A theme I often hear from the entrepreneurs and startups I advise is that once they see that first surge of traction from customers, they can relax and enjoy life for a change. The reality could not be further from the truth. In today’s world of growing competition and customer evolution, holding your own, and growing to the next level is a constant challenge that can never be ignored.
Even companies with long-established and well-respected brands, such as Apple and Amazon, can’t afford to rest on their laurels. According to experts, as many as 50 percent of the existing S&P 500 companies will be pushed aside in the next 10 years, and the lifespan of successful companies is getting shorter and shorter. It’s time for new strategies for growth and survival.
In this context, I definitely agree with the need for new ideas and principles, as was expressed in the classic book, “Wild Thinking: 25 Unconventional Ideas to Grow Your Brand and Your Business,” by branding though leaders Nick Liddell and Richard Buchanan. Here are a few of their key insights, with supporting comments from my own experience in businesses both large and small:
- Inspire your customers – don’t merely meet current needs. Most businesses have learned to ask their customers what they want, and then work diligently to provide it. Unfortunately, in these days of dynamic change, customers are not so good at projecting what they will need in the future. You have to excite them with new alternatives. Apple and Steve Jobs have been masters at this, convincing them of the need for, and inspiring them to want, a new category of products, as they introduced the iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch. Uber and Airbnb did the same for shared transportation and hospitality.
- Treat employees like your most demanding customers. The reality is that a company that is loved by customers, but not respected by team members, is not sustainable in the long term. Very few organizations communicate internally with the same investment of thought and professionalism as when implementing their customer-obsessed strategies. Jeff Bezos at Amazon, for example, preaches that he is obsessed with customer needs, but also has demonstrated the same focus on employee engagement, by setting high standards, defining shared values, and constantly driving the culture to meet their needs.
- A great business purpose is better than a great product. A beautiful solution is one that goes beyond satisfying the specific needs that bring a customer to you. These days, most customers are also attuned to a higher purpose, such as saving the environment and improving society. Your challenge is to combine your solution with a great purpose. For example, Conscious Capitalism, a popular business movement exemplified by Whole Foods and Patagonia, with a large focus on a higher purpose, shows evidence that their average return and growth is much greater than other companies in their space.
- Learn to love risk and respect it in equal measure. In business, there is no reward without taking some risk. Your challenge is to manage and respect that risk, to maximize your return. Taking no risk, or huge risks, is not a viable strategy for business growth or success. Seek advisor help if you need it to find the balance to meet your objectives.
- Balance the act of competition with the art of collaboration. Building a business is not a solo act. You need collaboration with team members, partners, suppliers, and most of all with customers, to make it work competitively. Some of the best growth strategies, often overlooked, involve co-opetition with potential competitors, for a win-win-win result. Smart business owners can negotiate a deal to reduce costs of a common component, penetrate new markets, set industry standards, or share a sales channel. Just keep your customer’s best interest as your first priority, and resist the urge to kill every competitor.
- Complexity is the enemy of any new business model. Embrace simplicity to create the most easily understood and sold solution, and the most productive environment for employees. Be constantly on the lookout for best practices and tools to improve your strategy and execution. Complexity in any of these increases your cost and your risks.
Some of these insights may strike you as intuitive, but I assure you that I see them ignored or overlooked too many times, as I assess a business that is struggling to grow their brand, or find an investor. In my experience, the mark of a truly great business is its ability to excite curiosity and inspire strength of emotion – both internally and externally with customers and constituents.
Above all, remember that building your brand and business requires continuous and creative efforts. You can never relax, or allow your operation to become invisible, stale, or indifferent. There is always a next level of satisfaction for you, your team, and your customers. Don’t let your competitor get there first.