The balance of power is shifting toward consumers and away from companies…the right way to respond to this if you are a company is to put the vast majority of your energy, attention and dollars into building a great product or service and put a smaller amount into shouting about it, marketing it. - Jeff Bezos
When it comes to growing a startup or a small business, figuring out the right way to spend your limited marketing resources can be a challenge. The conventional wisdom is to try to understand what the competition is doing and then to find a more cost effective and efficient way of doing the same thing. This approach is clearly a risky strategy. On one hand, you can end up wasting your budget on unproven strategies, or on the other hand, you may spend too much on the things that only "could" work.
These are two companies offering almost identical services but who took very different approaches to their marketing strategies.
- Both had social components.
- Both jumped on the quantified self movement in it's early days.
- Both integrated with Facebook and Instagram for sharing.
- Both have online dashboards.
- Both focused on strategic partnerships, Nike with TomTom and then Apple. Strava with Garmin and a long list of other partners.
Instead of investing their limited resources in trying to go head-to-head with Nike, Strava took a more consumer-centric approach to their marketing strategy. Nike invested the majority of their marketing budget on building awareness for their product. They did this by partnering with influencers like Casey Nistad and investing heavily in online advertising. Strava, on the other hand, focused on incrementally improving their product and then sharing the product updates with their current and prospective customers. Their marketing strategy centers on sharing the impact their product has on real customers, not just celebrities.
Strava took an arguably better approach by keeping their “influencer” marketing cost low and reinvesting the savings into their actual product. Having a better product in turn gets more users, which in turn gets them more dollars to tell more stories, which in turn... you get the picture.
I’ve personally used both apps. I loved that both apps allowed me to share my runs, were thoughtful about the way they baked social technology into their products. Instead of having “sharing” being an afterthought the way it worked felt considered.
That's the baseline. I now exclusively use Strava to track my runs, despite Nike’s huge marketing budget and celebrity endorsements. Here’s why, their marketing is focused on gaining exposure, not improving their product.
So founders, if you take one thing from this illustration it should be this: invest in your product. You can’t just build it and they will come. Instead of trying to adopt the competition's marketing strategy, focus on what makes your brand unique, invest in improving it, and tell that story.
To do so, avoid blindly following conventional wisdom. Instead, start by asking yourself these five questions about your competition's strategy:
- What was the conventional wisdom at the time this strategy was put in place?
- What resources were needed to deploy the strategy?
- If you were to deploy the same strategy, how would you measure success both qualitatively and quantitatively?
- Is this a scalable strategy that can be operationalized?
- What would be the minimum test you could use to validate your assumptions about the strategy?
- COCO Dreamcast with Anna love Mickelson - How to create a minimal viable test.
- Hacking Growth: How Today's Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success - Using data and technology to inform your growth strategy.
- Killing Marketing: How Innovative Businesses Are Turning Marketing Cost Into Profit - Forget the traditional way of categorizing marketing, treat it as a profit center.
- David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants - Malcom Gladwell - Change the way you look at your competition.
- Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days - This is how you get your team to adapt and experimentation mindset.
We spend too much time at work for it not to have a deeper meaning. / Satya Nadella
I’ve never found myself subscribing to the concept of work-life balance. For me, thinking of these ideas as separate focus areas has always felt unnatural. I give my parents, especially my mother, credit for this perspective. My father, a military man, taught me the value and importance of hard work and dedication. However, my mother was the one who showed me it was possible to integrate work with other parts of your life. As an entrepreneur, my mother started her own school and aligned her lifelong commitment to education with being a trusted mother, partner, friend and mentor to others.
After my son was born I found myself being more intentional about how I integrate work and life. This meant being proactive with my career decisions, deliberate with family time, and ruthless with the extra curricular activities I invested my time and energy in. My priority has been to align these intentions with my short term goals and responsibilities, as well as a long-term vision of the future.
