By: Rich DePencier and Scott Wright
After the bubbly has lost its fizz, and the first quarter is – ready or not – swinging into motion, thousands of SMB owners, founders, and CEOs are looking to encourage and cajole their senior leadership to finalize their 2023 plans. But, framed against the backdrop of economic headwinds, hiring challenges, and political headlines, this year’s planning process is taking on a whole new sense of urgency.
Rather than mapping out a strategy for maintaining the status quo or eking out incremental growth, it is clear that 2023 requires a dig-deep mentality. The question you may be asking as you face what’s to come is: What is my company’s next “big idea” -- and how will I get the team to achieve a loftier set of goals?
As Chief Marketing Officers who helped CEOs navigate the turmoil that roiled 2022, we believe it’s a great time to consider the teachings of Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim – whose “Blue Ocean Strategy” playbook has never been more relevant.
To escape the Red Ocean environment of tumult and to transit to a Blue Ocean of differentiation, it requires a departure from single-minded thinking that leads to 2 percent growth. In fact, it’s time to talk turkey with your teams about what business you’re really in. Are you about the total consumer or customer experience in an entire category, or do you just own a slice?
Do you have a long-standing track record in the category, or are you just getting started? Are you the market leader or a scrappy upstart? Zooming in a bit: As an example, do you compete in pens or writing instruments? Do you compete in face moisturizer or skincare? Do you compete in furnace filters or air filters?
It may seem like an impossible conquest to define your market, while redefining your place in it, in one fell swoop. However, we find that there are six things that you and your leadership team can do right now that will help you get there in this planning cycle. Let’s take a look.
1. Re-frame how you think about your products, your category, your market share, and your current customers.
As we hinted above, it’s time to be honest about your place in your market – and in consumers’ hearts. Often, we find that SMBs will consider new product lines and additional business expansion outside of their current category, when all they really need to do is re-energize the organization on their core business, in their current category, with their current customers. This requires a keen focus on how you approach your category, and whether it is in lockstep with the needs of our current customers – TODAY.
Start by conducting a SWOT analysis -- and understand what it is that you do well. With this in hand, consider how you have defined the category in which you compete. Surprisingly, many CEOs find that their “share” of the category is far smaller than they thought – not close to being tapped -- and the best growth opportunities can be gained by doing what you do best in your existing category. This leads us to:
2. Get your current customers to buy more of what you already sell.
When is the last time you or your leadership team observed how your current customers use your products? Are they using it to meet their recurring needs in an optimal way? Are there other jobs they could use your product to do? What new jobs would your existing equity carry to?
As an example, Bounce Dryer Sheets were launched to soften and freshen laundry but have gained a whole new utility when used to freshen closets, lockers, gym bags, and the like. Similarly, Bounty Paper Towels – often thought of as a kitchen clean-up staple – are gaining acceptance as a disposable bathroom towel.
3. Trade your customers up to a premium version of your existing product with a higher margin.
Now, consider the most important and meaningful benefits your product delivers. Can you deliver any of these even better -- at a slight incremental expense? Now is the time to test some of these new innovations with consumers, to understand if they will pay for it.
Some examples of brand tweaks that have added value to the core offering:
4. Trade your customers across to additional products within your current “broader” view of the category.
Let’s stick with this concept for a bit, but with a slightly different twist: Consider the idea of thinking about what other products, tools, or services your customer might be using when they consume your product -- brushes for cleaning, wipes for makeup, paper for pens, glasses for wine, etc. When considering this, you’ll want to bear in mind whether your current manufacturing, supply, and logistics capabilities would support the delivery of such products.
Some successful examples:
5. Create a win-win alliance with other successful brands.
Often, turning to an outside brand with whom to partner is a logical way to add the credibility of the equity of a product. Consider other brands that are used with your product or service on the same occasion, with the same customer base.
Such alliances have included the Red Bull energy drink and Go Pro video cameras; Target and Starbucks; Pottery Barn and Sherwin-Williams; and Starbucks and Barnes & Noble.
6. Expand your consumer or customer base for products you currently sell.
Finally, consider updating your customer segmentation to understand where the high-value segments live in your category. It may be that the value or benefits of your products or services are underdeveloped with certain consumer or customer segments. Or perhaps you just need to articulate your value proposition and your benefits in a different way, enabling you to open up a whole new segment. One mind-bending possibility: If you are a B2C company, consider if there are compelling B2B channels for your existing products. If B2B, consider B2C.
It's this thinking that led Folgers Coffee and Keurig coffee makers to go from a D2C model to the hospitality industry; and has led car tire manufacturers to sell to corporate fleet managers.
As a CEO, it’s time to step up and accept more than the status quo. Market conditions today require a mindset shift that increases the utility and acceptability of your product, amid heavy competition for a shrinking consumer dollar.
Can we at Chief Outsiders be of assistance to you as you consider how to extend your brand today? Please reach out.