What Can Big Brands Learn From Startups?

Brands large and small have a mission statement, values, and brand positioning. Before the rise of the Internet, social media, and digital media, building that special connection with your target consumer was costly. We are talking about huge TV advertising budgets, newspaper ads, and celebrity endorsements that can instantly turn a brand’s image around and ultimately generate sales.

Focus groups, consumer research, psychographic profiles, the list goes on and on. Big brands would (and continue to) spend thousands of dollars and hours to create the perfect brand persona. In most cases, the investment in the research pays off! The Dove Real Beauty campaign is a perfect example of good planning and execution.

Why is this the best time to launch a startup?

Because technology has leveled the playing field between big brands and startups.

If you’re working at a startup, getting your brand name out there is like slowly pushing a boulder up a mountain. Every little inch of progress counts. A marketer at a big brand is generally coasting along, looking for new audiences to reach but he or she knows that they already have a core audience who loves their brand. Interestingly, big brands are adopting some of the methods and strategies startups use to get their products and services out into the masses. Here are the top 3 strategies a big brand can learn from startups:

1) Adopt technology faster

Given this post is a part of #TechThursday, big brands should adopt and experiment with new technologies at a much faster rate. You are probably using some old version of Nielsen, Kantar, and software still running on Windows XP. While this data is all valuable, is the value you are receiving from these services worth the multi-year contracts you’ve established. New marketing vendors these days offer all sorts of flexible packages with free trials and month-to-month renewals. We’ve experimented with various e-mail marketing software and never committed to one vendor because we ended up not having the long-term need for the software. The important takeaway is that we were able to adopt the technology in a few days and run an experiment for a few weeks.

2) Social Media, Content Marketing, and Guerilla Marketing

If you’re a startup, these 3 type of strategies are no-brainers to you. Why? Because the cost is very little to zero. As a startup, you are quick to respond to Tweets, and can act as human as possible on all these channels because chances are you are the founder and the voice of the company via Twitter any way. People know when they mention your startup’s handle on Twitter, they are essentially talking to you. With big brands, the line between “human” and “corporate” is super thin. Case in point is the overuse of #bae by the likes of AT&T. #cmon

3) Build, measure, learn

Eric Ries’ The Learn Startup is probably the modern day employee handbook for a startup’s employees. “Be nimble.” “Iterate often.” “Continuous feedback.” These are all phrases you might have heard but the reality is, you’re already doing these things because you have to. There is no other way to survive when you’re pushing that big boulder up the mountain. With big brands, the process usually is something like: Research, plan, research some more, present plan, get budget approval, build, present findings. Maybe there’s some measurement in there somewhere but who cares it’s already Q4 and we need to get on the holiday planning cycle.

Is it easy for big brands to adopt all these strategies? Absolutely not. There are processes and policy in place to ensure that the big investment made in planning and research will yield a positive outcome for gaining market share.

However, there are glimmers of excellence when a few trailblazing individuals at the big brand or agency put on their startup hats and create that emotional connection with the consumer. Remember the WestJet YouTube video last year where innocent passengers received actual gifts on the luggage turnstile? Sure, not all startups will have that kind of budget to buy 100 people presents, but WestJet took a risk, went guerilla, and 41 million viewers got the feels from watching this video.