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How To Avoid Becoming The Next Meerkat

This month should have been the coming out party for Meerkat. For weeks their video-sharing app had been spreading like wildfire, with positive reviews from the press and a rapidly growing user base.

Part of the rapidly growing audience was due to the app’s well thought out connection to Twitter’s graph, making it easier to quickly connect to people they already followed. And all this action was rolling right into SXSW, the interactive industry’s biggest get together.

And then, right before the conference started, the bomb went off. Well, two bombs, to be precise. The first was the announcement that Twitter had actually bought Meerkat competitor Periscope months ago, much to many people’s surprise.

There was barely enough time for this to digest before the second, bigger bomb went off: Twitter cut Meerkat off from its social graph.

Now, this may not seem like a big thing, but for Meerkat it was sucker punch. The importance of being tied to Twitter’s graph is that it meant when you installed the app, you immediately saw all of your follows who already had the app. This also meant that every time one of your follows fired off a clip via Meerkat, you got a notification.

Oh, and new Meerkat users also log in via…Twitter.

This is not the first time Twitter has pulled the plug on access to their graph, and it probably won’t be the last time. And of course we all know what happened to Zynga after they fell off the Facebook bandwagon. So the question becomes, how do you keep from being the next Meerkat?

As a strategic branding agency, we value both sides of our house equally. We have some of the most experienced designers in consumer electronics, but we also have strategists who have launched hundreds of products into dozens of markets and retailers.

The reason for the deep dive on the strategy side is to understand all the moving parts of our client, their market, and their competition before we start punching out logos, identity and packaging.

The first step is what is known as a “SWOT” analysis. I thought I would share this with you in the aftermath of Meerkat. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It establishes the foundation for all the strategy, and although we use it for branding purposes, it works equally well for taking the temperature of a strategic relationship, or whether to enter one in the first place.

Strengths: What are you strong at? Part of being a successful company is understanding what you do well, and letting others do what they do well. If you have a strength covered already, you don’t need to double down with a partnership or relationship.

Weaknesses: On the other hand, what are your competitors doing better than you? What mountains can you not climb, either because of internal resources or time? In this case, finding that perfect strategic relationship could be the cost-effective fix.

Opportunities: Is there another audience segment you can move into? Are there other product lines you can introduce that will get you there or move you into a different margin segment of the market? A new distribution or content partner may fit in perfectly. As long as relying on them doesn’t turn them into…

Threats: And now, where the rubber hits the road. This is the one that makes people squirm into little balls because it’s the “iceberg question.” What’s the worst that could happen? Well, quite a lot actually. A big competitor like Google or Microsoft can come barreling into the market and run you over. The market could turn to a new solution or technology. Or a partner could go south on you.

Which yes, brings us back to Meerkat. Coat-tailing on a bigger company’s brand and footprint is a tactic as old as the hills. You can accelerate yourself into the market, gain audience and spend a fraction of the time and money doing it.

However, we also file this under a threat because you are taking a shortcut with your branding and leaning on the equity earned by someone else. And it’s a shortcut for your business, placing your fate in someone else’s hands. It’s like sticking an engine in your go-kart. Sure you powered up that hill ahead of everyone else, but what happens when the engine conks out?

Last week the engine conked out on Meerkat. Now they have to build the rest of their kart while the market bears down on them.

So the next time you consider your brand or that partner, SWOT before you act. With companies, as with branding, sometimes a shortcut doesn’t get you there faster, but instead leaves you even further behind in the race.

 Christopher Caen is a partner and chief brand strategist of Theory Associates, a strategic branding agency that creates demand for some of the world’s leading technology brands. He can be reached at [email protected].