I also got to hear from Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick, Coin’s Founder Kanishk Parashar, and a real highlight, Stuart Williams, from the University of Louisville’s Cardiovascular Innovation Institute, who exhibited 3D-printed ventricles of an infant’s heart!
However, it was the Consumer VC panel that delivered my moment of Zen, when VCs talked about what they looked for in successful entrepreneurs, founders and startups.
The litmus test question they posed was about learning via “hypothesis testing.” Like Satmetrix’s Net Promoter Score, which has an “Ultimate Question” ("How likely would you be to recommend Brand X to a friend?"), the VCs spoke about the question that they ask entrepreneurs -- and, indeed, what startup founders ask of each other: “How many experiments did you do last week?”
I was struck by a realization that startups care more about consumer behavior than big corporations and their brands do. I’m basing this sweeping judgment on startups’ explicit prioritization of curiosity and active commitment to executing on that curiosity.
Contrast this approach with brands’ lethargic -- and, quite frankly, old-fashioned -- approach, with focus groups behind one-way mirrors, survey-based questionnaires and mail intercepts, and research-heavy quant studies. There’s also brands’ inability to try out new approaches and deviate from “tried and tested” best practices.
Here’s the thing. There are no more “best practices” without the ability to innovate, evolve and adapt. Instead, consider “different practices” or “new practices” that integrate technology, change, risk and/or “hacks” to the “brand guidelines API.”
I don’t believe a single brand out there feels too comfortable about keeping up with the times, trends, new platforms and closeness to their consumers.
How about you? Do you feel like you’re leading your consumers? Or keeping pace with them? Or, in fact, do you feel like you’re continually playing catch-up -- not only with them, but your competitors (past, present and future)?
Perhaps we can learn from the Dropboxes, Ubers, GroupOns and Mints of the world, many of whom launched at LAUNCH, about what it takes to grow and be successful in today’s digitally, socially, and mobilely infused world.
Perhaps we can take a leaf out of their book with a learning-by-doing approach that involves continual testing -- and ultimately, continual learning.
Perhaps if we framed this as a consumer behavior and insights exercise, we might be able to position it better internally -- and with that, secure the funds, buy-in and support necessary to move from the treading water, holding pattern of status quo to a much more dynamic environment of marketing innovation.
Yes, of course this includes actual partnership with startups. Who better than early stage startups to co-create and partner up on a quest that pivots around “pivoting” and does not recognize the word “failure” at all? In the world of the startup, failure is just a clear to course-correct and incorporate learnings to come back better, stronger and smarter.
So if you are a true marketer and thus believe in the importance of consumer insights as an integral fossil fuel in the engine that powers brands and brand-building, isn’t it time you put these principles into practice and get in the game once and for all?