The Best Brands, Not Products, Win
How reading the story of Nike changed CharlieHR Co-Founder and CPO Tom Carrington-Smith’s thinking.
It really got me thinking about brands and products and challenged my views because I’ve spent most of my working life believing that the ‘best product wins.’
Just build something that is 10x better than anything else and endless glory is yours for the taking. Easy, right?
I built a website that live streamed sports matches, before you could watch much live sport online. It was 10x better than anything else, which was easy because nothing else existed at the time. Yet it failed, spectacularly.
It turns out that is really hard to make something 10x better, but it also turns out it doesn’t always mean you ‘win’. There are other factors at play as well.
Timing is one. Sometimes you’re just too early. Looking back at the 2000 boom, it seems that all the ideas from then are magically reappearing as great companies. Strange…
Capital is another. We’ve now met countless entrepreneurs who have told stories of how they had a better product than [insert famous tech company] but lost because they got blown out of the water in terms of capital. Now they might not be entirely true, but there’s likely something in it.
Don’t underestimate the importance of your network. Your product can be shitty at first, but if you have a large enough group of friends, family and colleagues who are willing to have a play — maybe even just because they like you as a person — you can quickly re-iterate on that feedback and make the product better. We were lucky with Charlie that so many people were willing to support us in the early days.
And finally, brand. Brand seems to be the one element people in the technology industry brush over faster than anything else. As we focus on the details or workings of a new product, we forget about the brand. In fact, we really struggle with ‘brand’.
It’s intangible, non- binary… it’s so fluffy. What does ‘brand’ even mean?
Well, it means a company like Apple can get rid of the phone jack, because they know, much sooner than we think, we’re going to be comfortable talking to machines.
It’s means a social app can go from being mainly about disappearing picture messages to launching wearable camera in sunglasses.
Apple, and particularly Snapchat, put as much effort into being a brand as a technology company. They may not say that publicly, but then ironically, being a technology company is good for the brand!
The majority of people understand brands and don’t understand technology. If you’re a brand it means you can launch new, even crazy products because people love the brand. Even if this product isn’t 10x better, you have a large enough network to get enough feedback for the next version to be just that. Just look at Amazon for that.
It’s why companies like Red Bull and Coca-Cola — which we sometime forget started as just drinks — are now gigantic corporations. They focused on building a brand from the beginning, which is way bigger than just being a drinks company. They knew building a brand would let them do things beyond their wildest dreams.
It pains me to say that, because I’ve always truly believed that the best products win. I want to believe that is the world we live in.
Perhaps a truly mould-breaking product is enough to launch a company into a bright future, but it’s harder than ever to have a monopoly on innovation.
More often than not: the best brands win.