A creative director of a branding agency knows there are three questions brands ask that keep the light on. They include: How do you launch a brand from scratch? And how do you turn a brand around that has begun to flag? But the third and focus of this article is: How do you push a brand past a plateau?
Obviously, there is no one simple answer to any of these questions — but the first step lies in the approach or attitude that you take towards finding those answers. A common sentiment in the agency world is that fearless and innovative thinking will turn possibility into reality. But while this is all very nice (and sounds great in a pitch), what does that actually mean?
How Plateaus Happen
First and foremost, it means a brand should not do the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. This is perhaps the most common pitfall brands face when attempting to push past a plateau. Brands with a relatively successful business that was grown lovingly and organically to minimal profitability — but after hitting profitability, it seems impossible to grow further. Worse yet, it becomes harder and harder for the brand to simply maintain that margin.
The dreaded plateau can appear more daunting than a backslide in sales or growth because the psychology behind it tends to inhibit brand owners from embracing change, for fear of losing ground. This can be paralyzing and tends to prevent managers from wanting to change anything for fear of losing some of the precious market share that they believe they currently have. Which, of course, usually means that the brand is about to lose this market share anyway.
Conversely, when a brand has already lost meaningful market share, it tends to be much more willing to make necessary changes in thinking, in order to achieve goals. Whether the problem is with market conditions, supply chain issues, a shift in the distribution channel or simply, that the product hasn’t maintained its level of excellence, these brands know something must change — and are usually much more willing to implement any necessary changes to see an uplift in their sales. In some ways, these brands are actually in a better position compared to a brand facing a plateau.
So this is where the fearless part comes into play. Gaining insight that is outside of the day-to-day grind of a brand’s life is paramount. Fearlessness in this sense requires a dispassionate look at the brand’s life cycle that is absolutely agnostic of a “because we’ve always done it this way and it works” kind of attitude. Fearlessness is not recklessness; it simply means accepting the unexpected or looking around corners when straight lines have always worked.
How To Emerge
Often a brand will turn to an outside agency or consultant to assist with this process, as stepping outside of a successful business’ mental framework can feel counter-intuitive and is often culturally frowned upon. That said, a healthy dose of outsider thinking is sometimes required to arrive at new solutions for growth — whether or not that person is actually located outside the company.
Fearless thinking makes possibility reality. The exciting part of the fearless mantra, that new reality that is often identified as growth, is the part that we all strive to arrive at. Check out the following tips for pushing a brand past a plateau.
Know your customer: There’s often a difference between your perception of your customer, and who your customer actually is. So invest in reliable research and then use that research to craft your business strategy.
Understand your brand’s purpose: This includes what your brand stands for and what does not fit within your brand’s mission. A brand is not merely defined by the type of products it sells, but by its greater purpose in the world. The brand should inform product decisions — not vice versa.
Understand past successes and failures: Dig deep to identify the reasons and decisions that have contributed to your brand’s stagnant growth. Think not just about what happened, but why it happened.
Think like an outsider: This point doesn’t need any further explanation.
Finding a brand’s route to fearless thinking is the simple answer to pushing past a plateau. And keep in mind that finding your route through the forest is a whole lot easier when you’re not standing among all those damn trees.
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