Did your business get off to a flying start, then begin to slow?
Are you feeling that the momentum started to slip and things beginning to stagnate? If so, the growth plateau phase of your journey may have just arrived. Fostering a culture of innovation can help your organisation break out of the doldrums.
According to one journal “Whilst many successful early-stage companies do experience meteoric growth, they almost always cool off after a relatively short period of time; within a few years, the growth curves flatten. They settle into the Growth Plateau.” .
Could it be that your start-up got stuck at disprupt, and forgot to keep doing it? Or perhaps the market has changed or only has a finite size? Or is the lack of a vision and brand strategy causing endless procrasination?
The plateau doesn’t have to be a sign of failure. It can be an opportunity for you to regroup, reappraise and refresh your approach – maybe even consider rebranding or repositioning. You can invent your way out of any box if you believe you can, and you’re willing to commit to the long term. On average new initatives can take between 5 and 7 years before they start paying any dividends to the company, they may beneift the cutomer right away, but they often take longer to benefit shareholders and the company. So avoid short term thinking, and start focusing on some of these strategies to help your brand grow.
1. Create the high ground
“Innovations are brand oxygen. They re-create leadership, focus the market on value not on price, and give a goal to the organisation, reminding it that brands are about progress once they are on the market.” .
Companies such as Dyson, Apple, Netflix, Spotify and AirBnB are brand leaders. Not just because their marketing aesthetics but because they have successfully defined new categories through incremental improvements. They explored new space through innovating alternative solutions. They proved that a value-led, creative approach is a strategically powerful position to be in.
In his book ‘Good Strategy Bad Strategy’ Rumelt refers to classical military strategy where the defender prefers the high ground – “It is harder to attack and easier to defend. One way to find fresh, undefended high ground is by creating yourself, through pure innovation”. This is certainly the case with brands like Gore-Tex who found their high ground through technical innovation, or Fedex who found theirs through a business model innovation for their overnight delivery system. Creating the high ground is the key to building new competitive advantages that will last for years before any alternatives appear.
2. Focus on Blue Ocean
Do not waste energy partaking in a fierce turf-war focusing only on your existing market. Seek out new markets – “Instead of trying to invent a product superior to the competition, innovators should aim at creating new markets where there is no competition” . This concept is coined ‘Blue Ocean’ strategy (by Kim and Mauborgne 1998) where you create ‘uncontested market space’ to operate in and therefore have more strategic space to breathe and grow.
By contrast, the ‘Red Ocean’ is a more myopic approach, where you focus on an already established market. The downside of this is its a more restrictive and blinkered approach where investment is tied up trying to cut through the clutter of other’s noise. In the Red Ocean, you need to make your marketing work harder to get your noticed. This is the classic short-term approach where you become increasingly reliant on investing in advertising to get yourself noticed, or end up in a price war. Over time, this becomes unsustainable.
3. Innovation is a cyclical process
Brand innovation is not born of a single project-related event but from an ongoing process of continuous experimentation. Therefore it’s important to establish a culture of innovation within your organisation. Steve Jobs said – “your job is to figure out what your customers need before they do”. Jeff Bezos stated that Amazons success came from inventing on behalf of customers -“It’s not a customers job to invent for themselves. You need to listen to them, but they won’t tell you everything, so you need help them through innovating on their behalf”. Both Apple and Amazon have built internal cultures that focus on cylical innovation, and have indeed reaped the rewards as a result.
In Gardner and Coopers ‘Lean Branding’ framework, the principles of lean manufacturing and agile working are applied to brand innovation. It’s a process-driven methodology that has a “build, measure, learn loop” as it’s main principles. It reduces wastage and enhances continuous brand development. You can start employing these agile principles by using design-thinking methodologies across any part of your business. This will help you to thrive from the ideas that grow from a continuous development loop of making and testing.
Onwards and upwards
Try not to fixate on what the me-too brands are doing, but find the strategic high ground by exploring new spaces outside your existing market and focus on developing those instead. Then, inject new energy into your organisation by adopting and encouraging an on-going culture of innovation. It could just be what you need to avoid the plateau and establish yourself as a stronger brand.
“People’s expectations are not set by category or market, but by the best brand experiences they have. Fixating on what’s going on within your own market and limiting yourself to being better than your competition is short-sighted, distracting and largely pointless. It will stifle your thinking and hold you back… The truth is, bigger is not always better. Better is better. Brands that want to succeed long-term need to be challenging themselves and the very core of their market to constantly improve the customer experience. Tweaking mediocrity is not a long-term plan.” .
- Polsky Center (2006) Overcoming the Growth Plateau, Chicago: Market Strategy Group.
- Jean-Noël Kapferer (2012) The new strategic brand management: advanced insights and strategic thinking, 5th edn., London: Kogan Page.
- Stratford, Sarah (2015) The best marketing strategies for challenger brands
- Rumelt, Richard (2011) Good Strategy Bad Strategy, Profile Books.