Month: June 2010

Growth is my Co-pilot

I was on a panel at a marketing gathering as the reality of the Great Recession started to settle in and I heard a number of my colleagues speaking about going for growth.

Growth is good.  So what’s wrong with that?

Having been in businesses that were growing and others that were not, the choice is clear!

The question for the room, and perhaps in many corporate conference rooms when reviewing multi-year business plans:  Is growth a strategy?

Let’s set aside the element of timing, which brings into consideration that an opportunity becomes less and less attractive as more and more entrants realize there’s a growth market and bring their solutions to the market (driving down price and margin and driving up competitive intensity and commercialization costs).  Let’s assume for a moment that your firm’s market intelligence is superior and the opportunity has been identified early in the product adoption lifecycle.

So if we can reasonably go after this growth opportunity, why shouldn’t we?

Well maybe we should…but in these instances my inner Michael Porter begins to speak.

If all you’re trying to do is essentially the same thing as your rivals, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be very successful.

Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.

Innovation is the central issue in economic prosperity.

What struck me when the panel was speaking about marketing and strategy in this ‘reset economy’ was that there was no conversation regarding the fit of the growth opportunity with the unique capabilities or identity of the firm.

Unique insights, technology, channels, etc. that allow us to provide an offering that provides better value to the customer than the competition could the be basis of a good growth opportunity.   Can you solve a customer problem with a solution that is not easily duplicated or replaced?  Does your solution not only provide value in itself, but does it provide cascading benefit to your entire portfolio by being a meaningful extension?

What about your brand?

Whatever homework you did (or didn’t do) in support of your brand prior to the Great Recession is paying off now, as customers have retreated to more trusted brands.  It’s a tough time to move into markets which are outside of the identity you’ve established with existing and potential customers, where initial credibility may be low and customers are seeking the higher ground of known suppliers.  And given that firms are spending less on the kinds of advertising and marketing that build brand identity in favor of demand creation, you may not be able to afford the kind of branding building to help establish your firm as a credible supplier, much less drive awareness of a solution from an unexpected provider (which will all impact your solution adoption rate and costs).

My comments on the panel were that growth is not a strategy, that finding the right growth opportunities is fundamental (particularly in the “new normal”), and that these days I’m really listening to my inner Michael Porter.

You Can Call Me Chevy

A recent article in the NYT’s regarding an internal General Motors memo to its employees and dealers to use the full brand name, Chevrolet, and eschew the consumer pet name “Chevy”, gave me pause as a marketer.  Having led multiple branding and rebranding efforts, I’ve published company Brand Books which laid out very similar guidance. So how to reconcile this with the gut feeling that the “suits” at GM clearly got this wrong?

I think clarity comes when you think about where in the brand creation process you sit. When creating new brands or trying to clear up significant brand confusion from the use of variants or legacy labels, getting coherence and consistency around a brand is critical. Invest in those unified brands, and it’s just possible you will be able to break through the clutter to gain awareness…and then beyond that, hopefully build positive associations with that brand.

The Chevrolet brand has been part of GM since 1917 and already had some brand equity at that time as Lois Chevrolet was a successful race car driver (this despite the fact that one of the first Chevrolets was called the “Baby Grand”, both a comment on its size and cost).

After almost a century of brand building, Chevrolet has moved way beyond the awareness generation stage.  In fact, I would argue that the adoption by the public of the brand, and it’s successive shorthand, is the surest mark of brand success (reference FedEx’ move to align its company brand of Federal Express with consumers’ moniker).  The company’s responsibility now is to tend to the brand’s positioning and messaging in order to ensure it’s as positive an asset as possible….not to try and yank the brand away from the public and redefine it in a vacuum (especially not in today’s age of consumer participatory branding and marketing).