From growth to greatness with brand innovation

John Coupland

Written by John Coupland

Did your business get off to a sprinting 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.

Growth plateau

According to one journal “Whilst many successful early-stage companies do experience meteoric growth, they almost always cool off after relatively short period of time; within a few years, the growth curves flatten. They settle into the Growth Plateau.” [1].

The positive stance is that plateau is not necessarily the onset of failure but an opportunity for you to regroup, reappraise and refresh your approach. Despite the many tactics to break out of the plateau, we thought we would touch on brand innovation as a key point to inspire you.

1. Brand Oxygen

“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.” [2].

Companies such as Dyson, Apple, Netflix, Spotify and Innocent are brand leaders, not just because their marketing aesthetics but because they have successfully defined new categories. They explored new space through innovating alternative solutions and proved that a value-led, creative approach is a strategically powerful position to be in.

2. Focus on Blue Ocean

The main lesson is to not waste energy partaking in a fierce turf-war focusing only on your existing market but to constantly seek out new markets - “Instead of trying to to invent a product superior to the competition, innovators should aim at creating new markets where there is no competition” [2]. 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 negative is this is a more restrictive and blinkered approach where investment is tied up trying to cut through the clutter of others noise.

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 and exploration. Therefore it’s important to establish a culture of ongoing innovation within your organisation. An excellent framework is Gardner and Coopers ‘Lean Branding’ framework where the principles of lean manufacturing and agile working are applied to brand innovation. A process driven methodology that has a “build, measure, learn loop” as it’s main principles - so therefore reduces wastage and enhances continuous brand development.

To summarise

If things are plateauing, try not to fixate on what the me-too brands are doing, but explore the spaces outside your existing market and focus on developing those instead. Additionally, 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. So 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 actively curtail 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.” [3].

  1. Polsky Center (2006) Overcoming the Growth Plateau, Chicago: Market Strategy Group.
  2. Jean-Noël Kapferer (2012) The new strategic brand management: advanced insights and strategic thinking, 5th edn., London: Kogan Page.
  3. Stratford, Sarah (2015) The best marketing strategies for challenger brands, Available at: London Evening Standard, Business Connections
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