Zoom is crazy successful — but did it forget its brand?

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“Buy Zoom.” ThisWhat a good friend of mine told me he asked his investment dealer to do last March. I was impressed and irritated.

Why had I lacked forethought and why had he not warned me? 12 months later, his monetary investment is probably equal to the number of hours I have spent on the video conferencing platform. My return on investment? A stronger contact lens prescription, its… well, you better not think about it.

Zoom is the ultimate overnight success, an overcomer of the circumstances. Imagine Facebook’s 2006-08 growth charts, then tune them in just one week. Friday March 20e, 2020: a handful of us had Zoom’d. Friday March 27e: hands in the air who had not?

This accelerated awareness is part of an entrepreneur’s dreams, and it’s hard to imagine that it will happen again. The circumstances are fortuitous.

But with the ubiquity of products and a billion dollar valuation around the corner, does Zoom really have anything to worry about? Yes, I would say. And it comes down to the brand.

To control or not to control?

That’s one thing, Zoom is now a verb. I bet Miriam-Webster will automatically call it in her annual update. Entering the dictionary is a kind of marketing erotica: brand managers utter names like Hoover, Biro, or Google in conference rooms around the world.

But getting into the vernacular is dangerous, especially if you don’t have the narrative that comes with it.

For Zoom, the phrasing is most often pejorative; zoom fatigue, zoom hell, zoom back to back. The platform becomes the scapegoat for our dysfunctional family life; for borders crossed and toilets lost.

Brand building is all about controlling the narrative. Unfortunately, when a business bursts onto the scene without one, it can be difficult to rewrite the one given to it. But why is this important?

Simply put, this makes Zoom vulnerable to a new, more empathetic alternative. Most well-established utility companies know how difficult it is to retain consumers who are now able to switch with just a few clicks.

Rapidly growing digital startups often overlook the brand narrative. I would go so far as to say that some roll their eyes at the importance of this – believing that “if the product is good enough, it will market itself”.

I concede that this could be true, up to a point. Disruptors are disrupted too, and without a solid brand narrative it can get ugly – just ask Facebook or WeWork.

If your product is your brand, there is little defense when a storm hits. And as sure as nature, she will. It could be an economic downturn, regulation, a dishonest leader, or just a better product. Either way, you need to control your brand’s narrative and use it to keep people engaged.

How do you create a powerful brand story?

The first thing is to align with a mission, a raison d’être: Democratize information (Google); A computer on every desk, every home (Microsoft); Connect the professionals of the world (Linkedin).

But don’t stop there. Now load the mission with humanity and manifest it in product, company and marketing. It involves truly understanding the needs and wants of people.

It’s a human-centered approach and it’s the absolute foundation of a brand story. Your product will attract people, but it is the humanity of the company that will keep them there; especially if you are investing in the next generation of consumers.

The definition of brand and narrative can easily be deprioritized – but don’t let that happen!

If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught product owners and marketers, it’s speed of response that matters. I can tell you firsthand that these companies who knew their history knew how to react instantly. Consumers have embraced them, flocked to them in some cases. Those who did not take months to respond, and it hurt their business.

Zoom will be worth billions at the time of this publication, and many employees will be pocketing checks that will change their lives. It’s a remarkable story, but it doesn’t end with the IPO. Brands are known to outlive their original products, but unbranded products stand out at some point.

I mean… when was the last time you switched to Skype?

Published March 12, 2021 – 11:16 UTC


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