August 24, 2015

When Big Brands Think Like Startups

By: Jennifer Borba von Stauffenberg

Imagine the power of applying the passion and vision of a startup business’s marketing and public relations plan to a major national brand. During my 16 years in the industry, I have had the pleasure of working with a very diverse client base from national household name brands to small startups. The biggest difference I notice in the two is the amount of fresh relentless drive that takes place at a startup. The second biggest difference is that there is no history, so the ideas are bold, innovative and outside of the box. The third biggest difference is that things happen at warp speed; they have to because the metaphorical startup runway has limited room for takeoff.

When you are working with a startup, the staff is running on all cylinders and constantly looking for ways to grow and improve. What if you could apply that thinking to an existing brand and take it to a whole new level? Here are six tips to support a major brand in applying startup thinking.

  1. Start by getting creative. Ask your team to pretend that anything is possible and start to brainstorm what they would do if they could do anything. Sometimes you just need to knock out the walls and get beyond the tunnel vision and work backwards to create the budget. In my years of work in advertising, I always thought it was peculiar that you start with a budget and figure out how to spend it. It makes more sense to me to create the vision and then identify what it will cost. If you have to scale back, then so be it. This way, you know where you need to scale in order to reach your ideal.
  2. Forget about what you have been for a moment and focus on who you want the brand to be in the future. We can be such robots and go with the flow. Startups are disrupters. They are asking questions about why things have been done a certain way and then introduce something better. In order to stay in the lead, major brands need to think that way too.
  3. Identify the biggest opportunities. Which new audience exists that you haven’t captured? Identify team members who fit that audience and invite them to a special brainstorming session. While we spend a lot of time joking about those Gen Y’s and their unique behaviors in the workplace, they actually are pretty brilliant (especially when it comes to figuring out how to reach them).
  4. How long has it been since you talked about why you are so awesome? Do people remember? What innovative thinking has gotten your brand to where it is today? Thought leadership is all the rage lately. Startups never hesitate to talk about their awesomeness. Which of your team members exhibit innovative thinking? Start illuminating their thoughts through social media and editorial opportunities.
  5. Revisit what makes you different and the best right now and relaunch the company vision. Tell your story knowing that there are many people who will just be meeting you for the first time. How do you want them to know you now?
  6.  Establish partnerships with brands that are demonstrating the new fresh values your brand aspires to. For example, let’s say you are a bank that has a maturing target audience and it’s time to reach millennials. Who can you align with that is doing something really cool to support your new image? You can leverage your trusted brand equity to give them a boost and they can leverage their fresh, youthful brand to give you a new image. Maybe it’s a startup that can show you a new trick or two.

Sometimes it’s easy to rest on quality products and services, but there are so many new opportunities out there. Sometimes putting on the opportunist cap makes all the difference.