Three Indisputable Reasons to (Not) Launch an Online Platform

There are many reasons not to launch a platform and only one reason to do so: if it brings added value to the business.

This is the only way we can truly justify all the effort and “cash” that we put into it, even in the face of so many other creative and tempting reasons. Still, many have fallen into this trap; a quick Google search reveals over 77 million pages telling you why you should launch it. On the other hand, there are very few voices warning you otherwise.

Over the course of my career, I have encountered many, many indisputable reasons to launch online platforms. Here, I will outline the three most common arguments and how to easily overcome them. Don’t blindly take the plunge, especially without a parachute.

Reason #1: We must be there

This is the weakest of all the indisputable reasons to launch, and yet it is brought up with high regularity. This contention, “we must be there,” is also the easiest to analyse and rebut, as we merely need to ask ourselves a couple of filter questions to come to the right decision.

First, we need to ask, “Will the platform help our global strategy goals?” If not, then it doesn’t matter how new, shiny, innovative, or creative your new platform is. Simply don’t do it. The second question is a bit more difficult to answer, but it is of equal importance, especially if you’re considering social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram.

“Why must we be in ‘platform A’ and not in ‘platform B’?” Instagram over Facebook? Facebook over Snapchat? Snapchat over…you get the point. The list is endless. Yet, if we compare the two platforms and there is no differentiation of objectives, no additional value, and no coverage of customer needs, then entering into ‘platform A’ is probably not a good idea. Further, if you need to talk circles around your colleagues and rely on long-winded arguments to support your case for the platform, it’s usually right to stay away. To paraphrase Einstein: if you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.

Reason #2: The competitors are there

This reason, without a doubt, creates a great sense of urgency in any organization or company. Finding out that our competitors have a corporate presence in ‘platform A’ awakens the ‘monster of fears,’ and fear is liable to make us blind. This incentivizes us to jump in head first without any thought and without defining our goals. When confronted with this reason, ask this filter question: “Will the ‘platform A’ be of any help to our global strategy goals?” Sound familiar? Then, of course, there’s the second filter question: “Why must we be in ‘platform A’ and not in ‘platform B’? Again, if we can’t clearly differentiate these two platforms’ objectives, if there’s no added value to the business, if no more user needs are covered, and if the reason cannot easily be explained within a few minutes, then entering into ‘platform A’ is probably not a good idea.

This is easy stuff, but, still, let’s add another question to the list: “Does what the competitor is doing in the platform make sense?” If we don’t ask this question, we may find ourselves engaging in the common, euphemistic practice of ‘benchmarking.’ Instead of figuring out if their tactic is actually the right one for us, we often just copy it outright.

Let me paraphrase one of my marketing professors when he saw a student ‘looking for inspiration’ over a classmate’s shoulder during a test: in marketing class, you can benchmark, but you cannot copy. Benchmarking requires analysis and a brain but not visual acuity.

Reason #3: The boss wants it

This reason gives us the least manoeuvrability. When your manager arrives in front of your desk and tells you, “I want to be in ‘platform A’…tomorrow,” then you have few alternatives. Let’s face it; you’re probably screwed. Nonetheless, we should still analyse the motivating factors that drive our boss’s decision and their level of understanding of the digital medium.

If the manager is not familiar with this digital environment, then their decision was probably based on one of the aforementioned reasons and, therefore, you should be able to find the proper answer by asking the questions in the above paragraphs. However, if you know that your boss has a deep understanding of this digital medium and its possibilities, if you know that they are aware of what they are asking for and the consequences thereof, then, I’m sorry to say it, but you are probably the one who doesn’t know the company’s strategic plans and goals.

If this is the case, I recommend seizing the moment to ask for the company’s marketing plan so that you can understand the direction that you’re moving in and work on enhancing the customer/consumer/user experience.

These reasons are often used for different platforms, but, in many well-established business/areas, people also use them for technologies or even strategies that are ideated to overcome the gap with new competitors and their disruptive technologies.