Breaking through the growth barrier

Dominik Prinz
Booom. Did you hear it? Yet another up-and-coming business has invented a new operating model, out-maneuvered some more-experienced players in its category—and within the blink of an eye broken through the metaphorical “Growth Barrier,” becoming another economic Wunderkind—a Breakthrough—that’s considered to be worth billions before it even rings the bell of its own IPO.

We draw an analogy between breaking the sonic barrier and business growth. Why? Because sonic barrier describes the sudden increase in aerodynamic drag experienced by an aircraft when it approaches supersonic speed. And when it breaks that speed barrier, sonic booms generate enormous amounts of energy, sounding just like an explosion.

One might say that this resembles what is frequently happening in today’s market: entrepreneurs who are bold enough to challenge the conventions of entire categories are accelerating their businesses’ growth so quickly that, when news of them hitting their first billion-dollar valuation breaks, it must resemble the sound of a sonic boom, both in volume and reach.

Right now, the world is resonating with the sounds of trailblazing brands that have broken through: Airbnb turned the hotel category on its head, Tesla challenged decades of automotive conventions, the likes of Uber and Lyft have dared to re-invent personal transportation, Snapchat changed the way people connect socially, and Pokémon Go needed no more than a few weeks to engage millions of people and businesses around the world in a hunt for fictional cyber creatures.

The questions are: What separates the businesses that do break through the growth barrier from the ones that never reach it? And what is that powerful fuel that helps them accelerate fast enough to make it through?

Over the course of our 40-plus years, Interbrand has worked with some of the world’s largest Fortune 100 companies and most agile startups alike. Looking at the ones that were extremely fast to reach and sustain an impressive level of business growth, the very same—and (as with most good things in life) very simple—growth formula applied. Let’s look at how some recent sonic boomers did it:DOM BTB image updatedThat sounds rather simple, doesn’t it?

Then why do 80-90 percent of startups fail?

Making it real is pretty hard, after all. And so many businesses (existing and new) fail to replicate this formula. This is mainly because of three growing pains that keep them from reaching their full potential:

1. Lack of Focus:
Very often, organizations—even when they’re still small or only comprise the founders and their initial team—lack a shared focus. Too often, they try to be too many things to too many people. And while they go down that road with the best of intentions—to cover more segments, to play in more categories, to generate more revenue streams—it is very rarely a successful path to explore in the early stages of a business venture. If the brand is not clear on its own purpose, customers won’t be either.

2. Lack of Alignment:
Another growing pain on the path to success is missing processes and structures that are necessary for an organization to rally the right troops around the right table at the right times. Much energy is being wasted on the inside with redundant meetings and talk, while people on the outside are waiting for the “next big thing.” Internal processes are needed (and are often important to hedge risk), but in order to thrive in today’s hypercompetitive world at the speed of life, organizations need to allow for iterative exploration, beta testing, and faster decision-making. Take a look at Google: It’s a big (i.e., real big) business that has scaled lean startup principles to hit the ground running and power right through the growth barrier.

3. Lack of Activation:
The third obstacle to accelerated growth is a too-superficial understanding of what it takes to bring a brand to life. We live in a world where the degree to which customers engage in (and talk about) the experience you provide them defines the degree and longevity of your success. And while the number of potential touchpoints and the changes you can make to them can be overwhelming, it is absolutely critical to identify what the most relevant experiences are for your audiences. Once you know, relentlessly prioritize them—invest in user experience (UE) design and activation, and create a seamless connection between them. Too often, the excellence of a few selected touchpoints is sacrificed in order to maintain the mediocrity of too many. While being present is important, emerging companies must be good at creating hallmark brand experiences that stick with people. Apple understood that early, when it invested heavily in its stores. Uber has gained traction by continuously improving its app. And today, Breakthrough Brand Shinola is following this formula by relentlessly focusing on the quality and durability of its product. What are you prioritizing as the signature experience of your brand?

Of course, doing all these things right takes discipline—which does not always come easily during the early growth stages of a potential new breakthrough. Priorities shift, people change, the market turns, the competition reacts. It is challenging for many Breakthrough Brands to keep the eye on the prize and not get distracted.

For exactly that reason, we have developed the Interbrand Accelerator—a service that helps companies at all stages successfully navigate the most critical moments of their growth and alleviates the above-mentioned growing pains.

The Accelerator combines a proprietary analysis of ten key growth factors (including the five measures of a Breakthrough Brand) and features a data dashboard that sources leading indicators, fast-moving metrics, and customized data to spot and visualize opportunity areas. The information is used to align key decision-makers around a shared set of strategic priorities, and to identify the most urgent and impactful actions the business can take in order to create a holistic, connected customer experience that’s hard to resist.

This is a powerful tool for the next generation of business leaders who are keen to align their organizations around delivering a coherent brand and to rapidly capitalize on opportunities for business growth.

And when the next big “booom!” echoes through the industry, signaling a new brand breaking through the growth barrier, who wouldn’t want be the person in the pilot seat?

Executive Director/Head of Strategy