To make sure I’m keeping things balanced, each quarter I do a centering exercise. It’s still a work in progress, and I’ll continue to refine it. It involves pausing, looking back and reflecting on specific areas of my life that I hope to improve within a given year, and then breaking them down into sprints using a hybrid of the 12 week planning process and the Wheel of Life reflection exercise. For reference, here is a link to a podcast outlining the Wheel of life exercise and a link to the book The 12 Week Year by Brian Moran.
There are two steps I’ve found helpful in making this process work for me. The first is limiting the areas I work on each quarter to no more than three areas so that I can maximize impact within each given area. Love and friendship are usually closely related so I keep them together. The second step is to use books I’ve read during the previous quarter to inform my thinking on the chosen focus areas during the next 12 week sprint.
My areas of focus for the next 12 weeks are: work, fun, and love/friendship. Below are the books that I’ve selected to inform my thinking in each area this time around:
- Work - Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham
- Work - Killing Marketing: How Innovative Businesses Are Turning Marketing Cost Into Profit by Joe Pulizzi
- Love/Friendship - Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg
- Fun - Runner's World Complete Book of Running: Everything You Need to Run for Fun, Fitness and Competition by Amby Burfoot
Bonus: Personal Growth - I started embracing stoic philosophy a few years and have found it the perfect framework for managing the complexities of life. The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity by Ryan Holiday provides the perfect high-level overview of some of Stoicism’s more impactful concepts. I’ve found it useful to combine this book with the fear setting exercise outlined in this TED talk on fear setting by Tim Ferriss.
Some of my best ideas come from conversations. I can’t think of a more efficient way of getting to a new way of thinking than debating ideas, sharing new insights and perspectives from interesting research and books, and discussing new tools and products. Some of which have little to do with marketing or business.
As my thinking on any number of topics evolve, I’ve realized that I’ve been sharing ideas between people in different social circles, and they do the same with me, which leads to the refining of ideas and momentum in getting them out into the world.
I also find interesting information in newsletters from individuals who share their perspective on the headlines of the day like M.G. Siegler’s 500ish words, or those who write about products and life-hacks worth discussing, like The Journal by Kevin Rose. I’ve found having these opinions delivered to my inbox valuable. Problem is there are too many to get through.
That’s what led me to start Field Notes, a semi-monthly email digest for friends and fellow enthusiasts of technology, the human side of startups, productivity, and the business of life. I’ll also share new ideas I’ve been wrestling with that are worth discussing. My intention here is to start more of those idea-generating conversations.
The newsletter will be organized into three sections:
- Thinking About
- Worth Sharing
These are concepts I’m currently formulating ideas around. For example, when I lived in the advertising world, I wrote an essay about why you won’t find me at networking events for the sake of networking. Currently, I’m thinking about the next phase of social networks’ impact on how we interact with each other, and by extension, how we work together.
These will be anything from a new app I’ve been using to a new productivity hack I’ve discovered, like my recent obsession with bullet journaling, to books I’ve read or a podcast episode I’ve found particularly insightful.
Sometimes ideas don’t fit neatly into one of the other buckets, and they’ll go here. An example would be news about the new Code2040(5) program we have at COCO, an intentional approach to encouraging diversity in tech.
Having been an entrepreneur myself and now an adviser to startups, I’ve seen firsthand the ups and downs we face in pursuit of our passions and motivations, and I’ve formed the opinion that there is no such thing as work/life balance, there is just life.
To that end, I’m challenging myself to go beyond the usual “here is an article on X”for the sake of pushing content. Instead I’ll focus on the tools, tactics and perspectives I find useful to navigate challenges and optimize the middle of the journey — the space between the optimistic beginning of projects to the triumphant end of any pursuit.
I recently had the pleasure of sharing some of the insights I’ve learned throughout my working life with a group of AD2 students.
The night started with a panel discussion followed by small group discussions.
Two things stood out to me throughout the night. The first was how engaged, ambitious and willing to get down into the trenches to make a name for themselves everyone was. The second observation was how uncertain the job market they are entering is and how many of the jobs they went to school for have dramatically changed in the past four years.
