The Question Every Startup Needs to Ask Itself : Is Your Product or Service Replaceable?
“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” Gabrielle Chanel
Chances are you’ve come across this quote in one form or another. There are many quotes attributed to Mademoiselle. Some are accurate, not all are. I’m willing to bet that this one likely is.
She was extraordinarily different. A rule breaker, an innovator. She solved unique problems in unique ways by embracing modernity and dramatically changed fashion for women in the process. In doing so, she founded one of the world’s most enduring and prolific brands.
Many startups come to me with the idea that their brand is special simply by virtue of the fact that it is a product that was produced by them. Nobody else can be you, this is true. But is your product or service replaceable?
If you answered yes, do you have concrete (aka researched, documented, tested) evidence that statement is truly true?
There are hard and fast truths we must face along on the path to profitability if we want to launch a business that creates sustainable profitability. This is where it gets sticky for many entrepreneurs because in order to be profitable we have to ask our brand questions that validate its value.
In order to validate a claim, it is necessary to create doubt about it. You will want to poke holes in your story — and find other people who can poke more holes in it — it you want to find what is truly true about it.
Step 1: The Ego’s Got to Go.
In order to examine your brand objectively and come out the other side with concrete evidence that it is, in fact, irreplaceable — or, at least, has real potential to be — you need to get your mind right.
It is quite challenging to be objective about anything we care about deeply; however, in order to determine if something is monetizable, objectivity is necessary. Objectivity requires us to be open to being wrong, which asks us to be vulnerable, which means you will become uncomfortable.
Hint: If you are uncomfortable, that means you’re are doing it right.
This process will be painful, at times. You will feel defeated, at times. But if you can push through it, you will find that each defeating moment you conquer will build strength for your brand.
Step 2: How to Get Objective
Start to think of your budding brand as a seedling of an idea. Try not to get emotionally attached to it. Because if it is a good idea, it will change and evolve and iterate its way to success. With any luck, it will likely not be the same idea as it was in the beginning.
Hint: Detachment is the key to success.
Consider your brand as an hypothesis that you are putting out into the world. “I believe that I can provide value to the world by (making, selling, speaking about) X.”
Consider that statement a theory that must be tested in order to validate its value.
Validated value = profit potential.
Approaching this theory with curiosity will go a long way. Remaining humble during process will take you even further. Put the two of together and you have one of the most powerful tools you can give your brand because they will open you up to being wrong, which opens you up to opportunity to improve the value you are creating for the world.
Step 3: R&D, Baby!
Developing the value of your brand becomes infinitely easier when you know its identity intimately. Time spent in research and development is arguably the most valuable time you can spend on your brand development.
R&D will get you thinking deeply about your brand, it will help you develop an informed strategy that provides structure to your future marketing efforts. Open yourself up to reading other people’s thoughts about your field, perhaps find a few who disagree with you, and challenge yourself to connect with people who are ahead of you in the game. These people will elevate your thinking and your practices.
If you’re lucky, this process will create some doubt about your hypothesis. Doubt does not equate to failure. If you can move through that moment with lessons (DATA!!), you will find yourself creating a stronger brand (and stronger mindset) in the long run.
While I understand that the concept of data, and the apps and software that accompany it, are intimidating to many people. I have to say, you are really missing out on information that will pave the path to profitability.
Data may be a new area for you to explore, which will likely be accompanied by mental resistance to being open minded about the facts it presents. That’s OK. Keep going.
Uncomfortable = You’re doing it right.
Once you get into it, you will find that data provides a less thorny path to objective analysis of a business and brand. It turns likes on a feed into numbers and graphs that speak to how your efforts are performing. It provides a buffer that allows us to ask questions like:
Where am I creating value for my business?
Where am I creating value for my customer?
Am I spending my energy in the right place?
Do I need to do more research?
Is my audience responding to my message in the way I intended?
Should I invest more funds in this area?
Even if it proves you wrong, data has the power to remove the anxiety around these questions. It can actually be quite comforting.
Step 4: Put the Work In
Evidence gathering is a big part of this process and it takes time and money to get it done. Startups do not like this idea because it seems so much easier (and less expensive) to throw funds at a Facebook campaign.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it it again: In doing this you are choosing to fund Facebook’s growth before you’ve funded your own.
There is so much information to uncover about your brand before digital advertising can generate a significant ROI. Spend the time, do the hard work. Uncover the the language and imagery that articulates the value of your product or service to an audience that is listening.
Hint: An added benefit of all this deep thinking about your brand is that you become a wealth spring of content. You will know you are on the right path when content creation becomes a lot easier.
When you are struggling to write content remember this: Writer’s block means one of two things: Either you have more research to do or you have more to experience. If you don’t know what to say about your brand, more research and more experience will solve that problem for you.
The brand development process works best when it is an intentional action driven by creative solutions, open minded thinking, and strategic risk taking.
The path to profitability can be treacherous, at times. But if profitability is the goal — meaning money that sustains your business and your lifestyle — then your brand must embrace strategic design.
There are many couture fashion houses in the world that compete for the same audience. Each one has a glamorous story, an extensive atelier, and a coveted celebrity following. But there is only one house of CHANEL, a carefully considered brand that, while often imitated, remains irreplaceable.