A Look Into Wolff Olins’ “Game Changers Report”

Wolff Olins recently published what they’re calling the Game Changers report, an examination of the defining characteristics of today’s high-growth businesses.  When the work was done, the firm pinpointed (5) behaviors or traits embodied by these revolutionary brands. I’m in strong agreement with everything outlined in the report and wanted to take some time to summarize and build (as I often do) on the thinking of others.

Leading With Purpose

High growth businesses are not just commercially, but socially-focused as well.  They understand that to be successful in this transparent world, you must be enmeshed in the lifestyle and culture of your customers.  Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives are not enough, and actually undermine this point all together.  It’s about establishing a strong sense of purpose that ties back to why your business exists in the first place.

To build on this, Nike’s might sound like, “If you have a body, you’re an athlete and Nike exists to build happier, healthier, more fully-supported human beings, through the development of products and communities that put people and planet in balance.”  The company’s GreenXchange, N7 Fund, and Nike Foundation are all examples of this purpose being put into action.

This ties closely to what Umair Haque discusses in his recent ebook, Betterness, specifically, the evolution from Visions to Ambitions as a means of transcending merely striving to increase returns for shareholders.

Thinking of Customers As Users

The fragmentation of communication channels has created an opportunity for brands to move beyond broadcasting to their customers and instead begin engaging in a dialogue with them.  This has powerful implications in that it enables brands to create products and services that are more useful in the lives of customers.

A great example of this, shared in the study, comes from the branchless banking service, M-Pesa, which noticed that people in developing countries lacked traditional banking systems and were trading cell phone minutes as a means of fostering transactions.  The brand decided to create a mobile phone-based banking system that allows users to pay bills, transfer money, and buy products all via the system.  Simply put, the brand is building their business model around creating a useful service, rather than a revenue stream.

The question we must always be asking as brand strategists is how can we add greater value to the lives of our users.  This extends past what they’re buying from us, and instead starts to look at what they’re capable of achieving as a result.

Being In A State Of Perpetual Beta

At a time when innovation is happening at more and more rapid rates, it’s crucial to look at R&D in new ways.  Google was one of the first with their now infamous 20% rule; by enacting this, they created a corporate culture that was less constrained and free from the need to roll out products that were already ‘perfect’.

In fact, the accelerating rate of innovation means none of us really know what ‘perfect’ looks like in our respective industries at all.  We need consumers and real-life use to help us figure that out, and Google has always been comfortable with this fact.

What’s key is for businesses to create cultures with the right conditions for experimentation.  This means encouraging employees to take risks and supporting them to continue doing so even as they fail…again, and again.  It’s also important to keep in mind that this doesn’t just apply to R&D in the traditional sense, but to the processes, habits and ways of doing things that departments solidify as ‘the way’ after a period of time.

Experimentation needs to be a constant practice, and it must be led by the values established in section 1, Leading With Purpose.  Companies who take this to heart will find that their employees attain the intrinsic fulfillment that traditional bonuses and incentives can never truly deliver.

Live Without Walls

In the old world, it was all about establishing and maintaining a competitive advantage.  Innovation and intellectual property were heavily guarded.  However, the fragmentation of the marketplace and its available communication channels as well as the pace of technological innovation have taken what was a closed system and completely opened it up.

Intelligent brands have a firm understanding of what they do well, but aren’t afraid to partner with others to achieve larger goals, creating entirely new markets supported by more comprehensive services.  The collaboration between Nike and Apple on Nike+ is still one of the most groundbreaking examples out there.  But, brands like (RED) built a philanthropic business model solely based on the notion of collaboration and partnership.  Today they’ve helped raise millions together with brands like Starbucks, Gap, Dell, Apple and more.

Perhaps the best line in Wolff Olin’s report is this: “…the brands that will have the greatest impact on all our lives are those that see themselves not as citadels that need defending, but as causes that need joining.”

Game Changing brands will develop an always growing ecosystem of collaborators that allow them to create value in new ways.  Again, we’re moving from closed systems to open ones, simply because achieving our maximum potential depends on it.

Change The Game

In the past, organizations succeeded by pursing a single business strategy with unwavering confidence.  But, today a new type of growth potential is taking shape.  Game Changing companies are exploring new sectors, revenue streams, and markets with an admirable conviction.  To reinforce this, a PWC Global CEO Survey found that over half of U.S. CEO’s strongly agree that creating new business models is now a priority for their company’s innovation portfolios.

LEGO is perhaps the most startling example presented in the study.  In 2003, the brand was a beloved, but dated toy block manufacturer.  Ten years later, they’re posting nearly a billion dollars in pre-tax profits, made possible through expansion into sectors like video gaming, theme parks, retail stores, clothing and even business consultancy.  And if that wasn’t enough, they’re harnessing the power of co-creation with consumers through sites like CUUSOO and DesignByMe.

All of this underscores the importance of creativity in the workplace, as well as being open to experimentation (discussed earlier).  Most important, again, is that the value-creative behavior that Wolff Olins identifies must ladder up to a brand’s purpose (section 1) – why it exists in the marketplace.  This is the cornerstone of developing new competencies.

Brands should make it their goal to develop one new revenue stream each year based on the over-arching brand purpose and values.

Overall, a great study that defines, supports and provides examples for five of the most crucial trends affecting innovation among brands.  If, somehow, this wasn’t enough detail, head on over to Wolff Olins for the full download.

[Image via Thomas Hawk]

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