How Consumer Insight can help break out of the comfort zone

Nigel Hollis
Chief Global Analyst, Kantar Millward Brown

An analysis of nearly 3,000 brands measured in BrandZ across a five-year time frame tells us that the vast majority of brands fail to grow over the longterm. With the notable exception of mobile phones, growth was limited to one or two brands in a category and was specific to one country. In many categories there was no real growth for any of the competitive brands.

So why is brand growth so hard to come by? My belief is that far too many brands get stuck in a comfort zone that limits ambition and prevents them from achieving significant growth. Brené Brown, Research Professor at University of Houston, describes the comfort zone as,

“Where our uncertainty, scarcity and vulnerability are minimized…Where we feel we have some control.”

And if you think about most large, established companies they have a lot of processes and protocols in place to minimize uncertainty and regulate business in an orderly fashion. Even if they identify a potentially groundbreaking idea it will be challenging to implement because of predetermined budgets and their heavy organizational structure.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon states that an obsessive customer focus is what allows companies to remain agile and not get stuck in the comfort zone. And my observation of the brands that did grow over five years suggests they all did something disruptive, something that changed the way they served customers, went to market or communicated with their target audience. Understanding your customer, anticipating their needs, wants and desires, is critical to achieving growth and breaking the status quo that exists in most categories.

For an established brand, Consumer Insight has a huge role to play in establishing the existing territory in which brands currently compete. The fundamental challenge is then to identify what your brand can do to change that status quo. A transformational idea may be crowdsourced direct from consumers, come from inside the company or from a third-party agency. Whatever the source, it’s critical to test the idea to determine if it is likely to be different and meaningful enough to attract new users and reward existing ones.

Although none of this is new, the ways in which Consumer Insight sources, integrates and analyses information is dramatically different from in the past. But my observation is that far too many companies are obsessed with optimisation when they should be finding new ways to add value to the lives of their customers. Brands rarely grow incrementally, if only because their competition is set up to anticipate and counter incremental change. Significant growth comes from disruptive initiatives that cannot easily be contained. Brands need to step outside of their comfort zone to identify and act on these opportunities.