these products that makes you continue to come back to them and want more.  They are sticky.

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 5.53.49 PMAnd that’s the second secret to branding technology: stickiness in the product.  Stickiness is a quality that, for customers, is simply too good to miss and too good to keep to oneself.  And if the stickiness produces the “network effect,” all the better.  It is stickiness that enables a product to go viral.

Don’t think this applies just to consumer products. B2B technologies need to be sticky as well, perhaps now more than ever.  In this BYOD world, you are selling your stuff to people, whether they are wearing an employee hat at the time or not. Products that are clumsy to use, don’t deliver value and create drudgery aren’t long for the B2B world.  They will be supplanted or disrupted by products that are easy and cool to use. If they aren't sticky, they'll be replaced by products that are.

viralHow do you get stickiness in a product? Sometimes (but rarely), it’s luck.  But it should be strategy.  In fact, it’s your job to make it sticky.  Of course you need to be able to identify the appropriate market, describe the product in the most compelling way, figure out how to go to market appropriately and then create some awareness.  Of course you need to connect your brand to the aspiration I talked about in my last post. But before you do that, you should be deeply engaged in the product itself, and build it on a complete understanding of the market and the target customer.  As a marketer or an executive, your job isn’t just to take the product from engineering, give it a good tagline, and then talk it up in the press.   Your job is to make the product sticky.  And to make it sticky, you have to know what the “main addiction” is and test and refine it until you get it right.  If you haven’t read The Lean Start-Up, it’s time to do so.

Here are ten questions you can ask yourself to check the stickiness of your product. 

  1. What is the main addiction?
  2. What is its addiction potential? Have you tested it?
  3. Is it ridiculously easy to use?
  4. Is the design or UI elegant and attractive?
  5. Does it align with a current trend?
  6. Does it continue to deliver more and more over time?
  7. Is it affordable?
  8. Does it create pride of association?
  9. Can it be easily shared with others?
  10. Does it produce a network effect?

If you know the main addiction of your product and understand that potential, and if you can also answer each of the remaining eight questions with a “yes,” knowing why you’ve answered that way, you are well on your way to having a sticky product and going viral.  Not so hard at all. Certainly worthy of aspiration.

The first of two secrets to branding technology

Spending three decades in marketing at the epicenter of technology has taught me a thing or two about how we think here in Silicon Valley and what makes us who we are.  "Innovate or die," as the saying goes.  But recently, I reached a new understanding, and figured out the two secrets to branding this stuff.  By “branding” I mean establishing an innovation in the marketplace and building a brand.  Which, of course, is the goal. Today, I'll share the first of those two secrets. But first a little background. We celebrate our engineers here in the Land of Innovation, but when these guys release their version or product or app or device, it’s the marketers who have to get traction with customers.  So how do you do that?

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 11.39.09 AMI think it’s important to recognize, first off, that technology people are different.  We like to try new things.  We embrace change. We participate in crowd-funding of projects and companies.  We early-adopt new devices.  And we have patience with failure, our own as well as others, their companies and their products.

Secondly, we must understand that a customer buying a technology product early in its lifecycle is a “technology person.”  Ok, she probably isn’t an engineer, or a technologist or a rocket scientist.  But you can bet if she’s laying out cold hard cash (or mobile payment of choice) for a product that is touting something new, she “gets it.”  She gets that she’s part of a grand experiment, a Beta tester of sorts, a guinea pig.  And she likes it that way. Being the first to try a new product, to show it off to your co-workers, to brag about waiting in line to get it is all cool.  If you’re a technology person.  In fact, it is so cool that it actually confers admission for you into a sort of virtual “club” for innovators.  And of course, if you’re in the club, the people with whom you hang are likely to be in the club as well so they will also think it’s cool.  Word of mouth ensues—the Holy Grail for technology products.

So, if you’re on the selling side of a new technology, it stands to reason that you will want to sell your widget to other members of the innovators club who will think it’s cool because it’s new, who will be patient with its functionality and who will tell their friends about it.

