Challenge yourself and make Change

15 Apr 2015|Paul Cowper

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about exactly how it is that brands and marketing can support business’ growth agendas.

As clearly they must. There are many perfectly plausible views on how this can and should happen, and the process of selecting one above all others can be daunting. These conversations have forced me to ask myself what, of all the marketing work I’ve seen and done has made that vital difference and meant that it landed and worked.

It would be nice to think that it’s simply great work that creates growth impact. But often the work itself can be intelligent, insightful and qualitatively strong, yet sometimes it simply doesn’t deliver the impact for clients that we aim for. And unfortunately in these cases it has to be considered a failure, no matter how smart it might be. I’d love to claim a 100% success rate here, but sadly I can’t and I doubt anyone really could. Some things I’ve done have landed spectacularly well, yet other things that were qualitatively similar never came to fruition. So what is it that makes the difference?

What’s the factor that distinguishes between work that delivers growth and work that doesn’t? The most common opinion seems to be that growth has to be consumer led. The implication is that it’s impossible to listen too much, be too attentive or too close to customers.

This is inarguably true – businesses need customers so above all else best listen to them. There’s another factor at play which is potentially equally significant – a business’ ability to truly challenge itself and its beliefs in order to be better. That may sound obvious, what business doesn’t want to improve? But how many businesses (including AV) are truly prepared to challenge themselves and make changes in order to grow? My deeply unscientific perspective is that what makes a real difference is a combination of the ability and willingness of a business to challenge itself on the basis of deep consumer understanding.

Any business operates within real factor limitations – commercial, logistical, the need for short term ROI – but too often I have seen businesses limited not only by their situation, but by their beliefs. “We can’t deliver that at scale”, “there’s no demand in X”, “going there will erode our core business” all examples of such beliefs. These exist for a reason, typically because of a past failure, and once established the business’ hive mind can perpetuate beliefs which can be very difficult and uncomfortable to dislodge.

But the past does not have to drive the future, and there’s real danger in allowing yourself to be boxed in by such opportunity limiting notions. Nokia didn’t challenge the status quo to find growth beyond what they knew in the realms of mobile technology, ultimately being pushed out of the market by Apple and Blackberry. Whereas the likes of Jaguar Land Rover have taken themselves out of their automotive manufacturing comfort zone to build a global masterbrand that successfully ranked in the Top 50 Superbrands for 2014. Whilst Sky also faced change, risking their advertising model by launching Sky+ and experienced growth as a result.

So of course you need to attend to your customers and consumers and if in doing so you find space for growth, then brilliant. But when you stop finding it then maybe it’s time to turn the focus back onto yourself and seek new opportunities.


Paul Cowper, Managing Director, Added Value UK

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