“In today’s world, It’s easier than ever
to start an online business”
This sentence has been repeated by many experienced business people, especially since the introduction of SaaS and other cloud based online services. While these services significantly lowered the costs of starting a new business, I believe that the people who said that sentence were missing the point of starting a business – to build an always growing, sustainable brand.
Today you can cut your IT expenses to a minimum with Amazon AWS, you can outsource your legal, payroll and financial operations to RocketLawyer, ZenPayroll, Zenefits and FreshBooks, you can charge money very easily using PayPal, Square or even better – Stripe Atlas and you can hire designers and developers in a heartbeat using 99Designs, CodersClan, Outsourcely and Upwork. Or just build a website on Instapage or Wix. Need shipping? Shyp, TaskRabbit, Postmates. You want to raise money? Let’s go Kickstarter and AngelList.
Easy, right? Just take an idea and add water. However, if you’re still reading you probably know that’s not the whole story.
While it’s easier than ever to START an online business, it’s way harder today to EXECUTE and GROW a real brand that creates a high quality revenue stream. As the barrier of entry becomes so low, the number of smart entrepreneurs, talented teams, effective value chains and good actionable ideas, has grown exponentially.
Entrepreneurs nowadays, especially in the online space, have many new challenges that are as hard and even harder to concur, than the ones the last decade of IT solutions eliminated.
While back in the day you could pay or raise money to overcome the “Getting Started” challenges and buy your way into doing business, today it’s all about what you know and how you’re going to execute. The gloves are off and the world’s newest heavyweight champion can arise from anywhere without you even noticing.
I personally think it’s actually a great thing. Getting to know Marketing, R&D, BI, Sales and Branding professionals from all around the world, visiting their offices and understanding the way they’re doing business, helped me realize that the world is becoming a better place because of that. Side to side with the “World Is Flat” movement and the outsourcing rush Tim Ferris brought into the mainstream via channels such as Fiverr or UpWork, the global business world is becoming more fair. There is more equality in opportunities, products are getting better and the prices are becoming more competitive and attractive to customers.
However, business ethics and globalization philosophy aside, the actual discussion is about how can an online business owner, or any business with an online component, shine today given the magnitude of the competition and the overwhelming possibilities.
Enter… Your BRAINS.
From watching and diving into the mechanics behind thousands of businesses, companies and products (That’s what I do for a living) and my own personal experience, I learned there are 2 main ways to shine today, which oddly enough reflects the 2 sides of your brain:
Your Funnel Your Brand
As the difference between products and services is getting smaller and smaller, and there are even publicly traded companies that their entire business is cloning successful businesses. Having a face, a story and values, even if your product is only a blog (ahem, ahem) or a simple tool, is as important as the product itself. Probably even more.
“Your Brand Is The Single Most Important Investment You Can Make In Your Business” (Steve Forbes)
Building a brand is an art and companies, individuals and even government agencies like NASA are taking their brand very seriously. And they should. Every successful brand prides itself on being authentic, sincere and consistent, all of which are not easy things to do. Especially when you have a team to be aligned around your brand and aggressive goals to hit. It’s so easy and tempting to cheat, zig-zag and to use shortcuts. Don’t.
“In advanced consumer economies, consumers are buying on the basis of their interpretation of the product and its story”
Glenn Caroll of Stanford Business School demonstrates this concept with the Blue Moon and Molson Coors example. Blue Moon beer line (which was and still is my most favorite beer, sorry!) was praised among young and leading-edge consumers once it was launched and immediately became a hit. The beer line was perceived as edgy, independent and sophisticated, as consumers believed it was a privately owned, manufactured by an underground artisanal brewery. However, once consumers realize the cool brewery was actually a brand produced by a megacorp (Molson Coors), they stopped praising the product and it was immediately perceived as inauthentic.
Using John Grant of “The New Marketing Manifesto” words: “Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged.”
Being sincere and consistent with your brand is another serious challenge. The brand is something that is absolutely crucial for your success. There are so many products and services out there. People become more informed, they see many products as a commodity and developed marketing blindness in many aspects of their lives.
