If you were in attendance at SXSW in 2015, chances are great that you saw more than a few individuals milling about in bright yellow T-shirts. On the front of those shirts and also adorning yellow marketing materials throughout the festival was a cute cartoon meerkat, the mascot for a streaming service app of the same name.
Of course, you could not just incidentally bump into this branding without hearing alllllll about Meerkat off the tip of people’s tongues mere moments later. As Techcrunch editor Josh Constantine tweeted:
SXSW is moot. No one can learn about anything new because every conversation ends up being about Meerkat.
— Josh Constine (@JoshConstine) March 16, 2015
So with all this buzz and with casual endorsements from the likes of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jimmy Fallon, everyone expected Meerkat to take off like a rocket.
Except it didn’t. 19 months later, Meerkat lies dead and buried, without much in the way of impressive performance figures to eulogize. Indeed, the most buzz the product ever got was during SXSW itself when no one could shut up about it. The actual market following never materialized, and four months into the project the company itself jumped ship.
Make no mistake: Meerkat’s rapid ascent and near-instant irrelevance provides a marketing parable for the modern age. So let’s study the verses from Song of Startups to understand three of Meerkat’s most important lessons:
Industry Hype Is Not an End Goal
“But the business who relied solely on promotion and excitement soon crashed, for they had too much to live up to with little to show for it.”
— Song of Startups 2:17
Our world has gone absolutely startup crazy, and it’s not because of products that are truly transforming our lives in meaningful ways. Instead, most products either do nothing practical or offer new ways to consume the same media and information we could read on our Facebook feeds.
Yes, this is a cynical and overly general way to approach the field as a whole, but the main point is this: most of the actual excitement seems to come from venture capitalists and “incubator” firms looking to cut a quick profit. To them, a four month cycle is an eternity, so apps that live and die within this period seem par for the course and can still count as “successes.” But while they live, those apps sure are flashy.
For most of the public, we remain hopelessly confused as to what the heck something like Brigade actually hopes to accomplish in a sea of over-saturated and same-y social media apps.
Looking at the business side, realize that praise coming from inside the industry only serves to blow enough smoke your way to cook all of Austin’s briskets at once. What you need is buzz within consumer circles, which can mean influencers but must also mean average, real people. As the saying doesn’t actually go: never count your chickens before they come home to roost.
Don’t Expect Your Solution to Piggyback on Others
“The product that cannot stand on its own will fall, for successful, established businesses show no mercy toward leeches.”
— Song of Startups 3:9
Meerkat claims they switched development to another, more socially-oriented app because one-to-many streaming platforms like theirs simply aren’t popular. Never mind that Twitch, Periscope and Facebook Live are teeming with people streaming their monthly toenail cleaning to audiences of thousands as we speak.
The real talk is that Meerkat got slapped down by the services of others they intended to capitalize on. Meerkat relied on auto-tweeting until Twitter’s spambot banned them from accessing people’s feeds. It relied on social graph in clever ways to network friends and viewers — until Twitter blocked out API access to it. It depended on third-party streaming services until it realized how unreliable and expensive they could get.
In essence, Meerkat was clever because of the design shortcuts it took, but all these were turned into dead ends as the roads they connected to were torn up and re-paved elsewhere.
Businesses should therefore avoid pitching their product as “the ultimate way to capitalize on LinkedIn” or “a great way to auto-share reviews between Yelp and Google.” Without express consent and the keys to certain parts of their kingdom, the big players will likely shut you out with little to no advance warning.
Measuring True Success Through Smart Digital Marketing
“For one to say they are successful, they first must ask, ‘Who cares for my product?’ The fool will say, ‘This field of people!’ The wise man, however, will say, ‘Let me check my analytics and get back to you.'”
—Song of Startups 4:23
While Meerkat’s investors and founders may have never truly suffered, the bright star burned out scary fast and in a way that should serve as a warning to companies without as deep of pockets.
Central to this cautionary tale is the mistake of placing too much stock in the wrong marketing metrics. Let EverSpark Interactive help you avoid this fate with a comprehensive marketing plan that assesses the metrics and KPIs that truly matter, helping you make strategic decisions with a strong basis in reality.
Take a look at our digital marketing services to find out how we can get started collaborating today.