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I travel to the West Coast every year to learn about the latest on technology and new business models from different companies, especially around the Silicon Valley. In exchange, as a decade-long consumer goods professional and educator, I share my insights on brand building and marketing.
My most recent trip was a bit different however. I encountered many new organizations across multiple industries such as technology, media, sports and music, soaring by embracing marketing since their inception and creating new effective norms to connect with their customers. This time around, they were the ones teaching me about marketing.
Here are five things the smartest new companies are doing exceptionally well and what we can learn from them.
1. User obsession
I encountered companies with a healthy obsession towards deeply understanding, mapping and improving the user experience. This included knowing their users personally, visiting their homes, creating fan clubs in the case of soccer leagues and prototyping new service features to understand if it would truly improve the user experience.
The deep understanding of their users and their commitment to making it center of product design, communication and future envisioning is not only driving their success but also guaranteeing a healthy flow of users ongoing. An understood user becomes a loyal user. If you aren’t already, make the user center of everything you do.
2. Recognizing the power of data
Data is only helpful if you know what to do with it, and these newer companies demonstrate that they do. I visited a media startup that tests daily with users multiple headlines for their content to determine what users like best. With this data, the team picks the best performing content and releases it to do what it has been optimized to do — delight and inform as many people as possible.
I also visited a music streaming company whose whole DNA depends on data and reading people’s music preferences. They are using data to create value for the user and for their company. The smartest startups invest in data, get creative on how to use to improve both their product and how they operate.
Do you have data from you user, market or your product that you are simply sitting on? You don’t want to be missing out on the power of data yourself.
3. A culture of feedback
One of the quality of Star brands is their commitment to learning. I clearly saw this behavior in many of the successful new companies I visited. I was blown away by their agility and desire for constant learning and improvement, not being afraid of transforming themselves constantly. Further proof of this was their open celebration of failures, because they represented progress.
During a workshop at Google, for example, each day’s agenda got magically adjusted based on the previous day’s feedback collected from the participants. This speaks to their culture, where not only the search engine gets updated and improved daily but also how people work together.
This is key to their success. It certainly requires courage to ask for feedback. Once you get it, you also need to know how to act on it. As a leader and owner of your business, it is your responsibility to create the right culture which includes opportunities to collect feedback from your customers and your team — and become better because of it.
4. Communicate with authenticity.
Many of the startups I visited have young millennial employees. This made their environment fresh, creative and a bit like organized chaos. This environment seems to have permeated the language used to talk about the product and how they are marketing the product to consumers.
I noticed it was very human and with simple words. They were communicating to their users with authenticity. Like a pleasant conversation you have with someone you just met over coffee. Not a push message. This is what consumers demand today. Humans at the service of other humans.
I am not suggesting you now need to go out and hire more millennials. I’m just inviting you to review how real and conversational you are when you talk about your product. Do you have something different and meaningful is worth talking about?. Get feedback on whether you are communicating your brand with authenticity.
5. Have a purpose.
These new companies validated yet again the importance of having a purpose when building a brand — another great quality of Star brands. Whether it was the story of when they had only two employees and couldn’t pay bills, or the genius idea that turned around the company and secured new investors, or how proud they were about their founder and his or her motivation to create the first prototype — they all spoke to the reason why the company exists.
These stories give strong roots and meaning to not only employees but also to those who buy the product and are beginning to create empathy for the brand. If you are the lucky founder of your company, just make your purpose known and work on developing a shared understanding of it with employees and customers. If you are still finding it, look for a meaningful “why” that makes you and your employees come to work excited every day –because you are making a difference in the lives of those that select your brand.
I am incredibly encouraged by the marketing lessons from these great startups and seeing them get a lot of their brand fundamentals right in their own way. If you haven’t made marketing top of your priority list yet, I hope you find these lessons from fellow startups enough motivation to get it started your own way. I am wishing for 2016 that you and more companies choose to grow this way to success.