Put your thinking cap on - now!

If you ran a hotel right now, apart from running around looking for toilet rolls, you'd be doing some essential maintenance to the building. The sort of thing you never do because there's always ‘the day job’ of running your establishment.

If you ran a retailer right now, apart from having a heart attack because the high street's in lock down, you'd be doing some essential work to your supply chain. Something that's always on the to-do list, but life has a habit of getting in the way.

If you’re the founder of a startup right now, apart from screaming into a pillow, you should be shitting yourself about what’s going to happen when sanctions are lifted.

Ok, so you're in lockdown. There are still some customers to talk to, and maybe the occasional deal to get across the line, but mainly, things have gone quiet. Which is probably a good thing, because you’re spending all day in yesterday’s pants. You just turn them inside out, don’t you?

It's deathly quiet. So quiet, its deafening to some. So much so that they won’t shut up and think. The smart people in this situation will grab the opportunity to think.

Alas, thinking is so uncool in startup life these days. Instead, people get high fives for shit-hot presentations and 50 people video-calls. Morons.

Thinking - the kind where you switch off your What's App (you can watch the Corona memes another day), tell your flatmate to watch Netflix in their bedroom, and talk to somebody smarter than you – that kind of thinking transforms businesses.

Remember, ‘if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got’. So, take a deep fucking breath, feel the air in your lungs. Nice innit.

Time is on your side

We're going to be in this situation for a while, you don't have to make snap decisions today. It’s like a pint of the black stuff: good things come to those who wait.

Remember, the startup game is incredibly volatile. VC interest can disappear and become rarer than hens’ teeth. Now is the time to take your time.

The best decisions need room to breathe, they need time to sit in the gut, and they definitely don't need 20 people rammed into a meeting room all jostling to be the clever dick who says, "I'm just going to play devil’s advocate". Fuck off Susan, nobody asked you to role-play anything.

Investing a couple of weeks of your time now will pay you back many times over during the next 12 months. Remember: a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.

Don't drop your pants

Most marketing budgets have been cut in half overnight; and nobody has downloaded your app / hit your website / bought your IoT enabled sex toy for weeks. So when the country’s taps are turned back on, the obvious thing to do is drop your pants and pour all your money into performance marketing.

Unfortunately, performance marketing is ‘tactics before strategy’ It’s akin to holding a hammer and then looking for a nail. It has its place at the bottom of the funnel, not at the top. Performance marketing after COVID-19 will be like a shot of heroin. Lovely, blissful, short and fucking stupid.

Let's get this straight:  performance marketing (I hate that term btw - when has marketing not been about performance?) is something that erodes your opportunity to demand a premium. Take ‘short-term Nigel’ who's currently sat in 20-people Zoom calls, listing out the  people he’s going to re-target and re-cookie once he's allowed out. Nige is going to have a lovely first quarter after the sanctions are lifted, but then he's going to need another hit of heroin. And another, and another. But each time, it's less effective than the last.

Do the opposite to everyone else and turn it up to 11

Once you’re suddenly back with your face in someone’s armpit on the Northern line, it will be too easy to slip back into old habits. And those old habits die hard.

The average Londoner sees 1,000 ads a day (TV, print, mobile, outdoor, etc) of which 89% are immediately forgotten! And that’s because brands (and startups are some of the worst culprits) treat the public with contempt; they bombard them with bland, meaningless, vanilla crap. Pretty much every brand looks and sounds the same. Making the same mistakes in some perverse ‘safety in numbers’ bullshit mentality, where nobody is prepared to stick their head above the parapet.

Don’t panic, get the right product and the right price, remember your 4P’s. And then grab the opportunity to be 180 degrees different to every other brand in your industry.  Yes it’s scary. Yes, it takes guts.  Yes, it can be lonely. And yes it’s exhilarating. You’ll be thanking me in 12 months’ time.

Note: most marketers can’t recite the 4P’s, never mind the damn 7P’s. Ergh.

No carbs before marbs

Think long term, not short term. The antidote to dropping your pants with performance marketing, is brand building. Building that ethereal quality that makes customers buy from you without knowing why they’d never deviate, if they were asked to switch.

  • Brand building requires discipline - there aren’t many shit hot brands with a flabby gut.
  • Brand building requires a tightly defined aim - there aren’t many shit hot brands without a recipe for success.
  • Brand building requires time - every shit hot brand has been sculpting their guns for ages.

I appreciate I’ve milked the ‘no carbs before marbs’ metaphor, but you get my point. Concentrate on building your brand and you’ll be benefiting in the long term, especially as every single one of your competitors is going short term.  And remember strong brands recovered 9 times faster than weak brands following the financial crash of 2008. 

mellor and smith

So how do you do it?

Take your time and the opportunity to breathe. You’ll be amazed at how much clarity comes from turning your notifications off and talking to someone smarter than you.

Keep your pants on, and don’t fall for the trap of getting hooked on performance marketing the minute the sanctions are lifted. You’ll get an immediate boost to your top line, but your bottom line will suffer, especially in the long term.

Do the opposite to everyone else, which you will do anyway, if you take this opportunity to actually think, but turn the dial up to 11 and stick your neck out. Take a risk. Stand for something the public will remember.

Remember: To get that 6-pack, you need to concentrate on the long term goal of brand building. It will see you through today’s darkest of hours, and will fuel your business in the good times.

Focussing on keeping it simple will mean that when COVID-19 has disappeared, which it will, you’ll come out the other side in better shape than the competition. Especially the legacy industry you’re disrupting. All because you didn’t run around your WeWork screaming into empty glass rooms.

Stay safe, wash your damn hands and don’t hug anyone… even “Devil’s Advocate Susan.”

mellor and smith