3 Stories that will make you rethink entrepreneurship and marketing
Marketing isn’t about telling the customer: choose anyone, and I will be that anyone. It is about being uncommon, finding an untapped need and serving those who need it.
Let me tell you two stories that will show you why this is important.
The first story is about the drive to the Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth. You rent a car, drive up the 400, and enter Highway 11. Now, Highway 11 is not beautiful at all. There are gas stations, muffin stores and stores that sell fireworks or propane, or both on the same campus, and you can’t stop anywhere. But, as you keep driving, you’ll cross Webers Hamburgers. Unlike every other store on the highway, this place always has at least 50 customers waiting in line for a hamburger. Right next to Webers is a candy store called Rita’s Candy Shop. While the other stores on the highway run nearly empty, Rita’s sells $60 worth of candy to every customer who walks in. Why? Turns out, what Webers and Rita’s have in common is that they are uncommon. For example, Rita’s sells candy from all over the world, and Webers burgers taste great (once a customer goes there, it becomes an institution).
The second story is about my 8-hour road trip from Delhi to Bareilly (in India). We were on a single-lane highway, there was heavy traffic, and the driver of our vehicle was in a hurry to cross every slow-moving vehicle ahead of us. Every time, he would stop behind a car or a truck and keep honking until we could cross them. After 4.5 hours, once we crossed all vehicles and hit the open road, he slowed down, because there was no one to pass.
From a very young age, we’ve been wired to keep track of who is on our left, or right, or ahead of us. We’ve been told to fit in, to comply, and to be ahead of everyone.
Similarly, in the startup world, we will always be under pressure to fit in, to be faster and cheaper than our competition. It is called the race to the bottom. But, if we’re making average products for average people, hoping that we’ll get found, it’s not going to end well. If the customer can pick anyone (from our industry), why us?
One of the giant insights of entrepreneurship is to challenge something we’ve been indoctrinated in and do the exact opposite. When the Telegraph was invented, people thought that was the end of it. There was no reason to invent the telephone.
One of the giant insights of entrepreneurship is to challenge something we’ve been indoctrinated in and do the exact opposite. When the Telegraph was invented, people thought that was the end of it. There was no reason to invent the telephone. Similarly, when Myspace or Friendster were built, people thought it was the end of the battle for social media. There was no reason to invent Facebook, Twitter or any other social media platform. We’ve been brainwashed to believe that things have to be a certain way. But, what if we decided to believe in something else?
Serve the smallest viable audience
The answer is to race to the top. We can’t serve everybody. Instead, we need to serve the smallest viable audience that we can thrive on, and ignore everybody else. For example, the altMBA workshop that we run is an intensive, month-long transformation, and it has delivered 30 times as many graduates as a typical online course. We succeeded because our purpose was small, and we picked people who wanted to do the work. We ignored everybody else.
Once we have this smallest viable audience, and we understand their persona, we’ll realize that their primary concern is to find out who they are ranking with, who is above and below them. It’s about status and dominance. They come to you, they listen to you because there’s something in it for them — a way to establish their status in the Universe. It’s a way for them to say: people like us do things like this.
For example, in Silicon Valley or the Hamptons, if one person pulls up in a fancy car, and somebody else pulls up in an even fancier car, the former’s day gets ruined. This is one of the reasons Tesla broke Mercedes and became popular. Once people realized that Tesla was smarter, more safety-minded, and more environment-friendly, they didn’t want to be seen in a Mercedes anymore. Tesla was not just a car. It became a status symbol.
What made brands like Tesla successful was also the network effect. Their product/service not only served a very specific need, but it also made the customers’ life better.
Think about a software, a product or a restaurant that you like. How did you find out about it? Maybe a friend or family mentioned it. Or, you read an online review online and decided to give it a try. This is what is called the network effect. Especially in the Internet age, it can be a great way for your brand to get mileage because when one person finds your product to be useful (think Microsoft Word, or Twitter), they want their community to be on it too because it would make life easy for them.
Earn the customer’s trust
As a brand, it’s also important to earn the customer’s trust. If there are two things that the Internet has taught us, it is that your customer knows your brand better than you do, and everybody on Earth can be your customer and competitor at the same time. Let’s say a prospect comes to you with a B2B product requirement. If you know that your competitor can solve their needs better, you need to send that prospect to them, because what customers need more than attention is trust. Trust enables people to listen to what you have to say. Trust happens when we (as a brand) repeatedly show up, live up to the promises we make, and earn our standing.
We all know Hyatt Hotels and Nike. What if Hyatt came up with a line of sneakers? We have no idea what it would be like. But, if Nike opened a hotel, we can guess quite accurately what it’s going to be like. Why? Because Hyatt is a logo, and Nike is a brand with a promise.
For example, we all know Hyatt Hotels and Nike. What if Hyatt came up with a line of sneakers? We have no idea what it would be like. But, if Nike opened a hotel, we can guess quite accurately what it’s going to be like. Why? Because Hyatt is a logo, and Nike is a brand with a promise. A brand is an expectation. It is what we think is going to happen the next time we interact with it. It’s based on the trust that, though it may not be identical to what it was last time, it’s going to rhyme with that. That is what we need to strive to build.
Finally, build things that make a difference
The last story I want to tell you is about finding optimism in this time of crisis.
A few years ago, I was at a conference in New Mexico. The guest speaker that night was the American astronaut Neil Armstrong. We were sitting around a huge campfire and Neil started telling us about Apollo 11’s mission to the moon. While he was talking, the biggest full moon ever started rising over his shoulder. Neil stopped, turned and said, “I’ve been there. There are footprints on the moon. We sent three men up there, two of them walked on the moon and we brought them back safely. All this at a time when the sum total computing power of NASA was less than that of the device in your pocket.”
What I want to say is, it’s possible. Today, while on one hand, we are confronting a pandemic and social injustice, and on the other, we are seeing people feeling disconnected and lonely, this is our opportunity to show up for the people who want us to show up. Not spam or hustle them, but reach out to them with a voice, a connection and a way to make things better.
Today, when we have more resources and more connections than at any time in the history of mankind, we shouldn’t waste it by making some doodad that we can somehow get funded. We should use it to do work that matters, we should be proud of it, and tell ourselves, I’m glad I did that.
About the Speaker
Seth Godin is an entrepreneur, author and speaker. He has published over 18 bestselling books, the latest being, The Practice and This is Marketing. He is the founder of the online workshop AltMBA, and runs The Marketing Seminar and several other courses on Udemy. Godin has also founded several other companies like Squidoo and Yoyodyne. He is one of the few leaders who’ve been inducted into the Guerilla Marketing Hall of Fame, the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, and Marketing Hall of Fame.
Cover Image: Vignesh Rajan
The above post is written based on Seth Godin’s talk at Against All Odds Startup Summit by Freshworks for Startups.
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