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Build a Brand AND a Product

By Joanne Jacobs

No matter whether I am speaking with a startup entrepreneur or a business person with an eye on innovation, the conversation quickly turns to the “big idea”. When I worked in advertising, the  big idea was everywhere – it was the bright, shiny object that would get my clients excited. It was something they could latch onto emotionally and budget for financially. As such it was essential to the success of almost every project.

Even when we began to move away from the “big idea to the small idea”, there was always a “big idea” waiting behind the curtain. And the “small ideas” were just a way to build jigsaw puzzle-like into a big idea.

Entrepreneurs and innovators understand the lure of the big idea as surely as anyone. But an entrepreneur’s big idea falls – for the most part – a long way away from an marketer’s. For the entrepreneur, the big idea is almost always linked to a product or a technology. And a marketer’s big idea is linked inextricably to an emotion. Think about it this way:

Entrepreneurs Marketers
Product focus Emotion focus
Engagement oriented Connection oriented
Features Benefits
Inform Inspire
Platform Community
Creating markets Creating movements
Mission Purpose
Team centred Customer centred
Product management Community management

They say that to love is human – and entrepreneurs fall in love with their big ideas (product) and marketers fall in love with their big ideas (advertising). Unfortunately, this love affair – in both instances – is monogamous. And for success to be achieved, we need a little more entrepreneurial polygamy. Essentially, we need marketers and entrepreneurs to share the love around, building not just one aspect of their businesses but both.

We need to build brands at the same time that we are building a product. In fact, I’d claim that we need to go further. We need to build marketing-led startups.

Now, many entrepreneurs will claim to do this. They will claim customer focus. Aim to build beta users, audiences and a movement around their product. But very, very few put the same level of thinking and resources into marketing. Look at the startup team skew – one or two professional developers and an intern for the marketing. An intern. For your most important business project.

It raises many interesting questions, but the most important one is this – “do you want to succeed?”

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