A consistent brand that lets people (not only customers) know exactly what the brand stands for and what it is against, is the way products differentiate themselves, gain traction and build an audience. Add your own distinct voice and image and that’s exactly what sets products and services apart in such a crowded world. It is also what sets you up for long term business model and success.
If you don’t have anything interesting to say and you don’t have a strong and clear vision for your brand and its values, make sure you’ll get this one right if you want to be building a long term business.
Even the tiniest, dorkiest mini-app has an identity. Every product stands for something and serves somebody. You should find the unique voice of your product. If you don’t know what that voice is, use your own voice and communicate your values and identity everywhere you can. It will make a dent.
The thing that separates the girls from the ladies, is that you can’t fake the funk. You can’t buy a brand. You must own an authentic voice, you need to stand for something that your audience passionately loves and others passionately hate. Your brand is not for everyone. You’ve got to have the skills and dedication to back it up with consistent actions.
Your consistency will help you manage perceptions of your product and expectations of your company. It will communicate your attitude and personality. Keep doing the same things over and over (if it makes sense, of course) and you’ll eliminate confusion about your offering, protect your investment, maintain any significant brand achievements and will keep building upon your previous successes.
Once your brand is in place, or at least smells like something that starts to seem like a brand, you’re in a much better place to determine what you want your growth strategy to be and where you ultimately want to take your vision.
The second most important thing where you can invest your time and efforts for gaining a significant and ongoing advantage on everybody else, is building a measurable funnel and investing in the right demand generation activities that will leverage your authentic and consistent brand.
Once you have a brand that customers want and appreciate, you need to make sure you have enough customers coming in on a regular basis and that you are able to keep them happy during and after they interact with your product and company.
Remembering the concept that the ultimate point of a brand is not just to create emotional appeal or to generate buzz, but to shift customer demand, helps in understanding why some entrepreneurs build meaningful brands even before launching a product.
Once you know that if you’ll invest X amount of resources, you’ll gain Y in revenue, you already won, as it has now become a numbers game. You can now assess how many people need to interact with your brand, how you’ll acquire them and how many will eventually become loyal. That’s the real secret behind the success of any online business.
This is when you need to start investing in real growth. Not just marketing, don’t be fooled. Growth is no hacky sack of tricks and is everything but a trendy way to say marketing. It’s a way of thinking about creating sustainable, predictable and diversified demand for your brand. You cannot skip this part if you want to win.
When you’re about to deploy your growth strategy that will fuel your funnel and make it wider and stable, there are many different demand generation methods to take into consideration such as Paid Media Buy, Technical SEO, Content, Social Channels, Email Marketing Automation, Programmatic Retargeting and many many more concepts you should wrap your head around in order to build the right machine.
In future posts we’ll dive into each one of these methods, will share best practices and demonstrates how they fit in the big picture of things.
Before starting to scale even one demand generation channel, you’ll need to take into consideration your feedback loop. How are you going to make decisions.
All of the above concepts require data collection infrastructure that must be in a fully functional mode for you to be able to do your job. Growth requires highly analytical planning based on heuristics, hypothesis articulation, setting cold KPI, accurate execution and consistent optimization based on the data. So you better trust your numbers before you execute after seeing a nice graph. Your BI is can be a very good liar.
Once you draw the conclusion you may also gain meaningful customer insights and data points that were not clear to you before. These insights, together with a deep understanding of the behavior of your customers, their needs and the constant feedback they provide, is being immediately reflected in your brand to make it better.
If you have the time and knowledge to do everything I mentioned in this essay, this is probably where you should spend 80% of your time once you reached product/market fit. If you’re pre product/market fit, stay tuned to HackingRevenue.com and subscribe because we’re going to publish more content just about reaching product/market fit using extreme rapid testing really soon.
Where do you go from here?
Getting the brand right, especially with no brand management experience is not an easy task. Same goes for designing a smart and sophisticated demand generation flow and a healthy funnel.
However, you should know that most companies don’t get it 100% right during the first couple of years of doing business. Honestly, I don’t think anyone can get it 100% right. Designing a brand and setting up your growth are both an everlasting processed than can take years. But that’s okay. It’s the same as starting a business. It wasn’t that addictive if it was easy, wasn’t it?
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