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You! Of course, it is your startup and you own it. The idea is yours; the product or service is yours; the effort put into in bring that product or service out on to the market is yours (and your teams’) and the investment is fully or partly yours.

However, the question is once your startup is on the market, who runs it!

Not you. It’s undoubtedly your customers or clients. They are the ones who fill your coffers; they are the ones who make your startup a brand; and they are the ones who make you and your startup grow from a mere idea to a corporation. This is a fact and those who ignore this fact may not totally be doomed but may not prosper to the heights expected of them.

You have a dream, a mission, a vision, a philosophy and ethics, and you hold them close to your heart, but there is something beyond the heart and that is the mind! When your dream doesn’t go well with your customers/clients, you have got to ‘amend’ it without having to change it entirely; otherwise, you invite failure.

That is one of the reasons why we have addressed, in several of our earlier articles, the issue of keeping enough room for expansion or amendments so that when things do not go as you have planned, you can always make ‘changes’ that do not hurt your feelings or break your ethics, yet keep your ship sailing the rough tides smoothly. Though there are some exceptional cases where the founder proceeds ahead without budging from his philosophy, there are far more cases, in a million to one ratio, where even the mega-corporations are forced to wind up their businesses or sell them out to those who can make those amendments.

Here we have some mega-corporations which stand as examples of those who did not go with the flow of the stream and, consequently, did not survive:

  1. “Nokia, for one, had to sell out their business – Public Opinion Matters!” in my article “Nokia: Not Connecting People”, I stressed this point of ‘public’, interpreted as customers/clients, which can save or break a business.
  2. The uncrowned emperor of the soft drink segment, Coca-Cola, had to check in its tracks and change its tacts in the process of giving in to its customers’ preference. In 1985 when Coca-Cola tried to introduce New Coke to compete with other brands, the ‘subjects’ rejected it and within weeks, Coca-Cola set its ‘false moves’ right and stayed on top again.
  3. Tesco, the mega-retailer in the UK, failed miserably in the USA not because it lacked experience. In my article “Lessons From Tesco’s Brand Fiasco”, I addressed the point that a brand, however huge it may be, needs to “reinvent” in order to go with the tide; not against the tide, quoting several experts’ opinions: “Dean Crutchfield was right when he wrote: “First, know that brands who think they’re invincible tend to fall harder or lose their franchise because they fail to recognize that brands go through three phases: triage, organic growth and reinvention” in his article ‘In Light of Coco Expose, Brand Chanel Must Soldier On’!”
  4. McDonald’s, the king of burgers which sells more than 75 burgers every second, had to call hurriedly back its new mascot when customers thought it was very ‘toothy’ and so very scary. It is funny to consider that McDonald’s recalled its multi-million dollar mascot just because a couple of its customers mocked its mascot being too toothy! This’s damn serious, isn’t it?
  5. Just a tweet on a funny Twitter post of someone using an airplane as a sex toy got the US Airways management down on its knees and apologise to the general public. Such is the power of the customers’ word: it can bring down an airlines brand not with missiles but with just a couple of comments.
  6. Many international high-end fashion brands spend millions in charity activities, especially in support of the workers in Asian countries from where they get their clothes sewn cheaply to appease the public when activists protest against the violation of trade ethics. Primark, the Irish international fashion brand, along with other top international brands, shelled out huge amounts in out of court settlements and on charity when accused of violations.
  7. “HSBC will launch a formal review into whether it should leave the UK amid heightened public anger over misdeeds and rising costs in this country.” is what Katherine Griffiths, Banking Editor, wrote in her post ‘HSBC ponders UK exit as public ire and costs mount’ on The Times on 24, 2015. I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t know or at least heard, of HSBC bank, and it is afraid of public anger.
  8. Here we have a classic example of how startups can benefit from listening to the ‘heartbeat’ of their customers in Darren Dahl’s “Go to the source: How Customers Can Change Your Business for the Better”. He opened his article with the words: Want to experience the power of customer-generated innovation? Start listening to what your customers are saying and watch your profits rise. That’s how far up your customers can take your business.
  9. We can understand how important it is for a startup to take note of customers’ preferences when we read Andrian J. Slywotzky’s “Keeping Up with Your Customers”, on Business know-how website, in which he, while highlighting the fact that customers change their minds and keep changing their minds quite often, wrote: ‘For an example, consider Coach, the maker of handbags and other fashion accessories for women. Coach spends over $5 million per year on marketplace testing of new products. It uses many lenses to read the market, including more than 60,000 one-on-one customer interviews, telephone surveys that reach 500 customers at a clip, numerous market experiments, competitive analyses, prototype studies, and in-store product tests.’
  10. Here we have an article by Katie Lobosco (@KatielLobosco), “Comcast changes customer name to A-hole on bill” on CNN Money (New York) January 2015, where we see a single customer making a US based largest international mass media and cable company, Comcast, apologize and promise to take appropriate steps to avoid such faux pas in the future.

Well, if you still think that you don’t have to be on guard at present as you are still a startup, you have not got the point right. Go back to No. 8 and you will understand how it benefits you to be giving an ear to your customers/clients not only in the future but also in the present.

Mash Bonigala

Mash B. is the Founder & CEO of SpellBrand. Since 1998, Mash has helped conscious brands differentiate themselves and AWAKEN through Brand Strategy and Brand Identity Design. Schedule a Brand Strategy Video Call with Mash.