S-curves – The Long and Short (Term) of Brand Growth:

Stephen DiMarco
Chief Digital Officer
Kantar Insights Division

Jim Meyer
Executive Director
GroupM
Jim.Meyer@groupm.com

SETTING THE TABLE FOR GROWTH

How are marketers thinking about growth today? I posed this exact question to Jim Meyer, strategy consultant and former senior research executive at TNS, client leader at JWT, and CMO of GroupM North America. Over his career, Jim has had a tremendous vantage point across the top advertisers and sectors that comprise the marketing ecosystem in North America. Who better to fuse the worlds of insights and activation, while shedding new light on igniting growth, now and into the future?

WHAT PATTERNS ARE YOU SEEING ACROSS MARKETERS, BOTH POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE?

The headlines don’t lie. Marketers are pushing the media ecosystem for more transparency, accountability, and efficiency; struggling to integrate linear and digital media coherently; weighing the intersecting issues of data strategy, brand safety, and automation; experimenting with new modes of story-telling and brand development; balancing scale and agility in marketing; and trying to maximize sales in the near term without mortgaging the future of their brands. They know that the playbook for building successful businesses and brands is changing. That’s both exciting and daunting.

Regardless of the category or circumstances, every marketer is facing the same challenge: how to grow.

A friend of mine has an exercise she does with clients. She draws an S-curve on the whiteboard and asks them to plot where they think they are on the curve. Most senior marketers these days will draw an “X” at the apex of the curve, signifying that growth has flattened. The conversation shifts quickly from maximizing performance in the short term to surviving and succeeding over the long term. Marketers are very clearly worried about how their brands will fare as organic growth slows, fragmentation grows, and consumers continue to develop new expectations stemming from personalization, connectivity, and intelligent devices.

THE S-CURVE IS A USEFUL LENS FOR PLANNING THE FUTURE. HOW CAN BRANDS START TO APPLY IT?

Well, the first thing is understanding what is actually happening and what is reasonable to expect. Achieving near term sales commitments is table stakes; marketers miss their quarterly targets at their own peril! And yet the danger is that excessive short-termism results in a set of myopic marketing activities, squeezing efficiencies wherever they can be found in an effort to eke out a few percentage points of market share or growth. This is understandable and maybe even acceptable in highly mature markets.  tobacco brands, for example, and many durables brands are included in the Top 100 brands list year after year.

This approach doesn’t work in consumer-centric markets that are getting massively disrupted—which is to say most markets. Back to the S-Curve visual, following the path of shorttermism equates to competing for an ever-shrinking share of an ever-shrinking market, year after year. So we need to level-set with marketing executives, re-imagining their business on a new, growing curve. I know both of us enjoy helping incumbent brands think and act like disruptors. In that scenario, the bulk of planning and execution is around transformative things that result in growth in the long term, while still respecting the tactical need to deliver on shorter term commitments.

SO MARKETERS CAN ACTUALLY CHANGE THE CURVE THEY ARE ON TO ONE DEFINED BY NEW GROWTH?

I think we both believe the answer to that question is a resounding yes. And while it sounds hard to transform and operate a brand at the same time, it really just takes vision, ambition, and discipline to stick to the plan. Incumbent brands can’t transform into Amazon overnight, but they can execute a playbook that is better suited for growth over the next several years.

Incumbent brands have the distinct benefit of large, scaled customer bases, meaning they are sitting on a treasure trove of data about people who have already shown some degree of affinity and loyalty toward them. Unlocking growth requires helping brands reimagine how to deliver differentiated value to these customers where always on and on-demand service is a base expectation. By re-surfacing this data, enhancing it with additional analytics, and working it into a new, more nimble marketing operating system, brands gain a new playbook to disrupt in their markets as opposed to being disrupted.

WHAT STANDS OUT TO YOU WHEN YOU LOOK AT THIS YEAR’S TOP 100 BRANDS IN THE US?

The researcher still in me went first to understand who the new entrants were and who fell off the list. While they are not classically disruptive, brands like Gillette, Marlboro, and Cisco all show they have real staying power despite the changes swirling around them, suggesting they are re-imagining their own curves on an ongoing basis. The newer entrants like Uber, Netflix, and even the entertainment networks, stand out as disruptors. The success of these brands portend consumer expectations and behavior into the future.

And obviously, I wonder what the top five will look like five years from now. It’s not that far into the future. I remember turning up for the first time on the Microsoft campus in 2001 and thinking, “This entire company was built in my adult lifetime.” That happened again later at Google – and the time span was half as long. So is there room at the top in five years for brands that don’t even exist yet? What do you think?

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