As a marketer, you’re going to want to capitalize on the natural order of things in this situation.   You’re going to want to get people to try your product and you’re going to want to create word of mouth among other technology people.  Because if you amass a circle of innovators who love your product and tell their friends about it, you will create a bigger circle of early adopters, and if you’re lucky and the product is sticky enough, the word of mouth you generate among early adopters will spread beyond technology people, outside the innovators club and into the real world.  At this point, you’re reaching what we marketers call the early majority, or the mass market.  Success!

But the question is always this.  How do I get members of the innovators club to pay attention to my new technology?  What makes it cool?

Here’s the first secret.  Aspiration. 

MatterhornThe reason innovators and early adopters are attracted to some products and services that are untested in the market is because in some way, they establish an emotional connection with the buyer, one that usually offers the promise of positive change.  The buyer believes that the product or service will change her life in some way and quite possibly the lives of others as well.  Remember, technology people embrace change.  That’s where the aspiration comes in.  If you build a brand that reaches out enough to be aspirational in nature, that promises to change the world in some way, you stand a better chance of attracting innovators and early adopters to it.  And of course if you are successful in attracting innovators and early adopters, you are more likely to make it to the early majority.

Oh, and one more thing.  Technologists innovate to change the world.  They think in terms of vision.  How will the world be different because I was here?  How will my product or service change the way people do things?  The way the world operates?  So if you’re a marketer trying to help a company get its innovation to market, remember that you’re not only selling to innovators and early adopters out there in the marketplace, you’re selling your marketing strategies to the very same kind of technology people you are trying to reach in the real world.  If you start with an aspiration, a goal of changing the world in some way, you will connect with your engineers as well as your target customers and set the stage for building a technology brand.

In my next post, I'll explain the second secret to branding technology. Stay tuned!

Three Critical Focal Points for Your Growth Strategy

For the most recent McKinsey Quarterly, the firm produced a video in which two of its experts discuss the evolution of strategy in business. The video echos so much of what we advise our clients -- growing companies -- as we help them develop, adjust, and align their teams around their ideal strategies.  Here are three of the points we firmly believe that were backed up by comments in the video.  All three are critical focal points entrepreneurs and leaders should attend to when it comes to strategy: 1.  Market selection and targeting has the lion's share of impact on your growth. A direct quote from the video: "80% of growth is explained by decisions about where to compete or by market selection."  You must begin your growth strategy with a realistic assessment of how you make money, what problems you solve, for whom -- and on that last bit, even more specifically, for which segment(s) of the market.  Doing so well requires considering marketplace trends, competitive forces, your product's fit with market segment needs, and your company's very DNA.  Get this wrong and you might experience incremental growth, but not cross the chasm.

2. Positioning of your company and product is critical, and should precede and guide decisions on brand, product development,  marketing plans, pricing, and even hiring. To quote the video: "Companies should be just as focused [on] positional improvement as they are on performance improvement .... [it is] fundamentally about positioning the company against the right trends, catching the right waves, and putting our bets on the right markets."  SeriesC defines positioning as the articulation of strategy, inseparable from it.   When our clients ask us to help them with positioning, we approach it not as a creative exercise, but as a scientific and fact-driven one.

3. When a strategy fails, leaders might be inclined to fault the strategy.  In the vast majority of cases, however, the strategy itself is not to blame; it's the execution that went wrong.  We often encourage clients who are facing failed strategies to assess how well or poorly they executed the strategy in four categories: Processes, Culture, Product, and Tools/Information.  So frequently, this analysis unearths breakdowns in multiple places within multiple categories.  A quote from the McKinsey video hit on one of those categories, culture: "Strategy’s not just about what’s on paper, but about the thinking and feeling processes of the leaders of the company."  In other words, strategy will go nowhere if the leadership who must execute it are not aligned to it and psychologically prepared to embrace and support it.

Do you have a question about your strategy, or how to bring focus to its development? Leave us a comment or contact our consultant team.

Five Truths About Marketing to Millennials (From a Millennial)

fotolia_bridgebuzzcollegestudents1 This is my first blog post for SeriesC. I am a second-stint intern at SeriesC, and also a 21-year-old senior business major concentrating on marketing and management at Trinity University, a small liberal arts school in San Antonio, Texas.

