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Why Playing It Safe Will Kill Your Startup

Why Playing It Safe Will Kill Your Startup
Image credit: 13jorn Kusa | Flickr
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The irony of the startup is that while it's born out of innovation, an entrepreneur can be notoriously guilty of following trends. Agonizing over solutions to common marketing problems often leads to following in the footsteps of mediocrity.

So my question is this: If innovation is the lifeblood of your startup, why resort to clichéd branding?

In his blog post, "Why Does Your Startup Sound Like a Startup?" hybrid adman-startup guy Patrick Woods described the cliché of a startup website as one where the messaging is direct, factually accurate and ineffective at eliciting desired behavior. The founders' pitfall is focusing on what's being said not how it's being delivered. 

According to Woods, “They abort the creative process and opt for the obvious and banal.” 

Unless you run a business-to-business enterprise, where the buying process is streamlined for the purposes of time and money, emotion not logic converts interest into sales. And that’s the way you want it.

Woods explained this as follows: When a message remains at the logical level, users are left to compare based on tangible features and price.

Would you rather create loyal customers through messaging that evokes a strong emotional identification with your message and mission? Or do you prefer to compete only on pricing and features?

If marketing is an art, keep in mind that the most effective art is not always the prettiest. It’s the most memorable.

Related: 7 Home Decor Startup Trends to Watch

The works of Pablo Picasso are recognizable for their unique and surreal style. Love them or hate them, no one can argue that they fail to elicit an emotional response. When designing your website, don’t be a copycat. Be innovative. Nobody remembers the name of the reproduction artist -- no matter how skillful the painting.

It’s a physical law, what goes up must come down. Whether it’s a ball or a housing market, nothing can continue to grow "to infinity and beyond," as Buzz Lightyear says in Toy Story. To that effect, becoming a trendsetter is not just a nifty ideal but a sound business plan.

Being ahead of the curve means never being on the wrong side of it. In a classic moment from HBO’s Sex and the City, everyone’s favorite Manhattan socialites are drinking Cosmopolitans at a bar when Miranda says, "Why did we ever stop drinking these?” Carrie replies, “Because everyone else started."

Think back to the origins of your business and why you started it up in the first place. It certainly wasn’t because it was the safe choice. More likely it was because you had a passion that you couldn’t ignore and an intention to pursue it differently from everyone else.

By definition, following a trend is being part of a mass adherence to a prevailing tendency, which is the fundamental opposite of a startup. And that is precisely why you cannot rely on following a trend to move your company forward.

Related: 10 Thoughts on Tech, Trends and Innovation at CES 2014

To adopt the safe choice indefinitely is to ride the bandwagon until the horse dies. Instead, make it a habit to occasionally stop and ask yourself, Where am I going? And why am I in this handbasket?”

Riding the wake of a trend can be profitable in the short term, but eventually no amount of new color releases (in your logo, blog or overall branding) will resuscitate that dead horse. Rather than brace for the disruption, be the disruption. Or at least, disrupt differently. uses the release of Apple’s iPad as an example. After the iPad was introduced, tech companies scrambled to offer comparable products in terms of their features and price, with disappointing results.

Meanwhile, Amazon developed the Kindle Fire, which did not compete with the iPad as far as features, interface or capabilities. But it also lacked the iPad’s hefty price.

As explained, “In a prime example of low-end market disruption, Amazon found consumers who didn’t want all the great features of the iPad, but wanted the basic features at a baseline price.”

As this year unfolds, don’t fall into a repeated routine of trying to beat the competition to the trend-making punch.

Instead, focus on what makes your company unique and different and leverage that to become memorable in a sea of comparables. Authenticity is timeless. Focus on making emotional connections through your messaging and building brand loyalty that will outlast any trend.

Related: 5 Benefits of Being a Misfit Entrepreneur