I recently re-published one of my posts on LinkedIn Pulse: Why Startups Should Worry about Brand Second.
It drew a comment from someone about whether creative professionals (of which he is one) might be better served to focus on building brand based on their existing body of work. I have known a number of people who are creative professionals, and would also add into the mix my belief that the tech computer scientist falls into this category as well. So I understand the dilemma.
It’s like when the Renaissance Great Masters had to do commissioned portraits to survive – there has always been this struggle for artists between creating from their passion and creating something people want to buy.
I responded to the comment that I meant Startups should first start with trying to understand the market and what you can uniquely offer of value to that market. That I meant not to ignore traditional branding activities, just not to prioritise that before they have product/market fit validated. And base your branding on this discovery.
Though it drew me further into thinking about this problem of whether the exploration journey into finding a validated product/market fit is actually really an exploration into finding that sweet spot where what the outside wants matches the inside goals.
After all, a Startup is built out of trying to realize a founder’s vision. Its momentum is very much dependent on the people moving it forward feeling fulfilled and proud of what they create. Without this is it not hollow? Much like creating only commissioned pieces?
I think that a lot of the Lean message grew out of the problem that technology R&D focused too heavily on what they wanted to build rather than what the market wanted. And possibly, out of trying to solve that problem came too strong a push on getting out into the market and finding out what customers want. Kinda like a corrective slant in the other direction, more than a balanced answer of what to do. Those of us who have been customer facing in the tech industry have always known that you need to understand what the customer wants before you build. It’s actually not that big an aHa for some of us.
As a tangent, on a personal level I’ve been doing a lot of work around archetypes this past year. (In terms of my own personal persona rather than a customer persona, though understanding the one helps with understanding the other.) It’s come at me in various forms. Deepak Chopra’s work on synchronicity. Through Sally Hogshead’s book “How the world sees you”. I’ve always been drawn to seeking to understand the universal themes and characters in the stories we tell.
Deepak recommends that you pick 3 Archetypes that resonate in order to understand what you value and attract into your life. Mine are the Magician, Explorer and Artist. In Sally Hogsheads test, I came out as the Trendsetter/Trailblazer, which on reading the description is a variation of the Explorer.
I’ve come to understand that this Explorer type is someone seeking self-actualization. What distinguishes the Explorer from the Hero in our myths is that the Hero is out on a quest to win a prize, where the Explorer is on a journey to better understand themselves and the world around them.
Funny enough – even though Sally Hogshead’s book is titled “How the World Sees You”, she does discuss as one of her foundations that one of the goals of understanding how the world sees you is to become more of who you are, a more authentic you.
And so my various exploration threads come together.
Is not the Lean experience of finding product/market fit an exploration of understanding the world around you and what you uniquely have to offer of value?
For me, the key something is in finding that unique advantage you can offer in your solution. It is that thing that straddles between the outside and the inside. The magic that attracts people to buy and is the value in the solution you deliver. Regardless of whether we are speaking of personal brand, company brand or product/solution promotion. We stand out by talking about the value we uniquely provide.
On the Lean journey, I believe we need to be open to the back and forth that can occur when trying to find product / market fit. You are trying to find a product that the market wants – but you are also trying to find a market that values the strengths of your solution. To use an old phrase from project management, it is a journey of progressive elaboration, learning and refining as we go.