Becoming a ‘shake-up’ ready brand

Blockbusters, the 90s video rental chain, is all too often rolled out as the example of a business seemingly blindsided by technological innovation, whose collapse saw it go from 9000 stores worldwide in 2004 to just one in 2018.

But I don’t believe the vast majority of Blockbusters’ management didn’t know they needed to change - they simply weren’t set up to do so.

Kodak is another overused example of a company that failed to shake up its business model. Kodak engineer Steven Sassor actually invented the first portable, battery-operated, self-contained digital camera in 1975 meaning the firm was once in the best possible position to own that shift from manual to digital photography. However they were so focused on the sale of film being their primary revenue source that they were eventually left behind.

The ability to shake-up a business model is the key to long-term success and growth. ‘Startup’ and ‘scaleup’ are terms with which we are all familiar, but I want to propose ‘shake-up’ as a business descriptor. Or rather, ‘set up to shake-up’.

Business-defining change can come from anywhere, at any time. It can be something macro, like global market economics, recession, legislation or major sector advancements or it can be unique to a sector, such as supply chain issues, shipping problems or new competition.

But how a business deals with change will define how it weathers every storm. And the word business is key here, because the only way to have a resilient brand is if there is a resilient business behind it.

So, what are the key attributes of a resilient, set up to shake-up-ready business, and who has done it really well?

  • Resilient businesses can adapt to changing market conditions, consumer preferences, and technological advancements. They are flexible enough to pivot their strategies and offerings, when necessary, without losing sight of their core values.             
  • They put the customer at the centre, understanding their needs, preferences, and pain points, and then tailoring products, services, and experiences to address them effectively.
  • A resilient business should have a clear and consistent identity that resonates with its target audience, encompassing the brand's values, mission, and personality, helping to differentiate it from competitors and build a loyal customer base.
  • Businesses that prioritise quality and consistency in product, service and experience are more likely to retain loyal customers and attract new ones, even when entering new markets or categories.
  • Those that have built trust, credibility, and goodwill with their customers and stakeholders are better equipped to weather challenges and navigate changes in the market.
  • Finally, it is crucial not to underestimate the power of long-term investment, in areas such as marketing, advertising, and customer engagement. Consistently prioritising these brand building activities is far more likely to create enduring value and resilience.

But while the theory is all well and good, which companies have done this well in recent years?

Love them or hate them, easyJet is a strong example. The Easy Group has managed to expand into a whole spectrum of categories - from storage to weddings to gyms - all under the same, easily identifiable brand halo. By maintaining a consistent brand image across all its ventures, emphasising simplicity, affordability, and accessibility, customers recognise and trust Easy Group products and services regardless of the industry, with its orange branding having become a synonymous short-cut for a simple, no frills offering.

Consider also LEGO, which was failing fast in the early 2000s before it embarked on a number of brand collaborations, notably producing co-branded building sets inspired by Star Wars and Harry Potter, as well as partnerships with Fortnite and Levi’s. This ability to shape-shift into multiple highly relevant passion points concurrently, without pigeonholing it, aligning it with certain consumers, makes it a pin-up for what brand resilience looks like.

And then there are the surprising failures. Intel and Amazon both catastrophically failed to cash in on the mobile phone market, despite having huge globally recognised brands and mega investments, while the less said about Colgate’s ill-judged attempt in 1982 to move into the ready-meals market (yes, really), the better.

All the brands namechecked here are miles away from startup territory, so how can younger businesses ensure they are in a position to make the attributes listed above a reality?

  • Stay agile: Foster a culture of agility and flexibility within the organisation, allowing for quick decision-making and adaptation to changing circumstances.
  • Invest in innovation: Continually explore opportunities to diversify revenue streams to reduce reliance on any single product, consumer or market segment.
  • Be across your customer value proposition: Regularly look to complete Value Proposition Mapping with different audience segments. It will ensure you’re delivering a functional and emotional need to your audience segments that they genuinely care about, and will flag areas where you can improve and give more.
  • Monitor market trends: Keep a close and constant eye on market trends, emerging technologies, and competitive developments to identify potential opportunities or threats and ensure the marketing and product teams work together to develop and bring the right things to market.

Startups are accountable for their clients and are much closer to their customers in a way that bigger companies with more bureaucracy simply aren’t. This means you have to be smarter and make smarter decisions. Don’t lose this when you scale. Set these above attributes into the DNA of your business and protect them at all costs.

Business should always be anticipating what’s coming, and know they not only have a plan to respond to it, but that they are agile enough to move fast.

There are a hundred factors to consider if you want your business to be truly set up to shake-up, and this piece highlights just a few of the bigger themes. Constantly monitoring the market, looking at how you respond to evolution and innovation, empowering your team and speeding up decision making are all fundamentals if you want your business to not just survive, but thrive.