Following his presentation at the ASHG 2018 conference, Amanda McWhorter sat down with our own Chief Strategy Officer, Will Gould, to dig deeper into managing a company’s impact in the marketplace.
Amanda: Your presentation today was wonderful! I’m hoping to capture some of that magic and put it in a bottle for those people who were unable to attend ASHG this year.
Will: Let’s give it a shot.
A: First, let’s start with a bit of your background. Tell us a bit about who you are and why you felt compelled to give this talk.
W: Alright. I currently serve as Brand Buddha’s Chief Strategy Officer. We are deeply committed to the genomics, pharma, and medical device industries. Over the past few months Brand Buddha has had a surge in interest as more genomics companies come out of research and move closer to revenue and need to develop go-to-market strategies.
A: Okay. Now, let’s chat for a second about your presentation plans. Originally, the plan was to discuss new client acquisition and adherence. That wasn’t the presentation you ended up giving. What happened?
W: Leading up to the conference, our marketing team spent numerous hours with scores of companies, learning how they interacted with the world at large. It became apparent that the single greatest challenge many of them face is getting noticed in a rapidly crowding marketplace. When we realized this was the most important necessity for the genomics realm, we shifted gears.
A: So, the presentation transformed into how to ensure your company stands out?
W: Yes. Essentially it was a how-to guide to managing your company’s impact in the marketplace.
A: You mentioned at the start of the presentation that having a great product isn’t a guarantee that your venture will be successful. What did you mean by that?
W: Yes! In fact, the two aren’t related at all. Building something amazing has been characterized as the easier part of the process by many builders-of-things. Getting your idea recognized and getting the right people to talk about your idea is very challenging. I’ll tell a story about Otto Rohwedder, the inventor of the electric bread slicer. The technology languished for almost 15 years without attention. Otto was very concerned with the mechanics and securing the patent. No one paid any attention until a bread-making company, Wonder, scooped up Otto’s invention and were able to tell the story more effectively.
I spoke to a company here at the convention that was completely enamored with the technology they had developed, and rightly so because it is amazing. I was told by three gentlemen standing around their booth that the science and their research sells itself. I heard that sentiment shared by a handful of companies over the course of four days. If only that was actually the truth.
A: So, what is the secret to success?
W: Sorry to say, there is not a single thing that leads to success. There are a few things that help, but it’s much more than this “secret” that people tend to expect. If you’re looking to achieve success there are three points that deserve attention: one, be conversation-worthy, two, go big. And, lastly, be in the right place, speaking to the right people, at the right time.
A: Yes. I can’t think of a better example than DTC genomics companies that are coming behind 23 & Me, Ancestry, and Color. If your company or idea is a twist on an already existing idea, the barrier to entry is very high. Name and concept recognition is already high for these dominant players.
It’s bantered about in venture capital circles that first to market captures two-thirds of market share, despite product quality. Small twists on existing concepts rarely get very far for the simple reality that the people will always compare the new idea to the status quo. Once a dominant player has been established and has captured the market, the bully pulpit dislodging that messaging in favor of a new idea is tough. People don’t say Yahoo that, or Bing it for the answer. They say Google it.
Your idea needs to stand out. It needs to be worthy of a Monday morning water cooler conversation.
A: First to market, two-thirds market share… Those are tough numbers to hear. Surely that doesn’t hold true all the time?
W: Of course not. Those who are able to overcome the first-to-marketers are almost always able to capture the public’s attention in new and interesting ways that are worthy of deeper water cooler conversation. Remember the first rule is being conversation-worthy. If your branding, messaging, and storytelling is strong enough to capture the conversation, your idea will definitely have a realistic shot at dislodging even well-entrenched, mature products and services.
A: Any examples?
W: Sure, BlendTec. With a marketing budget of less than $50, founder of Blendtec, Tom Dickson, stepped into a nearly century-old industry, replete with industry heavyweights like Hamilton Beach, Sunbeam, and KitchenAid, to change the game. Rather than tell his story by blending smoothies, he chose to change the conversation entirely by blending items not normally associated with the kitchen experience. Dickson’s blender took on items such as marbles, cell phones, magnets, action figures and garden tools. And it worked.
People began talking about this crazy guy creating dust from everyday objects. YouTube subscribers came by the thousands to see what he would drop into his blender next. Fast forward to today and Blendtec is a billion dollar company, largely built on the back of a great blender and an ability to capture viewer’s attention in a unique and conversation provoking fashion. Tom found a branding and messaging methodology that blends (ha!), concepts one and two.
A: I give that joke a one-and-a-half out of four.
W: Hey, this is live! Give me a break.
A: You can have this one, Just this once. The Blendtec story is obviously about going big.
W: Yup. If you’ll indulge me a bit here, my father had a saying that he taught me as a young boy – On the plains of hesitation lie the blackened bones of countless millions who, at the dawn of victory, lay down to rest, and in resting died. I had no idea what that meant for years. But, the symbolism stuck with me. Having a good company with a good product or service is absolutely not enough anymore. The world is not just getting smaller, it is smaller.
Everyone’s backyard has rapidly become the global marketplace. A well-funded and highly initiated company from halfway around the globe competes for the same clients that we once thought were untouchable in our own domestic markets. Incrementalism in business today is a surefire way to be copied by competitors and eventually overtaken.
A: Can you maybe share a couple of thoughts about the “right place, right people, right time” concept?
W: It’s no surprise that these concepts all dovetail nicely into one another. We have spoken about the need to have people talk about a product or service for it to take flight. I realize I need to drill down on that a bit more.
It’s not enough that people, any people, talk about a product. The right people need to be talking about it. If my 17-year-old daughter makes a makeup video and shares it on YouTube it’s highly likely the only people who will watch will be, well, me of course, and perhaps her friends. My daughter’s audience is not sufficiently large, nor is it comprised of others who have large and influential audiences. We are not enough to move the needle for any product or service my daughter might highlight.
There is no secret as to how effective influencer marketing is and can be. From the Marlboro Man to the Kardashians, influence has unparalleled power to move people to action. Cultivating influential voices for your brand or service is not seen as a marketing luxury anymore. Most successful marketers bake it into a full 360-degree program.
A: That makes perfect sense. Any last thoughts before we wrap this up?
W: You bet. I have seen some technologies here at the ASHG conference that truly have the power to elevate the world. I am in complete awe of the people in this conference hall and their commitment to helping humanity live longer, healthier, and more productive lives. I am very hopeful that these ideas take root and fruit. There are stories here that need to be told. I hope they will be. And I intend to help do it.
A: Thanks for your time, Will.
W: It was my pleasure.