Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Road to Success

This morning's Wall Street Journal has a story on the front page about YouTube trying to find the road to success. I don't know enough about the company to comment on their prospects (though certainly they are in the middle of a key trend). But it reminds me of a conversation I was having yesterday with a good friend about what it takes for a start up to succeed.

We have launched over 80 companies in our history. Some very successful; many, trying to carve out a new, untapped opportunity were more challenged. Based on a "back of the envelope" analysis of our observations, success seems to depend on a number of critical things:

1. Execution. I know that's obvious, but a lot of good ideas don't make it because start-ups think their better mousetrap will pull them through.
2. A good strategy. A clear idea of, at the core, what the fundamental disruption is in the market that the company represents. And that strategy should translate into every molecule of the business -- from marketing to product design to sales and operations. These can't be separate.
3. Fleet footedness. No matter how good the strategy, if the company isn't prepared to learn daily from the market how to translate that vision into success, success will be elusive.
4. Great engineering. Amazingly, when we did our analysis, the single greatest challenge companies seem to face is actually building commercially viable products that represent their vision. All of the rest of these criteria are worthless if the product isn't good.

(By the way, in our world, market leadership is also key to success. But even we have to admit there are a number of successful companies that are not particularly leaders.)

This set of four criteria is interesting in light of YouTube and the many companies like it which are based on User-generated content. Does this "new" strategy change any of the above criteria? Probably not.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The New Minstrels?

Ever since my first post, I have been thinking about whether the advent of broadly available and viewable video makes all of us New Minstrels. That is, will we start to tell all of our stories in the form of video? If a picture is worth a thousand words what is a video worth?

Certainly, the popularity of YouTube and One True Media speaks to the fact that many of us find video an intriguing form of communication. And at the recent D: All Things Digital conference I heard Al Gore talk about the new television network Current which employs a lot of viewer-generated content to fill its airtime.

The interesting question is: will we all come to use video as a substitute for the written word? I ask the question because we at Roeder-Johnson believe in the written word a lot: it is a fast and very portable way of communicating anything from a simple to complex concept. Certainly, quite often a graphic can help in that written communication. But there's nothing like a short blurb or press release to make a short, clear point. And to be easily distributed and read.

Can video accomplish the same thing? Sometimes, I suppose, it can do even more. Rather than explaining, it can show a new idea. But, just as words can be complex to use to create pictures, a video can be hard to create and may be tough to use to communicate complex and new ideas.

Over the next few years, we will all learn how to use video. Certainly, now that the tools and distribution are so accessible -- both from a technology and cost standpoint, we can all try it out. And, presumably, when we look back five years from now, we will all have a clearer idea of where we can use video and where old-fashion written words will work better.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Chosun* Ones

A few weeks ago, a client asked us what kind of public relations should be proactively planned for the Korean market. While we have worked with clients who were concerned about Europe, Japan, and the various pieces of the Chinese market, in spite of 20-plus years of working with technology companies, I didn’t know. As a matter of fact, the question had not arisen before. Fortunately, our client has a Korean investor so we all went off and had a discussion with them to talk about the issue.

Here’s what we learned (in short):

• It appears that, for the most part, start ups do not need to do proactive PR in Korea.
• The market is quite closely knit and personal one-on-one relationships are the strongest way to get the word out.
• The partner at this Korean investment firm even commented that when a start up looks to be trying too hard to get attention in Korean papers, it might be viewed with suspicion.
• In addition to building personal relationships within the network of influencers in Korea, having a good market position in the U.S. and the U.S. press is valuable. The important information apparently makes its way to Korea.

This was a particularly interesting conversation since Korea is gaining so much prominence in the world of technology because of its leading stance in implementing advanced communications technologies. As a matter of fact, by coincidence, yesterday I attended a conference called “Kincon 2006” put on by The Korea IT Network (www.koreait.org). It was primarily attended by Koreans and people of Korean descent in the Silicon Valley. But of note was that Qualcomm sent two speakers. Qualcomm clearly thinks Korea is an important market since it is the most advanced communications market in the world.

Is Qualcomm onto something? And while we are talking about being proactive in Korea, we can’t forget that Samsung has had one of the most successful marketing programs in the world over the past few years. I know they were not only targeting Korea, but it started there.

All this leaves me wondering: in spite of the advice I cited above, should we all be thinking a little differently about marketing in Korea? If you have thoughts and opinions, please let me know.

*Chosun is a word often used to describe things Korean; it is based on an ancient Korean dynasty.