Oh Business, How Do I Grow Thee? Let Me Count the Ways
by Felicia Rogers

  • Marketing Research
    When I typed the word "growth" into Google Search, I was immediately (within 0.46 seconds it says) presented with 747,000,000 results. There are pictures, graphs, articles, and definitions. Dictionary.com defines growth as "the act or process, or a manner of growing; development; gradual increase."

    In a simple-to-understand context, we might associate growth with a child’s development as she ages and matures. Children grow physically and mentally. As time passes, they become more coordinated, stronger, taller, and more sophisticated. There is a notable and measurable trajectory to their development. We can see it and accept it, even if we don’t understand all of the biology/science behind it.

But what about the business environment? When we talk about growth in this context, there are so many things we could mean. Sure there’s physical increase, as businesses manufacture and sell more products. We can measure rising (or growing) revenue, profits, and market share. In order to keep up with production or sales, employees might be added (growing headcount). For restaurants and retailers, new locations are opened, thus growing the size of the chain. New geographic markets or territories are opened up, distribution expands, etc. You get the idea.

I would argue that, for almost any business, growth comes in many additional forms, as well. Depending on the type of organization, it may include any or all of the following related to the brand, product, or service:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Trial
  • Repeat purchase or usage
  • Loyalty
  • Brand equity
  • Innovations
  • Line extensions

A host of factors influence these important, but "softer," elements of growth, including overt advertising, social media, word of mouth, package design, distribution, shelf placement, POS (point of sale) communications, pricing strategy, promotions, and PR (public relations). Pulling any one (or a combination) of these “levers” is likely to help your brand or organization grow—assuming each lever, itself, is effective.

So how can you determine whether or not each of the levers will make a positive impact? Be sure to build consumer testing into the planning process. Every growth strategy should include the time and budget to evaluate at least the key elements of the plan. Here are a few examples:

  • Qualitative research (focus groups, in-depth interviews, observation) conducted among a loosely defined target audience will uncover attitudes, opinions, and motivations, along with competitive challenges and opportunities. The learning can be used to develop a clear communication strategy, against which creative briefs can be written and campaigns can be designed.
  • Ideation and innovation sessions (especially those including consumers or other types of end users who have an exceptional ability to generate unique ideas) lead to breakthrough new product or service concepts, innovative package designs, unique menu items, new brand names, strategic repositioning directions, and the like. These sessions are useful for keeping the pipeline filled with new concepts for future growth.
  • Concept evaluation is essential for distinguishing outstanding ideas from the mediocre and the, ahem, “not-so-great” ones. Systematically screening through early ideas among the right group of category users (and prospects) helps identify the ones most promising for further development. Those top ideas then feed into more rigorous tests to identify necessary improvements and to measure potential for each one’s success. An easy-to-utilize concept evaluation system, including a database of test concepts and results, can save a company millions of dollars by helping to avoid the potential disaster of launching suboptimal or undesirable products.
  • Virtual shopping exercises can be used to optimize a number of in-store variables. That is, within a survey, things like pricing, package design, promotions, shelf placement, facings, signage, and a host of other variables can be both tested for effectiveness and optimized to ensure maximum sales potential. Additionally, this technique can deliver guidance on how to vary the in-store elements to best position your product to take share from the competition.
  • Advertising pretesting allows a company and its agency to cost-effectively gauge the potential performance of new creative. Does the strategy resonate with the target audience? Do the executions deliver the intended messages? Is the advertising motivational? And, very importantly, how can we improve the advertising to dial up its effectiveness before going on air?
  • Strategic brand tracking is designed to keep a pulse on key indicators of brand health. For a new brand, a modest study to benchmark awareness, trial, repeat usage or purchase, and future intentions to buy is an essential measurement tool as the brand is first being introduced or brought into test markets. It can also be used to gauge consumer perceptions of the brand relative to its competitors. As the brand rolls out, gains broader distribution, advertises more aggressively, and establishes a foothold in the market, brand tracking is important for monitoring a brand’s progress within the competitive landscape over time.

Just like when we take our children to the doctor to assess their health and measure their growth each year, many types of research play an important role during a brand’s lifecycle. Every brand’s management team needs this critical guidance to maintain a healthy brand that continues to grow over time.

About the Author

Felicia Rogers (frogers@decisionanalyst.com) is an Executive Vice President of Decision Analyst. She may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.


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