This understandably makes some people anxious about all the unknowns surrounding their next move. But rather than worrying about the job market, I would argue this is one of the best times to be starting one’s career. In the past you would pick a path and spend your working life navigating that career until retirement without deviating, even if your interests changed.
Today it’s not unusual to find someone in the middle of their career identifying a job or industry they want to pursue, even if it means switching career paths and building on the skills they currently have to get there.
Here are some of the lessons and links to resources I shared with the group:
Career paths are no longer linear, so don’t focus on job titles
Figure out what an ideal job looks like to you, not the job description and not what others think you should do. Instead, think about what you want to actually be doing every single day and use that insight to select the jobs you apply to.
An entry-level position at a small agency is very different from an entry-level position at a larger company or startup. Figuring out what’s important to you is the first step to figuring out what to look for in the right position.
What’s more important is understanding the culture you want to be a part of. Cool offices are great but the novelty will wear off quickly. The things that are going to benefit you the most in the long term will be the work you’ll be doing and the skills you’ll actually be learning. To illustrate this point, consider being an intern at a massive agency with lots of great clients but the only projects you get to work on are, well, getting or making coffee. On the other hand, you might find working at a smaller agency or startup isn’t as “cool” but it gives you the opportunity for hands-on learning in areas that will benefit you far into the future.
These books can give you a more in-depth understanding of the principles I find most valuable for beginning your career.
I’m going to encourage you to take the 17 minutes needed to watch this TED Talk by David Allen to get an overview of the point I’m making here.
Being an amazing creative that’s unreliable is less valuable to a business than a reliable one coworkers can count on to get things done. Regardless of your career aspirations, reliability is one skill that will serve you extremely well.
To be clear, this is an ongoing process that requires time and energy to maintain, but looking back, it’s the single most valuable time investment I’ve made. As nerdy as it sounds it's also fun.
- Book:GTD: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity | David Allen
- Video:GTD: Getting in control and creating space | David Allen
As I mentioned in the first step, the nature of work is changing so having a degree doesn’t guarantee success. Learning to learn provides a valuable tool for you to not only become better at the job you currently have but also to explore other interests.
- Book:The 4-Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss
- Video:Tim Ferriss: "The Four-Hour Chef" | Talks at Google
- Online Learning:LinkedIn Learning / Skill Share / Udacity
Sometimes the people you want to connect with are busy and as we all know, grabbing a cup of coffee is more than coffee; there is travel time to the coffee shop, there is the time finding a place to sit, there is the conversation itself, then there is travel time back to the office and getting back into a groove. This can make connecting difficult for the people you’re trying to connect to and inefficient for you.
One thing that works really well as an alternative to traditional, in-person networking are video calls. Zoom and Google Hangouts are great tools for connecting. Someone might not have an hour to travel to meet you but 30 minutes between meetings are easier to find. So, reach out, request a video or conference call, come up with a few insights you’re hoping to gain, and include them as an agenda in the invite.
Bonus: Finding a mentor 2.0
Another way to think about finding a mentor is to focus on the outcome of the mentorship relationship. By doing so you open yourself up to learning opportunities outside of traditional mentor/mentee interactions. Don’t forget that you can have access to any number of leaders who share their insights on podcasts and YouTube. Here are a few I often recommend to students and recent graduates.
- Podcast: COCO Dreamcast
- Podcast: Pivot by Jenny Blake
- Podcast: 10,000 Hours
- Podcast: Longform
- Videos: How to start a startup
As an introvert
To the introverts I spoke with, don’t be discouraged, you have so much to offer. Reading Quiet by Susan Cain is a great first step in building your confidence.
When it comes to interviewing and promoting yourself as an introvert, I know it can be hard. Even the realtime nature of social media can be daunting at times. Sharing your ideas in writing on a blog or publishing platform like LinkedIn or Medium is a great workaround. Not only does it give you the time to organize your thoughts, it also gives you the space needed to share ideas that differentiate you from your peers.
Not sure what to write about? Check out Publishing on LinkedIn for College Students and Young Professionals on LinkedIn Learning.