Isabelle Dunn is Chief Digital Officer at Hearts & Science
Start-ups. In the progressive world of digital, it’s more important than ever to look up to disrupting and exciting newcomers; who are discovering niches in established markets. The ones who are forcing change.
The sharp rise in eCommerce growth has levelled the playing field, with new entrants able to upset an entire industry or build successful businesses solely using Instagram. Most big corporates do try to innovate.
However, the reality is they aren’t always set up to truly embrace it. New thinking can get bogged down by process, there might be unexpected leadership changes which stunt creativity, or their rules and regulations might be too engrained into the
company ethos to allow fresh ideas to break through when attention always diverts back to services generation short term revenue.
The truth is, keeping pace with emerging technologies is critical to continued success and staying ahead of the competition. It’s not easy, as it requires agility and the ability to evolve business models and the needs of their customers.
This means being open to change, and meeting it head on by transforming who they are and how they conduct their business. Something a lot of business people find hard, especially if they’ve been working in an industry with a low rate of change.
It’s time to switch the thinking. If big brands can see past the misgivings and doubt, they really can learn a lot from these quick-thinking, innovative entrepreneurs. All successful start-ups have a clear purpose at the heart. Clearly, they have a unique opportunity to respond to a new trend, challenges and desires and excel at creating solutions that enable the use of technology.
While some may see rapidly growing start-ups as a threat, many of the bigger brand empires are more and more eager to tap into the expertise of innovative entrepreneurs. To do so, many have created clever funds or incubator programmes aimed at them. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement; they get fresh ideas and an opportunity to future proof their business through equity share or buy-out first right of refusal. And if they’re lucky, they’ll find a newfound love and appetite for risk that existed in the infancy stages of their company journey.
In return, the start-up gets a large investment and more importantly, validation and credibility within the market. They also get access to industry mentors, experts, facilities and connections. They can grow fast, through the unique strategic partnership that is forged. A few of those global initiatives are led by companies such as American Express, Pepsico, J&J, Nike, Microsoft and Mars Food.
In Nike’s case, they teamed up with TechStars to move faster outside of their existing structures, by mentoring 10 start-ups through a three-month programme to build technologies for activity-tracking devices, like its FuelBand. Each start-up got a $20,000 investment from TechStars, and the chance to pitch investors and Nike at the end of the programme. This is a perfect example of how today’s world is all about democratization and even our large clients are leaning in. So, isn’t it about time we do the same with our media services?
The reality is that for start-ups, finding an agency that has experience working with entities their size, and who shares similar values and can support their long-term growth, can be challenging. And that’s without even thinking about budget. They need to make every dollar work for them. They’re looking for smart, efficient growth tactics and a significant level of focus and added value. They need a strong digital presence, because most of their customers will be turning to Google to compare it with their competitors. They also need to be creating content on social media and managing their website – all of which take time and expertise.
What steps do startups need to take?
Well, first off. They need to recognise the gap, often this is hard to do objectively. So, we recommend enlisting the services of an agency, consultant or freelancer that has the experience working with all different size businesses. For start-ups, ramping up mass awareness and building their brand isn’t an easy shift to make. Also, an agency mostly serving larger brands is unlikely to provide the level of focus and agility required.
This is the stage where the product-market fit is found, testing is rampant and client cases grow to start producing important revenue streams. It’s important to concentrate on reaching high value customers at scale – with strategic planning being incorporated into every facet of the business.
Beyond performance media, this requires improving organic visibility, deploying advanced cross platform tracking, and optimising towards lifetime value. It’s also about successfully supporting the various stages of growth to unlock more funding as the business grows.
On the flipside, we believe agencies should embrace working with high-energy, fast growing and entrepreneurial clients as it can be hugely insightful, exciting and rewarding - provided the right team, skillset, set up and processes are in place. We see it as huge opportunity to stay relevant, connect with consumers in new ways, and accelerate our own growth by stepping out of our comfort zone.
Isabelle Dunn is Chief Digital Officer at Hearts & Science, a data-driven marketing agency.