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As we look back at 2017, the one thing that all marketers and business leaders have had to face is uncertainty. With so many unknowns, politically, socially and economically, marketers are having to be flexible and amend their strategy and tactics quickly.
When it comes to agile thinking, marketers can learn a lot from the world of start-ups, so we spoke to four leading business experts in the field (London Business School professor John Mullins, ideas man Shed Simove, digital product expert Jacob Beckett and entrepreneurship expert Sharon Tal) to get their advice on the keys to start-up success in 2018.
Words from the wise on start-up success
“Before taking the entrepreneurial plunge, make sure you’ve assessed the opportunity you’re pursuing – with evidence, please! There’s nothing more difficult than trying to make a success of a no-hoper of an opportunity.
“You’ll need to assess the market (How large, is it growing, what are the trends – and is there evidence that the dogs will eat your flavour of dog food?). You’ll want to think about whether you really want to play in the industry you’ve chosen (the five forces) and whether there’s any reason to believe your competitive advantage can be sustainable over time (patents or other elements that are rare, valuable and difficult to imitate).
“And you’ll want to examine your entrepreneurial team to be sure it can execute on the critical success factors at play in your industry (Have you done this before?), and that you’ve got the connections you’ll need to help you know when to pivot. Ignoring any one of these issues will put you on a fast track to entrepreneurial disaster!”
John Mullins, Associate Professor at London Business School and author of The New Business Road Test.
“We all want PR for our business. And it’s hard to cut through the noise. So, one technique I use is to pin my products or services to well-known cultural events or public figures who are in the ether at this precise moment. Here are some suggestions:
“Bitcoin – everyone’s talking about bloody bitcoin and frankly, you might find it all a bit irritating; however, should definitely start looking into the cryptocurrency signals. Yes, we should have all invested when it was worthless and now we’d all be trillionaires, but we didn’t, so hey ho, we still have to work hard for a living, which isn’t a totally bad thing because it keeps us hungry and interesting! So, maybe there’s a witty take on the cryptocurrency that you can create that’ll gain attention for your business. Perhaps you could launch your own currency like I did, or maybe you could make some branded coins that your customers can buy, win or use for discounts.
“Trump – he’s always in the news, so possibly you can piggy-back off him with a topical campaign. Maybe you could tie your next bit of PR to something to do with his hair, his tiny hands or the fact that his Presidency seems to be hanging on by a thread. If your name is James, maybe you could run a Facebook campaign called ‘James & The Giant Impeach’. Goodness that’s weak. Just make sure you avoid anything too contentious, like I did when I created a prototype Trump ‘grabber’.
“Royal Wedding – this is already big news and so now’s your time to plan a promotion for your business that relates to the ‘big day’. You might want to offer ginger people 10% off, or even Royal customers 50% off, ha ha! Or you might want to create a special version of your product or service as a commemorative gift. So, ‘Harry up’ and get on with it!
“Set up a ‘Failure Fund’ (which is better named an ‘Experimentation Fund’, but that doesn’t sound as exciting or dangerous!) which is a fixed amount of money for you and your team to experiment with, bringing new ideas to life that they really believe in, but are left-field and not your core business. At the very least, you’ll learn loads about a fascinating new area – at the most, you could discover an energizing and lucrative new revenue stream.”
Shed Simove is an ideas man, motivational speaker and an expert in unlocking creativity for marketing and sales. He is one of the speakers in the Thought Expansion Network – a group of the world’s top experts, pulled from various fields to deliver inspiration and insights to a diverse range of audiences.
“It’s fairly simple: You need to work harder than the next person, keep validating your idea and persist. Have singular focus on what you’re doing. If you’re running a start-up you’ll inherently come up with ideas. Don’t let these distract you. Many start-ups with a strong idea have failed by chasing 20 half-baked ideas at the cost of their core idea.
“Each addition to your core offering can be very costly in both time and money. Instead, you need to keep focused on your core idea, constantly validating it – particularly in relation to what is happening in similar spaces to your own start-up. You need to be willing to shape and change your idea to respond to the environment around you. Part of running a start-up is accepting that mistakes will be made; to be successful you need to be able to respond effectively to this mistake, adapting your start-up.
“No start-up starts with a finished product – you need to focus on your leading edge until it gains traction and even then only broaden your horizons if it’s related to the core product. Remember, you’re probably not Elon Musk.”
Jacob Beckett is the founder of major digital product design agency Vitamin London.
Dr Sharon Tal:
“All arrows point to the same direction: 2018 is going to be a year with major uncertainties. Technological revolutions such as artificial intelligence or block-chains are knocking on our door, aiming to change the world, alongside local and global regulatory shifts – such as data privacy, for example.
“As uncertainty increases, it’s essential to consciously prepare your business for the unknown. In other words, you must make sure to hedge your bets. Surely, as business founders, we ought to be optimistic in nature (or else we would most probably not have found a venture). This usually leads us to think about and prepare ourselves for our growth options (that is – once we are successful – what shall we do next?) But when fogginess is approaching, we must also think of, and prepare ourselves for, some backup options.
“When you design your game-plan for 2018, make sure to specify not only your growth opportunities, but also your back-up options. It will keep you focused and agile altogether – a critical combination for playing in uncertain fields.”
Dr Sharon Tal is co-author of Where to Play, 3 steps for discovering your most valuable market opportunities, published by FT publishing, out now on Amazon, priced £16.99. For more information go to www.wheretoplay.co
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