I Bring Silicon Valley Strategies to Companies Based in Europe. Here's What I Tell Them.
One year ago, I spent six months living and working in San Francisco. As CMO of an Austrian startup, I was participating in an incubator program at Salesforce with 13 other startups. I had previously spent many years living and working in the U.S., but Silicon Valley was a new experience. It completely changed my view of branding, communications, storytelling and corporate culture. It showed me not only new ways of working but also how tech is influencing every aspect of how we live.
Obviously, not everything about Silicon Valley culture is great. It’s a highly competitive, male-dominated and at times cutthroat environment. And yet, Silicon Valley has found answers to questions Europe has not even begun to raise. Questions like: What story does our brand tell? How can we foster innovative ideas, and what physical and mental spaces nurture them? How can we align our team and turn every one of our employees into a brand ambassador?
A few months after returning from San Francisco, I started my own company, brand agency All of the Above, to bring Silicon Valley strategies to companies based in Europe.
Here are just a few things I consider crucial that I tell my European clients.
1. The story comes first.
What’s your brand’s story? Almost all Silicon Valley companies know that a brand’s story influences everything. A story is relevant to HR, marketing, sales and customer service, and also to product development. In Europe, products hit the market, and it’s often only then that their creators try to build hype. This means they have to work far harder for far less return. In the U.S., it’s often the other way around. If a product seems like it won’t be marketable, if it has no story, in other words, it will never find the funding for development. This might be a tough pill to swallow for many product development types, but if there is no story to resonate with people chances are no one will buy the product once it’s on sale.
Companies announce their products way in advance, often before even developing said products. If you believe the product has to come first, then think about the story as early as possible too. What problem are you solving? What value are you providing? What is the story behind your product, what is the story behind the feature you are building? How can you tell this story in a way that provides value to your customers?
2. Position your product.
When I was working at the Salesforce Incubator, I was lucky enough to meet investor Judy Loehr. Judy is a Silicon Valley investor who created a three-room concept as a positioning and messaging framework for SaaS companies. This concept does a great job of outlining how to implement the American model of story first, product second.
As the name suggests, Loehr’s concept revolves around the idea of three rooms. These rooms must be moved through one by one. The first room is where context is explored. That is, in this room, you ignore your product and instead focus on the world you’re launching your product into. Room one is where a company frames their customer’s market situation and explores the pressures and opportunities of that market.
Loehr refers to room two as "value.” As Loehr puts it in her Zuora positioning guide, “What’s stopping your audience and what pressures are they under? What are their top priorities? What’s their biggest use case? If your top use case aligns with the company’s top three strategic priorities or your buyer’s top three priorities, you’re golden.” And if you do the work in rooms one and two, those priorities should eventually align.
Finally, room three. We’ve reached your product. Loehr says of this room, “Here’s where you first introduce your product, with a structure that reinforces your value. In room three you explain what your product does in the context of the value your prospects and evaluators are looking for.” This means that rather than explaining the ins and outs of your products, all its features, and gimmicks, you’re telling your audience about your product in a way that matters to them. You’re telling them the story of your product, how it fits into their life, how it meshes with their personal brand.
3. Align your team.
Work is such a big part of everyone’s lives now, it feels weird not to ask what someone does when meeting them for the first time.
Silicon Valley companies know that their employees are going to talk about their work lives, and talk about them at length. This means their employees are their first and most important brand ambassadors.
But how can you be sure your team is aligned? The best way to ensure that everyone is on the same page about your company’s story is to develop a talk track. That is, to make sure every single employee involved in your company has heard and absorbed the same version of your brand’s story. To ensure this happens, Silicon Valley companies have one official company story that is a key part of orientation for everyone. Once everyone knows this story, it’s easy for them to utilize it, no matter their role in the business.
“Over the years, I’ve found that one great way to get your entire team on the same talk track is by developing a key document: a one-pager company profile. In essence, this is a one page summary of the most important aspects of your entire business,” said David Ciccarelli, co-founder and CEO of Voices.com. “This cheat sheet ensures that every member of your team is using the same language and describing both the problem and solution in the same way. ... This consistency in language allows you to build and maintain a strong company message, and an even stronger brand.”
Additionally, many companies spend Friday afternoons talking to their employees from the CEO’s office in a format that’s often called an open house. Management answer questions such as, Who are we? What are we doing? Where are we going? This helps employers connect with their employees and see the big picture, in terms of both the company and the utility of their product.
4. Innovative ideas are not born in stuffy offices.
When did you have your last great idea? And where was it? Was it in a stuffy office? Or was it while taking a shower? On a run? Trying to get your kid to eat their breakfast? Or at dinner, inspired by a passing comment from a friend?
Silicon Valley companies are generating space for the moments in between strict working hours. These companies understand that the best ideas happen when your mind has a moment to process things: lunchtime, basketball games, sitting on a comfortable sofa and staring at the ceiling.
“Recently, I was peeling potatoes,” explained Melissa Hanley, principal and CEO of the architecture firm Blitz, which has designed workspaces for companies such as Google, YouTube and InstaCart. “When cutting out some of the eyes, a carving scheme emerged for a new project that was just about to go into design. So, I guess my weird moment of inspiration came while cooking! With the understanding that these moments can occur at any time, our firm prides itself on creating workplace environments with immersive and playful experiences that foster innovation and draw inspiration from hospitality and residential settings.”
So the next time you have a meeting, consider doing it Silicon Valley style and take a walk with your 2 p.m. appointment (post-lunch-tiredness is destroying productivity, anyway). Chances are, you’re getting to know the other person better than you would be sitting at your desk.