Carrots or turnips? How to act like a start-up

“Business disruption is the new normal,” says Adil Abrar, founder of small businesses Buddy, The Amazings and Sidekick Studios.

The Amazings

He believes technology or new ways of working disrupt established business models. An example might be telecoms, which was traditionally a fixed landline business, then mobiles came in, followed by internet calling such as Skype. Now, says Abrar, cloud-based services might overtake Skype. For example, the Twilio service lets users make calls via an app.

But the good news for big brands is that while the disruptions may be because of start-up businesses, they too can act like small companies and make sure they are still relevant to consumers.

Large companies can innovate to create what author Eric Ries terms “minimum viable products” (see Q&A, right). These are very basic prototypes that are quick and cheap to produce and can be tested in the real world.

Abrar gives the example of a brand that might offer fresh food on subscription, where customers pay £20 a month “to get the best carrots or turnips in town delivered”. The minimal viable product might involve creating an online landing page, which is SEO optimised.

“You can use AB testing and rotate the key messages [online to see which gets the most uptake]. If you buy some Google Adwords, which might cost £100, the people in the real world who search for carrots or turnips will go to your landing page and you can validate which business is better, carrots or turnips.

“You can see what people click on and how many give you their email address. You can do that without creating a proposition or sitting in a focus group.”

The risk with this is that people might then decide they want to order carrots, but at that point will realise that the website isn’t real. But Abrar says sites can be non-branded and can be honest about the fact that people won’t get a box of carrots delivered. “You can apologise, and say thank you for doing this but we didn’t get enough people interested.”

The benefit of this approach is that marketers will know what will work, rather than trying to invent what might, and it can be run alongside other activity. It can be a cheap way to find out. “There are so many tools out there that allow you to ‘fake’ services, without spending money on an agency. It is about building something straightaway and then measuring what you have built.”

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