If you were asked to define your next move to ignite revenue growth, would you suggest firing 60% of your clients? How about grinding iPhones in a kitchen blender? No? OK, how about deploying basketball-dunking sumo wrestlers?
It might seem crazy, but those are all real-world tactics that have led to massive business growth for their respective organizations. In my book Rethink Your Marketing: 7 Strategies to Unleash Revenue Growth, I point to dozens of examples of counterintuitive, lateral thinking that led to not only accelerated new customer growth but also greater profitability and ROI.
Here I offer three effective ways that you can use lateral thinking to reinvent your marketing and unlock new revenue growth for your business.
1. Rethink your audience
Imprivata, a security software firm, had originally targeted banks, financial institutions, and healthcare facilities as its target audiences. After the financial collapse of 2008, the company pivoted, deciding to focus exclusively on the healthcare market. That meant firing 60% of its clients at the time. The bold move enabled the company to focus like a laser on the needs of healthcare organizations and become dominant in its ability to close new business. The result was a 233% increase in revenue within six years.
Tableau Software makes databases and spreadsheets understandable to non-developers through its data analytics and visualization software. In the early days, when Co-Founder Christian Chabot drove around trying to get IT departments interested in the software, he was met with dead-end after dead-end. In those days, the IT department was the gatekeeper for technology purchases by large organizations.
So, Chabot rethought his audience and attempted something heretical at the time: bypassing the gatekeeper and going direct to the ultimate users, potentially pissing off the very IT departments to whom he had been trying to sell. The gamble, though, paid off. Business users loved the ability to translate complex data into easily understood visualizations. Tableau has grown by approximately 1,900% over the past six years, with more than 54,000 customers in its portfolio.
When thinking about your own audience in terms of growth opportunities, ask yourself:
- Who is your ideal customer?
- Which audience segment is most profitable or has the greatest potential, and would it make sense to narrow your focus to only that segment?
- Are there complementary markets that you should be targeting in expanding your audience?
- Similarly, are there other departments, roles, or job titles that you should be targeting?
- Into which regions can you expand geographically?
- How can you incrementally add new demographics to your target audience?
2. Rethink your marketing mix
Sometimes, instead of your audience, it pays to rethink your marketing mix. Blendtec was an engineering-focused kitchen blender company with a minimal marketing budget. The company preferred to spend its money on product development instead. One day, George Wright, the new marketing director, spotted Founder Tom Dickson grinding up a 2x2 board in one of its blenders as a test of the strength of the blender blades.
Wright realized he had uncovered something special, and he consequently launched a YouTube video series called "Will It Blend?" The videos featured Dickson, in a scientist's white lab coat, blending everything from iPhones to golf balls, marbles, rake, crow bar, video camera, and even tire repair kit. The videos went viral. Within a year and a half of the release of the initial video, consumer sales increased 700%.
When Jon Spoelstra became president of the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets), the team had long been struggling. Fans were apathetic. Ticket sales and sponsorships were in the toilet.
So, Spoelstra rethought all the marketing the team was doing, as he explains in his book Marketing Outrageously. First, instead of encouraging fans to come to games to see the Nets, he started marketing the other team's superstars—something unheard of at the time. On top of that, he transformed the basketball games into family events, with entertainment the name of the game. Whenever the players would take a break, his entertainment engine would kick into gear, filling up all available time. For example, during the second half of games, he would have basketball-playing sumo wrestlers running up and down the court in their mawashi (loincloths), bringing pure delight to the kids in the stands. According to Spoelstra, the sumo wrestlers were more popular than the players. The result? In the three years after Spoelstra arrived, overall revenue rose almost 500%.
When thinking about your own marketing mix, ask yourself:
- What are the top performers in your current marketing mix? How can you double-down on them?
- What are the bottom 20% in your mix? How quickly can you eliminate them?
- In brainstorming ideas, which options have the highest upside?
- What are a few outrageous ideas that should be explored?
- How will you go all-in on your new marketing mix elements?
3. Rethink your future
Even if you do not adjust the scope of your target audience or your marketing mix, one thing is certain: Market change is inevitable, and successful companies learn to rethink their business and innovate accordingly.
Think of Research In Motion and its Blackberry phone compared with Apple and the iPhone. The former dominated the market until it stopped innovating and allowed Apple to transform the mobile phone market. Apple is now one of the most valuable companies in the world, whereas Blackberry is an afterthought.
Moz Co-Founder Rand Fishkin started out by offering website design services and, like Apple, iterated over time. When his Web design clients started looking for SEO assistance, he built up his expertise to the point where the company was an SEO hub of information. He later realized that the most valuable and scalable aspect of his business was the software used in the SEO analysis, and that led to the transformation of Moz into an SEO software company. What was once a tiny Web design agency has grown into a $42.6 million software business.
Amazon is another example of a company that has grown through continual evolution of the brand. The business started out by selling books online. Later, Amazon expanded into music, DVD/videos, software, home improvement products, video games, and gift items. The retail powerhouse now sells just about anything you can imagine.
Beyond retail, the company developed the Kindle reader, spawning a new e-book industry. The Amazon Echo smart speaker was Amazon's first major foray into voice-activated devices. On top of all that, Amazon has been aggressive in building its cloud storage platform, Amazon Web Services, which alone delivers more than $12 billion annually. Amazon (like Moz) is an exemplary study in growth through constant change.
When thinking about your own brand's future, ask yourself:
- What are the major waves of change you are seeing in the market?
- What new products or services would appeal to your existing customers?
- How can you leverage your expertise to enter new markets?
- Do you have a structured process for planning the long-term direction of your business?
- What should your business look like in three years for you to have a powerful competitive advantage?
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