It’s been a couple of days since I wrote this. Mostly because of an existential crisis around the purpose of writing this newsletter. More on that some other time.
Lately I’ve been thinking about what makes Intercom, Slack, MailChimp, Airbnb, Uber, Lyft and other companies (technology mostly) that sit on people’s tongues and minds, special?
All of the companies mentioned above don’t work in a certain vertical, but if you’re thinking email, you mind goes to MailChimp. If you think logistics and transport, it’s Uber. Intercom has a great writing and editorial operation and that is what I associate them with mostly, and if someone says ‘In-App Messaging’ I think Intercom. These companies have built incredible products and mind-share through… marketing. But how? My theory is, not everything they do is about acquiring customers.
Here’s the rub. Sure customers are important and without cash flow you won’t have the luxury of running a business let alone write about product management. But perhaps it’s the case that these companies have reached a certain scale where they have enough operating cash on hand that they can think longer-term strategy. The marketing organization isn’t constrained by ‘How are we getting new customers this month’ but rather ‘How are we building a company and a brand that’s going to help people associate us with our vertical so business naturally comes’.
I use naturally somewhat loosely above.
There’s also something else. These companies (and founders and teams) stand for something. They believe in what they’re building and write about it every chance they get. Does the personal brand these folks build conflict or overshadow the company brand? I don’t think so. I think it helps support it.
Imagine the following scenario — you read a great Medium Post on how to… design great email templates using nothing but your hands and the in-line css in your editor. The post was so useful that you start following the author on Medium and go check out her Twitter and find out she works for MailChimp. In your mind, there’s a synapse firing associated MailChimp with that post and tagging it as ‘awesome’ or ‘well written and easy to follow’ or whatever. Next time you’re in the market to send emails or looking for software to send emails, you’ll maybe check out MailChimp.
I am oversimplifying. Grossly oversimplifying.
In other cases (such as Uber) they spend money to place ads on your browser with striking visuals that you click and poke around and next time you’re going somewhere, you download the app.
Are we as marketers going back to brand(building)? How do the internal marketing teams within these companies operate? Do they stare at metrics all day wondering how much they spent and how their campaigns are performing? Or do they just spend money and write about things they care about, run nicely designed ads and figure the money will follow? There’s been a ‘performance’ focused marketing approach, especially in startups since there’s no money for big campaigns and the focus is on getting customers. But after how many customers do you stop worrying about getting that next customer and start focusing on the intangibles and believe the customers will come?
Perhaps, more then anything, it’s about balancing the two. I wonder though if there’s a relation to business models. If you’re selling enterprise/SMB software with no freemium option, then your marketing will operate completely different then if you’re selling to consumers or a freemium product tier.
You can’t improve what you can’t measure More questions to be explored another time.
Uber is increasingly weaving itself to the fabric of our cities and urban planning. With Uber, you can now ride to your train station in New Jersey for free (if you already have the $4 day parking permit) because commuters ride the train and leave their cars in the parking lot which means there’s not enough parking for everyone. This way the city saves a whole whack of money by not expanding the parking lot pays the difference on the ride. It’s still a pilot but this is a first world problem that i’ve experience in San Jose and Toronto. Uber itself is losing a ton of money every year (in the order of billions) and is not profitable yet. But as it mounts losses, it continues to expand it’s reach into the urban landscape. As I heard on a recent podcast, alot of folks look at the ride-sharing market as a winner take all, but I personally think options are better, especially since every time Uber makes a change or offers options at a lower price then usual, its the drivers who suffer the most.
One of the reasons I think about Uber and other ‘on-demand’ services is because I ask myself, what kind of future do I want to live in? Even though there’s all these lazy services that bring anything from laundry to food to your doorstep, we never realize the human cost and perhaps lost human potential behind the glitz. Often times, I’ll look at a courier with a logo slapped on her/his backpack and wonder if they didn’t do this, what else could they have done with their time. Too often in the race to scale, there’s basic labour laws and working conditions that get ignored but they exist for a reason. I keep thinking back to the working conditions in my home country (Pakistan) or the news about factory collapses in Bangladesh.
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