7 May 2021
How Zoom is teaching startups
a lesson on growing up
Jennifer Volmer explains why Zoom will need to keep its brand close and its users closer through innovation and iteration to stay on top.
Jennifer Volmer, Co-Head of Strategy, New York
For many of the offspring of Silicon Valley, the past year has been a coming of age moment, as they've used their technological solutions to solve problems in a socially distanced world. But the poster child of this moment of opportunity hasn't just established itself as a problem solver for the here and now, it is living up to its name and is speeding past its rivals to become an intrinsic brand in our everyday lives.
Zoom, the previously obscure video conferencing platform, is more than just its communication offering. It should come as no surprise that a brand that allowed us to convene in cyberspace, whether you're hopping on to say hi to friends or seeking live sporting experiences, could nestle itself into our daily lives and language. And this is equated in its 355% year on year and hundreds of millions of users.
But with vaccines now being rolled out across the globe and countries setting their sights on normality, surely a business that has relied on people being restricted to the virtual world should be reaching the end of its success?
It's clear that Zoom won't be tapping out of the race just yet, however.
As part of its growth strategy, it is now exploring selling its technology to other businesses to allow them to adopt it as their own and embed it within their own products and apps, without carrying any Zoom branding. While this might seem counterintuitive for a brand that owes its success to its name, what we're witnessing is actually a smart move from an organisation that keeps its brand and business strategy in lockstep. It also provides a template for other technology businesses.
Being able to white-label its product reinforces the capability of the brand to stretch beyond being a communications service for consumers and businesses. Zoom has grown from being a connector to part of the supply chain of technology that empowers brands. If you're a partner or customer joining a call through the platform and you see that it is branded by the owner of the call, it immediately builds credibility. By allowing other brands to adopt the Zoom experience, it is enabling the transfer of the trust it has built for its own business to others.
If Zoom continues to veer towards being an empowerment brand that helps create experiences for others, it opens up a world of considerable latitude for expanding its brand equity and technological improvement. By giving itself many places to expand into and the ability to support almost any business, Zoom will continue to insert its presence as an indispensable partner and a facilitator of a wider conversation around technology. Inviting outside technology into partnerships can encourage the sharing of ideas and expand what an experience looks and feels like, much in the same way data is shared, to improve experiences across the technology landscape.
Of course, there is an element of risk involved in this approach to expansion, and the challenge will be to follow how that risk morphs and evolves. Firstly, there might come a point where white-labelling becomes such an integral component of its offering that it has to make a decision on where to invest most of its marketing dollars. Secondly, what will happen organically is that it will hit a point of saturation where everyone has or is using Zoom, causing its value and product life cycles to become intertwined. Further success will then be defined by its ability to iterate on the product to improve the value of the experience, all without losing the core of who it is.
But this is a position many fast-growth tech brands find themselves in - it only needs to look at its predecessors to know how to move forward. When Google Search first existed, a simple search would result in a single feed with the same results for everyone. Now, due to iterations on its algorithms and functions, two people could search the same keywords and see different results relevant to them. It is this commitment to efficacy and efficiency by solving problems raised in a feedback loop that allowed Google Search to maintain its brand stronghold.
Zoom has reached a point in the boardroom where it will be asking questions about how to increase its value offering as the post-COVID world forces more and more industries to adopt its type of technology. But by keeping its brand close and its users closer through constant innovation and iteration, Zoom will be well on its way to winning the race.
First published in CEO Today.