April 9, 2020

Who Moved the End Zone?

Virtually every major media outlet has a story about the rout taking place in startup world. Sure, there are bright spots (telehealth, remote work tools, online learning, wine & spirits), but most are reeling. Add in uncertainty about qualifying for a PPP loan, the likely culling of the herd by VC backers, and it’s no wonder anxiety levels are soaring.

Anxiety isn't limited to startups. For anyone launching something new, right now is a nail-biter. Uncertainty around distribution and demand is delaying product launches for everything from food to electronics.

Tumult's corollary, of course, is opportunity. Now is the time to huddle with your team, survey the field, and create a few new plays.

We work with big, established companies at Spark No. 9 and we also work with startups. What they all have in common: something new to launch. We love them all and want to see everyone survive. For those in a launch team huddle, a few ideas:

Develop Future Customers

Maybe you haven’t launched yet, or maybe your product is dependent on face-to-face interaction. Or both. But if you’re waiting to build relationships with potential customers, you’re making a mistake.

It’s easier to launch (or relaunch) when you have a base of people who know and love your brand, and current times are no exception. Nurturing a deep relationship with customers now will pay off later. And it’s a great time to learn what customers want.

A few tips for attracting future customers to your social media account, email list, YouTube channel and so on:
- Make yourself useful. Maybe you’re a children’s book publisher who can offer content around kids’ passions to support multitasking parents. Or a candle-maker who can recommend ways to use scent to manage mood. People are more likely to follow or sign up for something genuinely useful or entertaining, like Whalebone’s Afternoon Delight, which brightens inboxes each mid-afternoon.
-Be authentic. There’s an awful lot of bravado right now. Flashes of humility, fear, hope are startling but real and build an emotional connection. Example: backpack specialist Peak Design’s wrenching company meeting shared on video.
Ask for input. If you are asking consumers to invest time in your brand, let them help shape it. Inserting a poll in an email newsletter or Instagram Story drives engagement and a sense of ownership, but can also create useful data. Other tactics, like waitlists for A|B versions of a new product, for example, can calibrate demand for an offering.

Do The Hustle

Hustle is the younger sibling of Pivot, below, and a good hustle can provide critical inputs to smart pivoting. Companies like fashion brand Dolan, a past Spark client we love and are oh-so-proud of, have stopped producing dresses and are making masks instead; others are creating medical products. It’s not (let’s hope) a long-term strategy, but it might get you through the storm.

If your current offering is wrong for the times, reinvent it:

First, break it down into pieces: what are your core capabilities? Can any individual aspects of your offering be a standalone product? Could you extract design? delivery? analysis?

Next, imagine your offering changing shape. Is there a tiny version of your offering that is more digestible to a cash-constrained customer base? Could you bundle your product and offer it to a group of customers who all receive a discount? Can it be virtual?

Finally, consider content as a way to bring your hustle to life. Can you map content to trends to draw interest to your reshaped offering?

Pivot Big

Major changes are taking place in the way people consume. Could this be an opportunity for your company to succeed by changing its offering? N.B.: Play-dough started as a wall cleaner.

This is the moment for big thinking. Focus on relevance to the emerging future, one with fewer face-to-face gatherings and more conservatism in spending. How can you reduce risk for your customer?

If you have sufficient resources to test a massive reframing of your assets, capabilities, or processes, now is the time. But experiment first, please—test new offerings against a series of discrete audiences using a test matrix. Use ad campaigns to reach statistically valid sample sizes and validate results several times before you commit to a big move. It’s obvious, but we’ll say it anyway: survival depends on managing risk.
Finally, consider content as a way to bring your hustle to life. Can you map content to trends to draw interest to your reshaped offering?

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In a tight spot? Contact us for a free consult.
We will rally the online whiteboard and  help you find a path forward.

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