At the core of any product should be three things; the customer, the offering and the brand. If any one of these elements is missing from the product — value (either perceived or real) is lost. Customers should hear themselves in your brand’s messaging, the offering should represent the realities of their industry and your brand should champion their cause.
Unless a company is well positioned in its market based on insights and differentiation, it won’t grow into a brand— it will grow into a bore. Two brands that have succeeded in the diverse and ever-growing startup environment in Canada are Flashstock, a custom branded photography company recently acquired by stock-photo giant Shutterstock, and Ratehub, a mortgage, credit and loan comparison resource that’s transformed into a purveyor of its own financial products.
I had the great opportunity to moderate a panel at Rangle.io’s Innovation Stream at Elevate Toronto, a technology festival. The panel featured Grant Munro, CEO, Flashstock and Scott Affleck, director of product management, Ratehub, to talk about how product positioning sets their companies apart and helps them disrupt their markets.
A brand name is the first thing a client or customer will be faced with when promoting a new brand, and this alone has the power to turn off journalists investors and clients, as Grant Monroe learned when he started Flashstock. His brand was built to compete directly against custom full-service agencies who build imagery for brands – but inside his brand’s name was stock, relating to stock photography; the opposite of what he was offering.
“In 2014, it was an uphill battle in perception,” said Munro. “We’d send a news release and we’d be ignored, people had heard enough about stock photography, but we weren’t stock – we were custom.”
Things really picked up steam in 2015, as brands and communicators started to talk about the concept of visual storytelling. Munro lowercased the S in his brand’s name and stopped talking about stock completely, instead focusing on brand identity and storytelling.
Finding the Value Chain
Just like Flashstock, Ratehub had to switch gears before hitting its stride. Scott Affleck explored how moving up the value chain between consumer and financial offerings helped the brand grow.
“Ratehub started as an education tool, a lot of our money that came through lead generation for some of the major banks,” said Affleck. “The problem there is that this is the advertising model and there are tons of places to advertise.”
Customers reported they were using the information that Ratehub offered to negotiate better mortgage rates from lenders. Affleck said that this provided Ratehub with an opportunity to not only make more money, but to better service Canadian home buyers. The brand opened its own brokerage in-house which led to rapid growth.
“The brokerage arm of this business actually fits within our mission statement to save consumers money,” said Affleck. “It gives us access to data that otherwise we could never get from just scraping websites and that way we can better inform our customers.”
Customer Centricity as a Process
For Affleck and Ratehub, customer feedback is essential to the development of their products. It starts with keyword research to identify what people are actively going out and seeking information on, but then also involves building the process of taking ideas or suggestions from consumers back into the development of your products directly. Users are your audience and you’re A/B test group.
But what if you don’t have an audience, or, customers within a market segment to actually speak to? Munro faced exactly that when he started Flashstock: what do you do when you only have three people coming to your website?
“You might not have customers yet, but you do have access to customers, you can speak with them and find out what the need,” said Munro. “They are building your brand with you.”
Flashstock succeeded because it focused on a need from brands to provide custom imagery without the high overhead driven by traditional agencies. Using technology and a global network of photographers and videographers that Flashstock grew a community around, Munro succeeded in driving that value back to his customers.
Ratehub grew when it identified how consumers used its content to make better decisions and drive better deals from lenders. Its brand is engineered to save people time and money and it does that by providing people unbiased information about its own competition — other lenders.
Both Ratehub and Flashstock got to know their customers by listening to them and acting on what they heard. They have both adapted to better represent their consumer’s needs and enabled their brands to build a community around that offering.