I want to share some insights on marketing to millennials, based on my perspective both as a marketing professional and a millennial consumer. Countless articles and guides are floating around on the Internet about how to market to millennials. From my experience, I assure you that not all of them are steering you in the right direction and not every company knows what they are doing. So how do you navigate the clutter and get to the realistic and useful guides? Here are a few tips and insights:

  1.  Use social right- Everyone will tell you that you need to use social media to reach millennials. Brands can see huge benefits from an effective social media presence, but this advice often neglects to emphasize that first you need to grow your user base and do it in the right target market. If you fail to do this you are wasting your social media investment. Campaigns that create natural buzz and drive traffic to your social pages are the best way to do this quickly. And you don’t have to break the bank to create them. See Louisville Slugger for a great case study on jump-starting organic buzz through social media.
  2. Don’t forget to be lean – A common mistake companies make is jumping to develop a mobile app too early because studies tell them that millennials are using apps. If you are considering doing this, stop and think about lean principles (see another SeriesC blog post on more about this).  All it takes is asking your customers if they want that mobile app that you are building, and just as important, whether there are enough of them who will use it. Yes, millennials are mobile and we do use apps frequently, but for companies that plan to launch their app as a secondary customer destination, it is important to first have enough demand on your primary selling point to support it. Just like any other piece of building a lean company, telling yourself, “If [we] build it, they will come” is not enough.
  3. Help us convince our parents- For products that are expensive and require consumers to go through all the preliminary stages of the buying process (need recognition, information search, and evaluation of alternatives) before making a purchase younger millennials are probably going to need to consult their parents for advice or money. It is not enough to just market to your target customer; you must also have messaging for their key influencer. More often than you might realize, those influencers are Mom and Dad.
  4. Give us a discount- Millennials, especially college students, do not have much disposable income at this point. We love discounts! Companies like Amazon (Student Prime membership with free two day shipping) have done this effectively and seen a huge growth in millennial customers. Do this now and we’ll stay with you when we do have money.
  5. Be authentic – I can’t emphasize this one enough! Just because we are younger than you, it doesn’t mean we were born yesterday. We can see through false claims or attempts to be funny in ways that don’t relate to your brand or product. It’s ok, and in fact encouraged to be creative in marketing to millennials. However, you cannot forget your key messages and brand pillars. Add nuance to your messages; but don’t try to be someone you aren’t.

Our team at SeriesC creates positioning and jumpstarts innovation for established and emerging tech companies daily. If we can help you find your true authentic voice and the ideal messages for millennials, you know where to find us!

The Forgotten Marketing Basics

Elia Freedman has an interesting little rant, The App Store Problem Is Not Price, which has elicited a response by Loren Brichter in the comments and by Marco Arment here. In my experience, if you have to have people try your product to understand the differentiation from competing products, your positioning (and therefore your marketing) isn't fully baked. Or your differentiation doesn't matter to your potential customers.

That being said, it is a reminder of thinking through all aspects of marketing, especially if you plan on making your app available on a crowded place like the App Store or Google Play.

Let's use the old 4P's framework here.  Sure, Apple has locked down Place, but that just makes for an even playing field. It is what it is. Given Apple's inscrutable nature, to count on future changes in the App Store is irrational. As a former sales colleague still likes to say: "hope is not a strategy!"

The real question you should be asking yourself is what you doing with the other 3P's? Elia mention changing Product (differentiation) and perhaps changing Pricing, but then goes off and complains about Loren Brichter and Marco Arment (yes, I'd say that calling what Marco has an "echo chamber" is a bit pejorative), which is more about Promotion.

I'd say yes to all of the above. Don't count on the App Store to change - make your product truly differentiated (and that doesn't mean just layering on "cool," but useless features) and do proper promotion. Marco has invested a lot of time and energy in his blog and podcasts, which, by the way, are forms of promotion.

Yes, it's all about taking care of your marketing basics. By not addressing your Product, Promotion and Place, your Price will indeed suffer.