How Yik Yak Demonstrated the Importance of Honing in on your USP

If you’re a post-teen student like me you may or may not remember the worldwide popular app ‘Yik Yak’, which when I started uni was insanely popular amongst students for its humor appeal and ability to give like minded students a common ground to converse upon.

What interests me about this particular business however its the way in which it marketed itself and the way in which it truly messed up.

What made Yik Yak unique was how you could remain anonymous, the developers worked hard (facing backlash that is mentioned in the latter half of this post) to ensure that anything offensive was not approved and therefore not posted, so the anonymity was mainly used for its humor appeal and its appeal for individuals to ask for advice with ease. The app worked, was doing well and their USP was flourishing for them – this was until Yik Yak made the unforgiving mistake of changing the way in which it worked which ultimately, was irreparably damaging to them and their organisation.

So what is a USP? USP stands for Unique Selling Point and is the most crucial element of a business’ formula to determine long-lived success. From an entrepreneurial point of view, establishing and homing in on your USP is a sure fire way of securing survival in start up businesses. USPs have always been around and have always defined businesses, for Apple it was the smartphone and its interactive features, for Primark it was the value for money on clothing, for Virgin it was the quality and variety of service and so on…

At first, Yik Yak made usernames optional (they had started to lose their precious USP, but still had the elements of it at least), which in itself, however, did not catch on and many expressed their disapproval. Shortly thereafter they made them compulsory and the apps popularity diminished almost overnight. Many, including myself deleted the app as its USP had now dissolved and Yik Yak was no longer a app with appeal. At the time I thought it interesting how such a small change in operations can have such a huge impact; to many, deleting the app probably didn’t cross their minds but for the corporation side, it saw the dissolution of a once wholly successful business.

A few months later I saw an ad on Instagram from Yik Yak urging former users to come back with the appeal that they had brought back complete anonymity. It’s the unfortunate truth however, that social advertising however will never uphold the strength of reputation in marketing; and Yik Yak’s reputation was regrettably already destroyed.

What is even more unfortunate for this company was their ability to tackle issues and backlash they had faced in the past and bounce back – only to see their dissolution occur over something they would have  never have forseen. When Yik Yak were slammed for certain users abusing the anonymity of their services to spread hate, the company quickly tackled this issue through ensuring all posts were approved before they went live on the app. This kind of backlash had all the potential to destroy them, yet the company resurfaced – it seems almost bittersweet that their final breakdown was the result of an unanticipated change in their operations. The moral? Never mess with your USP.

The once $400 million organisation finally sold itself out for a mere $1 million in Spring 2017, a fraction of their former net worth. The change they made may have seemed so minute at the time, yet was ultimately so damaging to them and their organisation to the point of collapse. This unfortunate chain of events sets a stellar example to businesses on the importance of recognizing your USP and always homing in on it, if you don’t, the basis of the appeal of your organisation is lost and failure can be expected to follow shortly after.

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