When you're first starting out, it's like you're in the jungle with a machete and you're just carving out a path, trying to move forward.
Eventually, you get to a point where you're exiting the jungle, and it's time to start building roads--pouring concrete, laying foundation, putting trucks on the roads, and moving forward in a more coordinated manner.
Suddenly, the machete isn't as useful. Suddenly, you need leaders who can move trucks and pour concrete.
Not all leaders make that leap.
I'm a big fan of that story. It's visual and easy to remember. It works. But today, new leaders must straddle both the jungle and enterprise development.
At times, we must be like John Snow at the battle of Winterfell, charging forward like a bastard maniac. At other times, we must be like a Littlefinger-esque VP scheming and plotting. No matter--we must keep a machete in our belts, just in case.
Much of the consumer marketing world has been taken over by the jungle. The landscape changes too quickly for paving or hardcoding processes, and it's becoming harder and harder to adjust to changes.
Here are five ways to do it effectively:
1. Be cooler
The battle for cool is happening daily. In your newsfeed. Across your Snapchat filters. The old guard is grasping for relevance and cachet, throwing up money like Drake at V Live in Houston.
We startups have the opportunity to be cool--can try a wider spectrum of marketing actions and connect with our target market flexibly.
A lot of older brands have identities that are carved in stone. Sudden changes to accommodate new markets or opportunities can signal inconsistency and create brand distrust.
We don't have to deal with such identity headwinds, and we have no legacy branding debts. We can be cooler by simply trying enough combinations of message, brand, and product to find out what combination works best.
2. Be faster
A few years ago, I worked at a Fortune 500 company. I'd come up with an idea, I'd make a deck, present it, and nothing would happen for a long time.
I suggested an improvement with clear upside and no political sensitivity. I just got an email about that suggestion last week--they're finally moving forward with it.
Executives at big companies tend to act like Red when he gets out of Shawshank: change-averse and a bit lost.
At my startup, I don't care where ideas originate. If the guy who delivers our water pitches a good idea, we'd be market testing within a week. Force it. Test it. Do it quickly.
3. Appeal to the young and push them correctly
We've started calling young people "Millennials" and acting like they're aliens. Here's the thing: Young people are different. It's not unique to Millennials--that shouldn't even be a word.
Millennials are the first generation, however, that knows more about adapting to the changing world than its older counterparts. This is a threat to those who have harder times adjusting to change; experience and youth are at a point of talent inversion with respect to technology.
The values and goals of young people are often misaligned with big firms. Employees feel unappreciated. Big companies don't know how to use them correctly.
Let those young people generate ideas and take risks to build what's next.
4. Play offense
The other day, I hopped onto an earnings call of a large competitor who has negative growth. They're basically all defense. With investors. With customers. With each other.
Startups are all offense. We grow off small bases. We get to be more creative.
We can take riskier positions with brands, strategies, and marketing. It's in this excitement that startups have access to better talent and more innovative strategies.
5. Iterate like maniacs
The entrepreneurial spirit allows us to use the real world as one grand business experiment. We can A/B test products, messaging, and every other business function to see how the markets respond.
We can iterate faster and get strategies to market faster. We can abandon the bad stuff faster. There's less bureaucracy and fewer political agendas.
It's a core advantage against a bigger company.
I read Phil Knight's book Shoe Dog a few months ago.
There's a part toward the end where he talks about visiting Vietnam and requesting to meet Vo Nguyen Giap, the man who led forces that beat back France and the United States.
The Vietnamese officials granted him this audience, and Knight asked the man one question: "How did you do it?"
Giap responded: "I became a professor of the jungle."
Welcome to the jungle.