Very excited today, to be speaking to Jan Young, blockchain expert and champion. Jan has extensive expertise in digital media and has worked in Strategic Accounts and Product Management. She has an MBA from Columbia Business School, is a certified CSPO (Product Owner) and Scrum Master, and has certifications in Blockchain Business and Solutions Architecture. You can find her Blockchain Tech blog for non-coders on Medium at Blockchain2Go. Jan is a board member of The Rabbit Hole, a woman-powered blockchain community. The Rabbit Hole is conducting Beginner Blockchain Day here in Los Angeles on October 12, and Bitcoin Basics Brunch on Oct 13. She is also a co-founder of Prototopian Tech (website launching soon) which leads creative workshops on emerging technologies. Recently, I was speaking to Jan about the nature of brands, how they’re actually the shared relationship between a marketable asset and its market. We talked about how interactive technology has begun to shift the power in those relationships towards consumers – and away from the traditional gatekeepers of the brand, the owners and managers of marketable assets. You can see the trend in everything from the way consumers can now demand that businesses take a stand on social issues, to the impact of Yelp reviewers, even to how fan fiction influences some entertainment brands. It seemed to me, given its emphasis on decentralization, blockchain has the potential to really accelerate that shift. So, I asked Jan about it.
Entrepreneurs are creative people. They can’t help themselves, they just are. The first thing an entrepreneur creates is a business idea. Whether it’s a product or a service or just some new, improved way of delivering everyday benefits, the idea pops into his or her head and they just run with it. Very often, the second thing entrepreneurs create is a name for their new enterprise. This means that the business idea is only a day or so old and, already they’re making a branding error. I say that with some assurance because most entrepreneurs have no instinct, training or experience in naming things. But they’re creative, right? So they barge ahead without ever thinking of seeking help with what can turn out to be a life or death decision for the brand. 99% of them are going to name their brand the wrong way, make a mistake, and then spend the next five years paying for it. The wrong name can shackle a brand and force it to swim upstream. Try marketing anything when the target market is unenthused or, worse, turned off by its name. Even if the startup brand does get off the ground, it may be too late to rescue the situation by the time the entrepreneur finally owns the naming mistake and seeks professional help. There are so many rookie mistakes that business people make, we can’t address them all. But I’d like to share three all-too-common clunkers that can make a brand a loser before it even gets out of the gate.
It’s clear to everyone by now that the auto industry is in the painful throes of explosive, disruptive change. Even the near future of the sector is difficult to predict. There are so many new forces impacting the industry, no one can yet say what a future car business will look like, or whether there will be one at all. The climate crisis is the primary “driver” of the change. It’s clear that auto emissions, worldwide, must be brought down. That leads to efforts to build fleets of electric vehicles even though it’s uncertain if the market for so many EVs now exists. It also inspires experimentation with hydrogen propulsion and other clean energy options. But that’s just the beginning. Safety concerns lead to experiments with much better-performing self-driving vehicles. When all this is perfected, one won’t need to own a personal vehicle. It will be cheaper, easier – and cleaner – to simply engage with a public transportation infrastructure, greatly reducing the number of vehicles sold each year. Where will that leave the car companies? And is this what the market wants? Artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, blockchain, internet of things, 5G networks – all these exciting new technologies are pushing and accelerating the transformation. The breadth and depth of this kind of market-transforming upheaval is sure to have profound effects on the auto brands – the shared relationships between the car companies and their markets. The big media companies are grappling with this kind of large-scale disruption too. What about where you work? Think your industry is immune? Of course not. You’re probably also already seeing the writing on the wall.
My background as an artist and graphic designer led me to my entire approach to brand strategy. I work with my branding clients the way I do because my background and experience brought me to my unique methodology. I see brands as the shared relationship between marketable assets and their markets. Brand strategy is the art and science of defining and managing that shared relationship for growth and profit. But then I wondered, what is the difference between that and an overall business strategy? So I set out to learn all about business strategy. I fired up the ol’ Google machine and started clicking and reading. It turns out a lot has been written on the subject of business strategy – apparently, all by people who have never talked to one another. I can’t exactly say that the articles I read on the subject often contradicted each other. But they all put emphasis on different things and, often, even omitted different things. In the following paragraphs, I’m going to attempt to describe how brand strategy fits into an overall business strategy. But, readers, please be aware. I’m going to use a definition of business strategy that makes sense to me but it may not be the one that makes the most sense to you. But, hopefully, you’ll see how brand strategy fits into your definition as well.
There’s an old adage that goes, “Nobody buys a drill because they need a drill. People buy a drill because they need a hole.” Similarly, when you ask somebody what they do for a living, they almost always describe their occupation in terms of what it is they sell. They describe their “drill” whether it’s financial advice, patio furniture, fine wines, or some other product. But, when you look at who’s buying these products, you find they have real reasons for buying that have nothing to do with the sellers’ products. All business people are egocentric in this sense (and I mean it in the most positive way). We do what we do because that’s what we will. We go to the beach because we want to go to the beach. We go to the movies because that’s what we want to do. We start a business because we think it would be a good idea. But that egocentric approach to business can also put us at a disadvantage. We’re not seeing our brand from our market’s point of view. So here’s a two-step challenge for business people. First step, describe your business in terms of the “drill” you’re selling. Piece of cake, right? You’re probably doing it every time someone at a party asks you “So, Charlie, what do you do?” Second step, describe your business in terms of the “hole” your clients or customers are buying. For most managers, this will not be so easy.
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