Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the Malala Fund. Founded shortly after teenager Malala Yousafzai was shot dead by the Taliban for seeking an education, it has gone ‘viral’ due to Yousafzai’s story, personality and genuine passion for helping young people Pakistani girls to receive an education.
We take it for granted that teenagers like Yousafzai can become global brands, but this is a very new phenomenon. Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Bill Gates are some of the greatest and most successful entrepreneurs in the history of the world, and it took them decades to begin make their mark.
It’s because Yousafzai has the same drive, passion and creativity that drove the giants of history…and a powerful weapon they didn’t have: marketing, branding and internet star power. His shooting would have been a local incident without it – and his courage and innovation would likely not be known outside of his home region in Pakistan.
The Internet is a powerful – but misunderstood – marketing and branding accelerator
The power of the internet to globalize brands came to mind when I profiled a number of entrepreneurs for CEO Magazine, including Shiza Shahid, co-founder of the Malala Fund. Many entrepreneurs haven’t been in business long or are young themselves, yet their names are well known beyond their countries and industries due to the power of the internet.
This power is new, perhaps that is why it is so often misunderstood. Anyone has access to the world for a small monthly bill. But this low barrier to entry also gives false hope to those who don’t understand marketing and branding. Millions of people expect to go viral by posting a few videos, creating a website, or boosting certain posts on Facebook – not realizing that the competition is doing the same thing, and probably doing it better.
A different problem exists for businesses that have great digital tools — like a great website and strong social media content — but lack the infrastructure to turn short-term virality into up-to-date. long-term scale. Lipstick can’t hide a really ugly pig, and “going viral” with bad products, services, and/or customer experiences is a great way to get famous fast and forgotten even faster.
The best digital branding relies on the same proven practices of the past:
· Having a product or service that people want.
· Find the people who want the product or service.
· Deliver the product or service at the agreed price, quality and time.
· Develop messages, content and other important marketing and branding elements based on what your customers and prospects want to hear.
· Invest the right amount in the right long-term strategy.
“Impact is the combination of access and relevance,” said Mark Haas, who has helped businesses and nonprofits around the world improve their operations and performance. “Relevance without access is a falling tree in the forest – no one sees your value. Irrelevant access makes you ignore, then block. The internet alone is not enough for access – you need to find the right audience and cultivate a following.
An Important Distinction: The Power of the Internet as Infrastructure vs. Branding
Not all business success requires the Internet. The classic “one man and one van” business owner can rely solely on word of mouth for everything from rooftops to legal services to financial services. But the internet is essential for any business that wants to scale, even those that don’t depend on the internet for marketing and branding need its power to scale.
“My business couldn’t function without the Internet,” my father told me recently. He built a multi-million dollar business around radio advertising, gutter cleaning and franchise gutter cleaning. Its award-winning marketing and branding program has virtually nothing to do with the internet. But the of the company Hit has everything to do with it because:
· The company’s valuation process is based around Google Earth. It impressed prospects in an industry known for poor customer service, reduced on-site estimates to zero, and maximized the number of gutters cleaned.
· Tracking franchisee finances and other numbers would be difficult without the cloud.
· The parent company of the franchise needs a quality website to build trust with its sophisticated target audience.
The Malala Fund accidentally relied on the internet to become famous, and dad uses it for his business infrastructure. But Khan Academy founder Sal Kahn uses it for both. His role as an education leader began with posting a few YouTube videos as he tutored his cousin virtually. Eighteen years later, his virtual Khan Academy has nearly two billion views on YouTube, serves more than 137 million people in 190 countries, and leads the conversation on how to improve education around the world.
Turn success into fame
Shahid, Yousafzai and Khan would probably be vibrant and successful entrepreneurs without the internet. They all possess the same traits as the giants of the past: discipline, courage, creativity and passion. But without the star power of the internet, they probably wouldn’t be seen as world-changing entrepreneurs and philanthropists because too few people would know who they are.
“The number of entrepreneurs changing the world is staggering, and so is how quickly we get to know them,” said my friend Lee Rashkin. He was just a kid from my small town who is now a millionaire entrepreneur who uses the internet to start businesses, observe and invest in global markets, and travel to Singapore and other centers of international trade. “A hundred years ago, there were a few industry leaders. Fifty years ago, this number had increased. Today, that number is on fire – not only thanks to modern technology, which everyone has access to, but also thanks to the way great entrepreneurs can use the internet to turn success into stardom.
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