How fast do you want to grow? Even the question is loaded. At a time when rapid seems to be the only desirable speed for everything, it’s easy to believe that foot-to-the-floor is the only pace in town.
Certainly much of what we read would have us thinking so. Take this Hubspot post for example on 11 companies that have all grown their awareness as quick as lightning. Uniqlo did it by partnering; Dropbox through sharing; Hubspot themselves through their Website Grader. Hats off to each of them. But let me proffer an alternative equation – one that looks to align three speed-to-market line-speeds that have tended to operate independently of each other.
From all the work I’ve done with internal cultures, with marketing goods and services and in communicating with investors, one key learning has emerged: when companies separate the operating speeds of their culture, their product lines and their investors, things quickly get confused. Fast cultures with slow speeds-to-market rapidly become impatient with those they see as responsible for not marketing and distributing quickly enough. Slow cultures with fast speeds-to-market struggle to keep up. As a result, errors and short cuts creep in as people try to meet demand. Brands that take their time to build a market may also find themselves at odds with impatient investors wanting faster returns on their investments. Throw social media messages and their metrics into the mix and it’s easy to see why everyone can become confused as to where the brand is at.
Finding the right brand speed
The problem: pace. The speed that the company works at, the speed it trades at and the speed that it reports and returns at are off-kilter. To help reconcile the needs of the three groups, brands need to synchronise their brand speeds, and in so doing set clear expectations to all involved as to why the tempo has been set at that rate.
Here are three examples:
Considered: Some brands need to be deliberate in how they grow. Brands moving into bold new territories, those expanding into unfamiliar territories and those emerging from crisis need to ensure that each step is carefully and thoroughly planned.
These brands need to ensure that their cultures are calm, clear and determined, that their product releases are measured, confidently launched and deeply supported, and that their investors know to be patient and to expect less growth than they might be getting elsewhere, for now at least.
Because this pace of work is so dependent on belief and trust, a company’s leadership makes or breaks the considered approach. Strong leaders will run the key messages and ride the rollercoasters to get their companies through these trying times. Those who are less resilient will give in to the urge to go faster sooner, sometimes with disastrous results.
Responsive: Brands in dynamic environments and under pressure from proactive rivals need to work in a state of high awareness. Their unrelenting quest must be to ensure that their cultures are energised, their products highly competitive and their investors sensitive to the capital fluctuations that a sustained presence in such marketplaces requires. These brands will need to keep their people motivated and well supported, match their rivals in some parts of the market and outpace them in others, and deliver dividends that meet market guidance wherever possible.
Purpose and brand valuation are critical conversations in these environments. Internally, the brand will need to motivate people with ideas that reach beyond results, and that generate a culture with purpose where staff are motivated to deliver at a sustained pace. Product investment will need to balance current needs, future requirements and the propping up or letting go of weaker brand performers. Meanwhile the messages to investors will need to use effective brand valuation models to show not just what the brand is worth now, but how the current strategies will inject further value within set timeframes. Without wanting to get into the politics of brand valuation models, Joanna Seddon makes some excellent points in this paper on revisiting the brand valuation process to make it more investment-friendly.
Just as markets move up and down, so speeds-to-market can shift in response to a range of stimuli.
Immediate: Fast growing brands demand a lot of everyone, but their energy and rate of growth are also significant motivators. These brands will need to maintain something of a “start-up” culture, move rapidly to acquire footprint and awareness, and in doing so, will often work through a lot of capital. Much of the focus for staff, products and investors alike is on what’s ahead, meaning that often the three groups are aligned in their hopes and expectations. These are exciting times, but at some point, growth will slow and the challenge for leaders will be to steer staff and investors into a new stage of expansion that is either more responsive or considered.
Aligning market contexts and speeds-to-market
Rather than treating culture, product and investors as different aspects of the business and having separate conversations about each, brands should in my view look to integrate messages more clearly and address the wider and interdependent ways in which brands need to work today.
People inside the organisation should be more aware of what investors expect and why. Marketing, distribution and supply functions should align with what the culture is best capable of delivering. And investors should be aware of why the brand needs to slow down/speed up and what that means for them. Talking up one aspect whilst hoping that the others will catch up is not the basis for healthy growth. On the contrary, it’s sowing the seeds for all-round disappointment and frustration.