Growth in business, and what drives it, was the focus of Brand Learning’s “Growth Drivers Study,” which surveyed 1,000 executives across 42 countries, including 70 senior board-level directors. (See the infographic below)
The happiness of customers is seen as the most critical driver of growth in business globally, giving marketers a unique opportunity to drive a new customer-centric growth agenda. Yet, it can still be a struggle to deliver that promise and create a more joined-up customer experience.
As the champions of the customer, CMOs are in a unique position to understand the challenges and galvanise their organisations to refocus on and address customers’ needs. But how? And what needs to be done differently in practice? Let’s first look at the challenges.
In the face of unprecedented technology and data transformation, the reality of the planet’s finite resources, and the long shadow of global recession, the notion of growth at any cost is being fundamentally challenged. While growth remains a clear global business imperative, a more inspiring purpose behind growth—for both corporations and individuals—and a more inclusive notion of growth that involves employees, not controls them, have become vital.
“Growth Driver” businesses, which were identified in the research as companies with a sustained record of at least 6% annual growth over the past three years, confidence in their ability to meet their future growth goals, and admired by business leaders globally, tend to do things very differently to the competition.
They do a series of things which together form a new “Growth Code”—they create a growth-ready organisation, function, or team; they involve their people in the growth challenge; and they fuel momentum by sustained, inspiring growth driving leadership.
The research revealed that customer-centred leadership, clear capability strategies, and a focus on more than profit are the top three factors in generating sustained growth in business today. But what does that mean for CMOs, and what should they do differently in practice?
1. Embrace Customer-Centricity
Creating a growth-ready organisation means reinventing the entire company, brand, or team, starting with the customer experience and working backwards. The research identifies customer-centricity as a key differentiator of “Growth Driver” companies, with 74% having a structure built around their customer experiences, while 81% have customer-centred leadership at the highest level.
This is a shift far bigger than simply having a customer-centricity programme and demands that brands reshape their business around the needs of the consumer. At the heart of this change is having a clear and inspiring purpose to galvanise the energy of the organisation.
Generally, CMOs follow three general routes to growth: evolving brands into new categories, new positions, price points, and markets; acquiring new brands; or inventing entirely new propositions. “Growth Driver” businesses, however, make these difficult choices with a genuine and relentless focus on what will deliver most value to their customers, not simply focusing on the bottom line.
Focusing on profitability alone gets in the way of investing in sustainable brand building and growth. Instead of saying “this is the number we’re going to hit,” smart marketers start with explaining: “this is how we want to grow … and why.”
2. Futureproof Yourself
In the face of the relentless demands of our always-on, technology-driven lives, it is all too easy for marketers dedicated to growing their businesses to neglect their personal development and that of their teams. Talent is at the heart of “Growth Driver” businesses, and 65% of successful fast-growing businesses believe that the talent and effectiveness of their employees are the most important factor for growth. In order to thrive, marketers must dedicate enough energy to developing the skills of themselves and their teams. Almost half of business leaders at high-growth companies dedicate at least two or more days per month to personal learning, training, and capability development.
Purpose is a key differentiator of “Growth Driver” companies, with 87% having a clear company, team, or brand purpose. Leading companies also set out a growth purpose that ignites the imagination and energy of their teams, and drives their strategic choices.
Marketers have a key role in creating, developing, and involving their team in aligning behind an authentic, compelling purpose. Our research revealed that business leaders are tired of hearing about “transformation” and missions that are “laminated, not lived.” In contrast, companies such as Unilever, which have a strong sustainability purpose, thread their purpose through everything they do, from new product development to recruitment.
3. Spearhead Collaboration, Creativity, And Curiosity
CMOs are no longer assessed simply on the brilliance of their marketing campaigns but on their ability to innovate and collaborate to drive sustainable growth. In an era of intense disruption, marketers need not only to be comfortable working across disciplines but also collaborating with external specialists, creative and entrepreneurial upstarts.
Technology is transforming everything we do, and great marketers drive continual and collaborative experimentation. This approach underpins innovations such as Diageo Tech Ventures, which brings together tech entrepreneurs and startups to solve the companies’ business challenges and unlock future growth opportunities.
4. Inspire Change
Growth is a state of mind, and leading companies are setting out a purpose for growth that ignites the energy and imagination of their people, their customers, and their consumers.
Our research confirms that achieving growth in the midst of fundamental economic challenges and in the face of unprecedented digital transformation relies on companies’ ability to change. And it shows that the appetite for that change is there—69% of respondents are confident about their company being able to change to meet growth goals.
The opportunity for marketers, who have long been at the forefront of consumers’ changing behaviours and expectations, is unprecedented. But harnessing this new growth agenda requires more than functional excellence or flair. It demands superb leadership skills, total commitment, and enduring courage.