BrandingWire: The Fail Boat

The Fail Boat
Originally uploaded by Certified

There are thousands of blogs out there that talk about the importance of failure. They claim that it is important to fail … and to fail well. They claim that it is important to learn how to fail because until then you have not pushed your limits. But what happens when you reach those limits? What happens to your brand, your self esteem or your employees?

This month’s BrandingWire challenge asks the question — how do you market a failing business? The nitty-gritty is:

Revenues: $1 million to $25 million
Employees: 150 or fewer
Verticals: High-tech and health care
Location: North America
Challenges: Consumers and other businesses have so many choices, that high-tech businesses as well as their other target audience made up of clinics and hospitals are either showing stagnant growth or they are losing market share.
Client’s Problem: They don’t know how to differentiate themselves from their competition.

Now, having made a few poor decisions myself, the situation presented here reminds me of the great sadness that comes from needing to pullout of a project or business. But the most important thing to remember — is the need to make decisions. When businesses get to the point where it is obvious that they are failing, many choose to carry on as planned … burying their heads in the sand and working harder, longer and heavier. At this point in a business, the answer is not to do more … but to do less, well.
In many ways, this is not about branding and marketing but about business analysis and consulting … and sometimes your marketing folks will be the best asset you still have.
Start with your portfolio
Have your marketing person/team go through your offerings. Start again. Re-assess the strengths of your offerings. Check out your competitors. Choose to play in the top 50% of the market. If you realise that some of your products cannot secure a footprint in the upper echelon of that category, bundle up your clients and products and hold a fire sale. Also, ask your finance team to look at margins and clients — many companies draw >70% of their profits from 30% of their business. These are the clients that you need to delight — the rest should be politely fired. They are costing you too much to play … and you can ill afford them.
Reach out
While the last thing that you want to do is to spend money you don’t have coming in … there is still an absolute need to communicate with your clients. Remind your clients that you are committed to helping them grow their business, but also explain the restructuring that is underway. Ensure that there is a program of follow-up in place and that the sales and account teams actively make the calls and arrange meetings. Find ways of telling the new, value-add, better focus story.
The growth problem
Just as Malcolm Gladwell identified a tipping point for adoption of ideas, products and services, there is a similar point that occurs in the growth of business. When you are small you just need good people. When you grow, you need process and systems. And as you get bigger you need capacity and capability — you need to be able to scale. At each of these inflection points, organisations face potential ruin. It is IMPOSSIBLE to market yourself out of these situations … but you can honestly represent yourself.
Go back into your corporate history, find the genesis story — the reason that you came to being. Re-evaluate it in light of recent history — and ask yourself "how far from this have we come?". Begin to talk about the old times … the things that worked, the projects that were a success — and remind yourself and your teams about what makes your business a great, and important business. Tell your clients and mean it. Forget the powerpoint. Forget the spin. Talk about the difference you can make.
Keep your eyes on the prize
And as you continue to refocus, trim costs, drive profits and reimagine your business, remember to watch your costs. Watch the cash flow. Don’t get caught up in a hype cycle (whether marketing or technology driven) — start and keep delivering outstanding customer experiences … and the rest will look after itself.
Other BrandingWire viewpoints:
But don’t take my word for it … check out the views of the other BrandingWire folks:
Olivier Blanchard
Becky Carroll
Derrick Daye
Kevin Dugan
Lewis Green
Martin Jelsema

Valeria Maltoni
Drew McLellan
Patrick Schaber
Steve Woodruff

6 thoughts on “BrandingWire: The Fail Boat

  1. “Find ways of telling the new, value-add, better focus story.” It starts with the business. I was discussing this last night and thinking that many still perceive the brand as a marketing bag of tricks — it is absolutely related to and weaved into the fabric of the business. It’s the conversation around what you do. Loved the titled you picked.

  2. Outstanding evaluation, Gav. I agree. Figure out what you can do well and focus your energies there. Most of all, be honest with yourself. No one stands to benefit by everyone piling on the same backbreaking junk that got you into this mess in the first place.

  3. Gavin:
    Yes, right on about profiling your offerings and your client base. I often advise my clients to do the same, particularly if they are service providers. I’ve found some companies attempting to sell services to prospects that just don’t see the need for those services. Lots of wheel spinning with no results. Also, I advise them to profile their best customers, if they’ve been in business any length of time, and find prospects with the same qualitites. This is relevant for small service providers like accounting firms and commercial real estate brokers for instance.

  4. Gavin,
    Boy, you are right. Everyone touts how great failing is, until it’s their company! I think this is a profile of a company who has lost themselves. They need to take your advice and step back and re-assess.
    Let’s say there are two identical companies in this situation. One ultimately tanks and the bounces back. What do you think the difference would be between the two?

  5. Gavin – What’s the story?! I’m willing to bet many more companies have them that are not telling them. This is smart advice along with the importance of failing. I’ve learned from a few of my own.

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