OPINION: Think small, do more of less

Glenn Bartlett
By Glenn Bartlett | 17 September 2013
Glenn Bartlett

Competition in business today is white-hot. Worse still, it’s unpredictable. You just can’t see it coming. If there’s an opportunity worth a sniff you can bet there are three men, a dog and a truffle pig sniffing.

While open global markets and plummeting barriers to entry may be working for you, they’re also kicking sand in your face as they encourage big business to get bigger and smaller players to take things seriously. It’s a case of water, water, everywhere but a lot of people drinking and stirring.

So how do you win in the face of this onslaught? The key is to think small. Do more of less.

Ultimately there are only two kinds of business models that are sustainable over the long term. The focused, laser-sharp sort that does one thing brilliantly. Think Dilmah Tea. Think Michelin Tyres. Or the pervasive behemoth that consumers simply can’t navigate around. Think Google. Think Coca Cola. Think Woolworths. The issue comes when you’re swimming somewhere in between. It’s a hell of a dangerous place to be if you want to avoid a race to the bottom on price.

The good news though is the internet is working for you. It’s turning what were once local niche markets into global niche markets, sizeable enough to matter. And here’s the thing; in many ways these global markets are easier to target and more homogeneous than a less tightly defined local market. For instance, the mums of Mosman have more in common with the mums of Chelsea and Manhattan than the mums of Rooty Hill. The trick is finding a niche value proposition that turns them on and makes them talk: They have to talk, that’s the critical bit.

So what’s required now, more than ever, is a single-minded, remarkable and authentic brand story backed up by an equally focused product range. It’s more than just single-minded advertising we’re talking about here; it’s a single-minded company. A company obsessed and driven by a purpose that matters to them and inspires loyalty beyond reason in their customer base. Get this right and you’ll swap price battles that make you wince for margins that make you grin.

So what does this mean for you as you build your strategy for growth?

If you haven’t already, find your purpose and craft your authentic and inspirational brand story. Just to be clear it probably doesn’t read like this: ‘To become the supplier of choice in plastic disposable packaging and drive gross margin across all divisions’, but more like this example from adventure clothing company Patagonia: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis’.

Forget brand stretch and focus on going deeper where you’re currently strong. If you’re selling board shorts lose your plans to expand into surfboards and get focused on creating the best board shorts in the world. Expand vertically. Forget the horizontal. And stick with your focus.

Finally, tackle opportunities in parallel industries with a completely new brand with a completely unique story. The smart play is building five tight single-minded businesses that inspire loyalty and drive high margins rather than one cobbled together, sloppy catch-all.

So, if you’re not already so big your customers can’t navigate around you, start future proofing today by thinking small. By doing more of less. The sustainable brands of the future will be those that are an inch wide and a mile deep.

Glenn Bartlett
Strategy Director
Step Change Marketing

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