The surf pounds in your ears. You eye the other surfers in the lineup. You see the wave coming just for you.
You paddle like crazy...The wave breaks just to your left and you are up and on it. Feeling the power of the ocean carry you across the face of the wave, the power at your back, the wave shaping up in front of you. You've found your pocket.
When you are marketing a product (or building a product, or launching something), you want to be in what’s known as the pocket in surfing. Right on the edge, between where the wave crumbles and breaks and where it remains static and smooth. You find the most energy in the pocket - it’s what you use to carry you across the face of the wave, do a trick, and propel yourself forward. Keeping yourself in the pocket is one of the most fun challenges of surfing, requiring footwork, intuition, balance, and a deep knowledge in wave dynamics.
What the hell does that have to do with marketing and storytelling, you ask?
Well, effective marketing, PR, communications, and content is all about finding the pocket in your industry. It’s knowledge of how waves form, what’s behind you as a broken wave (the existing narrative and story in your chosen market), what’s ahead of you as smooth sailing (where is the need, the want, and the desire for your project), and how to engage your own footwork (e.g. story, growth hacking, PR, and any other lever you can pull to move the needle forward).
So many companies misjudge where the pocket is simply because they are coming to the market as a newbie (or "kook," as we would say). They don’t research what big stories have broken over the past few years, what leading journalists and pundits have to say, and where overall demand in the market is. Instead, they focus on challenges that the market has already agreed on - something that is dead-in-the-water boring for any journalist or consumer. It makes them sigh and say, “Oh, I’ve seen that before.”
Instead, look at the current challenges - the problems to which people demand a solution. Right now in fashion, I’d list transparent and sustainable supply chain, better treatment of workers, and greater individualization on a massive scale (e.g. 3D printing your new handbag).
Then your solution needs to fit in as the next linear step…just like a surfer catching the pocket. Our trend forecasting startup entered the market at a moment when fashion houses increased their investment in trends - whether Pantone or others who had proven to be ahead of the curve. They were still reeling from massively cut travel budgets in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, so they couldn’t afford to bring their creative teams to Europe to hunt down trends. Not only did we have a fashion insider-helmed product, but also we were uniquely qualified to provide US fashion houses with custom European textiles and trinkets, as we were based in London. Unfortunately, we massively failed for other reasons (largely that we saw no future together and I desperately hated all things about the fashion industry).
But let’s look at a darling unicorn of the tech world and why we talk about them so often.
- Past: Taxi unions who fail to evolve for consumer needs.
- Current: Consumers can’t get from here to there easily in their cities.
- Future: Everyone has Uber on their phone out of necessity.
*Jenn’s note on saving the world: Really, Uber succeeds from a massive failure of cities and municipalities to invest in appropriate infrastructure that is safe and reliable for their citizens. As urban sprawl continues, this will only increase in demand as railways, busways, and other public transportation fails to keep up with demand.
In other words, Uber got in the pocket. They saw a major need, pursued aggressive growth, and propelled themselves into pockets everywhere.
Find Your Pocket
Finding your pocket can take a bit of time and effort. But just like catching a killer wave, it's completely worth it. Your story can get carried for months and years past the investment. Like a Noosa ride.
SETTING: Appoint a committee - one person owns the companies stories and vision, one person owns the evolving marketplace and another is the editor, catalyst, naysayer and Cassandra. They literally question everything.
- Agree on a direction. Product, marketing and design need to all line up to ensure your future is possible. And also what good looks like. Commit to the vision of success and the metrics you will use. Make it as specific as possible.
- Divide and conquer. Each team member is responsible for becoming an expert in their subject matter. Time bound the efforts to two weeks or less as everyone needs a deadline.
- Reconvene to agree on the story you are going to tell. We like to run the efforts as scenario planning with they naysayer holding the doomsday card. Make it fun. Not that you need to, but some founders and teams have played drinking games during the process.
- The Naysayer gets final say. After you've created all the different scenarios, Mr. Eeyore gets to pick his favorites.
- Bring the top one to three stories to share with your team. If a vote needs to be held as to which is the most compelling, you have an knowledgeable audience. And make sure you explain how you got there. Not everyone is a storyteller surfer like you.
Download our Pocket Framework below, and harness the energy of the wave to propel your business forward. Then let us know how you found your pocket. We'd love to hear from you!