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3 Pillars to Build an Effective Growth Strategy - Pillar #1, Insights

The most frequent requests I get from new business clients is, “I want a website, a brochure, a social media campaign!” Understandably, they want to jump out there and generate new leads, build lists, etc. They want tactics.

Unfortunately, they rarely want to spend time understanding the dynamics of the market in which they are competing, and to think through the strategies to build an enduring brand. So my first job is to put up a “slow down for strategy” sign.

Then, I introduce them to the “3 Pillars” of how to define their business growth: Insights, Brand, and Plan. And yes, the order does matter. I genuinely believe that if you follow these pillars, you will have an effective strategic growth plan.

Let’s get to it. The first in this 3-part series is Insights.


You need to start here.

It’s extremely important to understand what the voice of your customer is, what your competitors are doing, and the overall makeup of the marketplace in which you’re competing in order to define your strategies.

There are many ways to gather the necessary data to help you identify the insights to help you develop your strategies; however, two of the principal methodologies are qualitative and quantitative research.

Qualitative research uses methods like interviews, focus groups, conversations, etc. For instance, when I worked in the action sports industry, we would sometimes go to a teen’s house and look to see what boards they owned and what brands they had in their closet; when I worked in the restaurant industry, we would literally help out at the counter to understand customer questions and concerns. This ethnographic research also included the numerous focus groups with potential customers to determine variables on how behaviors such as how they select the wine or spirit they drink, which shirt or pair of shoes they want to wear, and even how they clean their houses.

Quantitative research is methods resulting in the statistical work, projections, predictive analytics that give you confidence in the decisions you make for your business. So this is when someone says something like “35% of your market says. . .” meaning they have done some type of quantitative study, segmentation work, surveys, etc. to try and understand the market and have confidence in what the data is telling them.

Caution: Always be careful when someone implements a qualitative study but reports the data quantitatively. For example, someone goes out and interviews 20 people, and then comes back and says “47% of my interviewees that represent your market say (whatever).” This is good feedback as an observation, but it’s not data you should base important company altering decisions.

When you think about the types of information you should know or data to collect, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Why do your customers choose you? Is it because they love your product, your customer service, your company, or your price-point? There is always a reason why your customer chose you over someone else, and you need to understand why. If you understand that, you can use that in your messaging strategies.

2. Who are your real competitors? I have been in meetings where business leaders will say that they don’t have any competitors. They are the one and only leader in their industry. Wrong! Everyone has a competitor. Someone else is knocking on the door of your customers or potential customers. So think about who your real competitors are: is it across your entire marketplace, across different verticals; across different demographics or firmographics?

3. How do you target your customers to meet their biggest challenge? What are their pain points you are trying to solve? What challenges do they have in the marketplace? If you don’t talk to them, however, you are just guessing. We want to take the guesswork out of this. Don’t guess. Guessing can be filled with bias, especially with your own people giving you their opinions.

4. What is the best way to market to your primary target audience? How do they consume information? What’s the hierarchy? What’s their customer journey: from hearing about you to their investigation, and to purchase? For example, is your demographic older or younger? If they are older, perhaps they like to consume information in a particular way versus if they are younger. So, if you are creating a lot of content to reach this demographic, you want to make sure that you aren’t wasting your time and resources on mediums and creative that won’t ultimately appeal to this primary target audience.

5. What’s the real benefit that your brand provides? You may think it’s simple: such as my product has greater functionality or my service is superior, etc. However, perhaps that’s not really the reason at all. That’s why you need to have conversations with your customers. Being certain of what the real value or benefit is, is crucial in strategic and tactical planning.

6. How strong is your brand in the marketplace? Is your brand healthy? Do you really know how your brand is perceived? Clients in the past have boasted that their customers know all about their brand. Then, when we went out and did the research; we would find out that their customers knew about some aspects of their products, but nothing really about the company or the full extent of their offerings. So gather insights, whether it be formal or more informal–what I call “grandmother research”, i.e., just getting on the phone; going outside the boardroom to talk with your customers.

Also, if you decide to interview customers or prospects, make sure that the same one or two people remain the interviewers of those surveys, to help eliminate bias. Too many cooks in the survey kitchen increase your chance of bias.

Lastly, if you are using secondary research (something produced by someone else) to build a strategy, make sure you understand where it came from so that you’re confident that the methodology is sound.

I hope this has got you thinking about the importance of gathering data to find those insights to help in developing your brand and messaging strategies.

Check out Part 2 of this blog series, BRANDING. Coming soon!

On my website, we have some helpful resources – videos, eBooks, podcasts for example. And, if you do not have an ongoing competitive intelligence program in place, CLICK HERE to access an ebook on establishing an on-going competitive intelligence program.

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