Lessons from large corporations

It’s easy to imagine that big corporations could never understand the trials of running a small business.

What do they know about juggling multiple roles or scraping by on a wing and a prayer? However, given their starting points, they know a lot more than you’d think.

Here are some of the lessons large firms can teach small business owners.

Apple products

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Between 2004 and 2014, Apple’s revenue grew from $8 billion (Sh813 billion) to $180 billion (Sh18.3 trillion). Last year, the tech firm posted revenues of $230 billion (Sh23.4 trillion). That’s almost thrice as much money as the Kenyan economy generates in a year.

Founder Steve Jobs was known for his rebellion, vision and creativity.

One of his mantras was: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

1. Solve a problem

The key to every successful business is in finding the right consumer problem and fixing it.

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In most cases, you won’t know how you actually fixed an issue until after the fact, so the key is persistence and constantly shifting your goals.

Apple’s iPod and iTunes, for example, solved a twin problem. MP3 players had been around forever, as had been music-downloading services, but nobody had combined the two as seamlessly as Apple did. This landmark combination is what catapulted Apple firmly into the consumer electronics business.

2. Generate a buzz

Apple’s strengths lie in its design and utility offering, which give it a competitive advantage.

But it has used other key marketing strategies that have generated a buzz, including product placement in popular TV shows and using celebrity endorsements.

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With more users going digital, make use of people with real power to influence their online audience. People want to be cool by association – just make sure your product lives up to the hype by offering actual value.

3. Give your customers a sense of community

Apple has managed to build a die-hard fan base, giving rise to fanatic enthusiasm that has customers braving cold nights and long queues for the latest product launch.

It did this by creating a brand personality and culture that’s cool, fun and friendly. This marketing strategy makes customers want to belong to the Apple community.

Apple neatly capitalised on the universality of self-perception, which made its customers believe that the brand understands them and is like them. Get your customers to believe you’re in it together.

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg

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Facebook was not a new concept when it first arrived online as a social networking segment. It was launched after Friendster and MySpace.

Nevertheless, its extensive and continuous focus on user experience, as well as a balance between standardisation and customisation of the website, resulted in it becoming the most popular social networking site within a couple of years.

4. Keep evolving

The development of new products and services is at the centre of Facebook’s business strategy.

The evidence of success from this can be seen from the positive numbers within its user base. Currently, Facebook’s product portfolio includes Messenger, Events, Paper, Instagram, WhatsApp and Rooms.

This ability to develop new products and services in line with its mission – “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” – is one of Facebook’s key competitive advantages.

“People don’t care about what you say; they care about what you build,” Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg says.

Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore

The mobile telecom operator broke records for both listed and unlisted firms in East and Central Africa after reporting Sh197 billion in revenue, Sh38.1 billion in profit in its 2016-17 financial year.

5. Stay true to your brand mission and purpose

Safaricom has mastered and remained loyal to its brand identity. Throughout its corporate life, when it comes to branding, merchandising, promotions and marketing, its brand tagline and colours have remained largely intact. This way, it has embedded itself firmly in consumers’ minds.

As CEO Bob Collymore once said, “If you have the right vision, and you take the right steps, then success is inevitable.” Constantly look to differentiate yourself from your competition by offering something they don’t have and creating a brand image you can stay true to.

“You’re measured by your last success. Everybody remembers me for Safaricom and M-Pesa, but if I fail at Kenya Airways they will remember me for that,” said Michael Joseph, Safaricom’s former CEO and currently chairman of the board at Kenya Airways.

Coca-Cola soft drinks

6. Don’t get greedy

Upon inception, Coca-Cola kept its consumer price fixed for 70 years. These days, however, most start-ups start off offering a service at an affordable fee, and then hike prices once momentum has picked up and customers are hooked.

Rather than do this, set a reasonable market price, stay true to the service or product offering and wait for business to pick up, as it will if you maintain quality and customer goodwill.

“There’s a terrible tendency for people to look at what they’ve accomplished. That’s why it’s always interesting to stand by a river, because you never look at the same river twice. The only place to look is upstream because that’s where the future is. You have to look as far upstream as you can,” Don Keough, a former Coca-Cola president, advises.

7. Be consistent

Coca-Cola’s logo was written in the Spencerian script that was used for business correspondence back in the 1850s to early 1900s.

The font choice was based on a desire to come up with a clear way to differentiate the soft drink firm from its competitors. The company standardised the logo in 1923 and, like its recipe, it decided that while the overall packaging could adjust to keep up with the times, the core logo was to be untouched.

This simple decision has resulted in a logo that has had more than 100 years to become imprinted in the minds of consumers across the world.

Google apps

8. You can start small and still impact the world

You don’t need a company with 100 people to develop a globally impacting idea. Just ask Google co-founder Larry Page.

Most people are unaware that Google, Apple, Disney and Amazon were all ideas that were conceptualised in a garage with limited resources.

Don’t let excuses distract you from your goals. It may be obvious, but it bears repeating: you’d be surprised by how many things can happen when you believe in what you can do.

“What is the one sentence summary of how you change the world? Always work hard on something uncomfortably exciting,” says Larry, who’s the CEO at Alphabet, Google’s holding company.


9. Adapt to the market

Until 2004, Netflix’s strategy was to become the world’s biggest DVD company. But with Internet speeds improving, the company couldn’t ignore the fact that streaming would eventually become the best way to deliver entertainment to its clients.

It might hurt to reverse a decision you’ve invested in financially, but if it’s the best decision for your company, it’s worth the pain.

Based on data and market research, Netflix realised that customers wanted an unlimited subscription model. The company made the switch to media streaming and video-on-demand, and has not looked back.

“Truly brilliant marketing happens when you take something most people think of as a weakness and reposition it so people think of it as a strength,” says CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings.

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AppleFacebookSafaricomMark ZuckerbergBob CollymoreCoca-ColaNetflix