Scaling your business? First, do this…
SCALE UP — WITHOUT BLOATING
At SomeOne — the №1 branding business in the UK no less! — we’ve helped businesses navigate significant growth for the past decade — I’ve seen the same themes arise every time we meet a management team with scaling on their minds…
» How do we keep what got us here? They ask…
…but enable it to be communicated to the 100+ people now onboard?
» And grow our market share!
» Without alienating current customers!
On and on it predictably goes…
The truth is — there is no silver bullet — all brands are complex, nuanced and different — but there are some excellent common approaches we use at SomeOne that can help business flourish as they grow…
BEWARE OF CONSULTANTS THAT CONSULT BUT DO NOT CREATE
There’s endless numbers of people who will rush to your aid in these instances. All with complex flow charts and claims of effectiveness.
Management consultants galore will crawl in the door when it comes to unifying the ship ready for growth — but after they leave — what’s left to help?
In our experience growing successfully can be very simply managed — but it needs to be believed in by the people and sustainable for the business. The company values are important… but not if they are bland.
If you are an organisation at a point of change — and that growth is your focus — look at what got you here. Tenacity? Clarity? A real sense of purpose? A feeling of finding better ways to do things than the status quo offered? Right… you and everyone else in business.
If you are hoping to really be in charge of your own destiny, you are going have to dig an awful lot deeper than these truisms.
BRAND VALUES SHOULDN’T BE CROWD PLEASERS
I’ve been in a thousand meetings where CEOs have told me of their belief in keeping their brand Human, Trusted & Clear. Only to be somewhat crushed when told that who in their right mind would want to work for an inhuman, untrustworthy confusing company. So these perfectly acceptable words, guaranteed to be inoffensive, and likeable by the masses — fall flat when it comes to tuning up this business ready for the next step.
When identifying any kind of values for your brand to grow with, make them deliberate — not apologetic. Don’t box tick, push from the truth, from the heart. If you think you should choose kind, transparent, reliable, innovative & sexy — you better make sure you can live up to each of those. And while everyone thinks Transparent is a great value, unless you are happy to publish your salary, perhaps it’s not for you. Values run deep and should drive business behaviour daily.
According to the thirteenth of Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling, characters must have opinions: “Passive/malleable might seem likeable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.”
The writers at Pixar talk about how rookies often write characters up as charming, friendly, happy and kind parts of the story, only to find that audiences are bored by their actions, are in engaged with their storylines and ultimately feel the character is flat, dull and lifeless. Characters with hard won and deeply defended beliefs are the ones we back, the ones we fall for and cheer on. Buzz Lightyear really does believe there’s been an error and he should be in space… Bambi experiences the death of his mother early on — Ana & Elsa lose both parents at sea in Disney’s smash-hit ‘Frozen’ so become obsessed with Love and Control. Equally the brand that blindly stops along happily humming a tune is almost entirely odds with what populates cultures — stories.
INTERNAL STORIES ARE USEFUL
I’ve always loved Nikes internal story of ‘Irreverence Justified’ — it drives their mindset, so when someone designs a shoe made out of string that glows in the dark, you’ve lived up to the irreverent bit… now you just need to make sure it’s lighter, stronger and more useful to satisfy the ‘Justified’ part. As you scale, it’s worth developing a few of these. Not all of them will survive. But those that do can deliver considerable value as you rack up the monthly salary bill.
These concentrated brand stories take many forms and do not always have to be externally expressed. Google’s ‘Don’t Be Evil’ is intended to guide new recruits away from time wasting endeavours that will ultimately be quashed by more senior managers. It’s a cost saver.
Meanwhile, Sky’s ‘Believe in Better’ is a rally call internally and a promise externally. It’s not just marketing… which is of course disliked and seen as evil by the masses — it’s a mini business plan to turn to when times get tough…
SET YOUR BUSINESSES RUDDER WITH CARE
To scale — you need to identify not only what got you here, but what’s going to get you to your destination — and what is that destination? Do you want to sell the whole thing? Remain in control, float it, take it global or diversify? Whatever you choose will directly influence the rudder you need to get there.
Defining this rudder can appear to be a daunting process — but if you can identity what resonates with your current and future audiences — what your competitors are up to — and what lies at the heart of your business regarding the offer, product or service — you should rapidly be able to arrive at compelling territories that could be used to guide your actions.
Brands are actions — not logo’s — so pick your actions carefully.
AVOID THE TRAP OF MIMETIC ISOMORPHISM
I know, what a headline! — Mimetic Isomorphism is the tendency of an organisation to imitate another organisation’s structure because of the belief that the structure of the other organisation is beneficial. You find it in nature, where two species cross breed so frequently they merge. It’s a nightmare for brands and should be avoided like the plague by business on the way up to SuperBrandom™
Do not follow the path of least resistance when developing your brand rudder, your brands values and internal stories — these well trodden paths will ultimately all meet at the same place.
There’s a lovely phrase we often cite, ‘Culture eats process for breakfast’ — and it’s true that people buy into why you are doing something more than what you’re doing. So it pays dividends to look at your culture, see what sings out as own able and amplify it as you grow.
JOIN THE DOTS
The most destructive element we have seen in business as they grow is lack of consensus.
All of the steps I’ve mentioned are designed to enable people to agree. Nothing’s fixed, so there’s nothing to worry about… values adapt, stories end and are retold differently, rudders can be adjusted. But to grow fast, without falling into micro management, people need to know why they get up in the morning.
I’ve always loved the story of JFK meeting a man with a mop in NASA’s HQ corridor…
‘What do you do here?’ JFK enquired.
‘I’m putting a man on the moon’ Mr.Mop proudly replied.
It’s that level of belief you need in your staff and that level of commitment you need to be seen by your audiences to exhibit.
Get these cultural elements right and your team will march into battle with you knowing that they are not just building the next powerpoint presentation, but that they are part of something big, that’s only going to get bigger.