Where is your company currently in the business life-cycle? Whether you're a startup or have been in business for over 20 years, having a clear picture of where you are will help you get to plan for the next phase and avoid market disruptions and declines.
If you’re in the earlier stages [see 7 Phases Image Below], you have a lot of work ahead of you, but know that the foundation is being built. Building a solid foundation that educates potential customers about your vision and mission as well as products and services is key to building a successful brand.
The Business Or Corporate Life-Cycle
If you're familiar with the S-curve or sigmoid in a business life-cycle, you'll recognize the journey your business has taken to arrive at your current phase.
Knowing where you are in your business life-cycle helps you know what to focus on to improve your business and strengthen your brand now.
In Lawrence M. Miller's book, Barbarians to Bureaucrats: Corporate Life Cycle Strategies, he describes seven stages and the leadership style needed for each stage.
All living things, whether plants, animals, people, or groups of people, exhibit patterns or cycles of development, moving from periods of vitality and growth to periods of decay and disintegration. The pattern of business growth and decline - and the behavior of leaders - follows this same course.
— Lawrence M. Miller
“Holistic marketing involves understanding and working with nature. The nature of leadership, your customers, and your business.”
One example in his book shares the incredible vision the McDonalds brothers had and the new opportunities that Ray Kroc saw that were beyond their vision. It's not that the McDonalds brothers hadn't thought of or even tried franchising, but they didn't have the same passion for expansion as they did for invention.
The leadership style Miller attributes to the McDonalds brothers was that of "Prophet”. They were smart and re-invented themselves as a drive-up to a drive-through. They created systems and processes that reduced their capital investment and labor costs by a third. They had 'made it', according to their goals. They became content with the business they had built.
Ray Kroc saw the opportunity for scalability, which needed even more precise systems and processes to accomplish that goal. And in order to make the McDonald's brand what it would eventually become today, it needed a different kind of leader, a barbarian.
The McDonald brothers were simply not on my wavelength at all. I was obsessed with the idea of making McDonald's the biggest and the best. They were content with what they had; they didn't want to be bothered with more risks and more demands.
— Ray Kroc
It is ridiculous to call this an industry. This is rat eat rat, dog eat dog. I'll kill 'em, and I'm going to kill 'em before they kill me. You're talking about the American way of survival of the fittest.
— Ray Kroc
The above quotes personify the barbarian leader. If you're a visionary and you're in the growth or scale phase, you'll need to adapt or hire a barbarian. You don't need a ruthless leader, but you need someone who is aggressive and is always mindful of urgency.
In each phase of your business cycle, a different leadership style is required.
Here Are The Seven Phases of the Business Life Cycle:
- Market Entry (Launch)
- Plateau or Decline
- Jump The S-Curve
- Exit Strategy
The first stage is defining your business idea and target market. Then, you can research to find out how much money people are spending in the industry you’re entering. You will then create your product or service, and determine if it will appeal to your intended audience. In this phase, your marketing focus is on brand awareness.
No one can possibly achieve any real and lasting success or 'get rich' in business by being a conformist
— J. Paul Getty
You'll also want to make sure it's easy for the customer to do business with your brand. Doing a site and brand audit will ensure you have everything in place to convert sales and deliver an amazing experience.
Launch Stage Focus
- Vision. Create a clear mission, vision, and values for your business.
- Awareness of your brand story
- Innovation. How can you differentiate your brand from what currently exists?
- Define the target market as narrowly as possible.
- Test your ideas with small test groups to ensure it resonates with your intended audience.
The visionary leaders many times aren't driven by data and market research, but from a desire that burns from within.
We did no market research, we had no sales forecasts, no return on investment calculations. None of that. I very simply built my dream car and figured there would be other people who share that dream
— Dr. Porsche
The growth stage is a critical part of your business. It's a time where your brand will be defined and it will either continue to grow or expose gaps and weaknesses and start to decline. The growth phase is exciting, and if it’s accelerated growth, it will need to be managed, otherwise, it could be the thing that takes down the ship.
On the positive side, if you add the right team members who are able to execute the vision and build relationships, your brand has a chance to root deeper and reach amazing new heights.
Growth Stage Focus
- Sales. Increase average order values and return customer rates.
- Develop higher tiers of products, services, or value opportunities.
- Re-analyze contracts and costs
- Get clear on what's driving revenue and customer retention
- Maximize customer spend as much as possible within each target market segment.
Once you've entered the growth phase, your business feels real and exciting. Reward your team with new incentives and dream bigger possibilities that are still grounded in your mission.
During the growth phase is the time to get clear on exactly what is creating awareness and conversions. Too many times, business owners wait until they experience a decline before they eliminate waste. For the initiatives that are working, invest aggressively and look for new segments.
The next phase is scaling your business. Now that you have proof of concept and brand adoption, you're now looking to repeat with new channels, segments, and markets.
If you've focused on your mission and brand story, you've likely attracted the early adopters and thought leaders in your niche. Who do they influence and what other audiences resemble your core fans?
Are you ready to take your products to international markets? What key relationships will you need to open in these countries?
Scale Phase Focus
- Inspire leadership within your team. Give autonomy.
- Brand culture and improve your messaging.
- Systems and processes. Eliminate waste.
- Innovation. Stay relevant with improvements and offerings.
- Enhance your marketing. New audience segments and channels.
Now that you've experienced massive growth and have scaled your business, your brand has reached the mature stage, which means within your target markets, you're a name-brand with a good reputation. Congratulations! What's next?
Are you still passionate about running your business or are you ready for a new adventure? If you love what you've built and still have a vision for your current brand, your leadership is needed.
Mature Phase Focus
- Innovation. Smaller companies have gained insight from your success. They aren't going to repeat your identical path, but rather seek to unseat you by improving upon what you've already created.
- Establish yourself as an expert to strengthen brand loyalty and growth.
- Acquire complementary businesses
Plateau Or Decline Phase
Like the launch phase, this phase may instill doubt and fear. Many owners, when facing a sharp decline, will go back to the drawing board, wanting to re-experience what they had in the growth phase when everything was running leaner.
If the decline is sharp or if you plateaued over 6 months ago, you may feel panic and look at downsizing or drastically reducing your prices to compete to stay in business.
Pause. The key is to remain calm. You may already feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster and lack clear direction.
Start asking better questions; questions that open your mind to possibilities and allow for honest analysis. So many times narratives cloud our judgment in this phase and we look at who is to blame or start doubting ourselves.
While it’s important to identify mistakes and people who are no longer contributing, it’s equally important not to make rash decisions. Knowing your leadership style and getting clear on the leader that’s needed will help you transform your business. Each phase is an opportunity to develop new skills and grow as an individual. This stage will challenge you. By seeing it as an opportunity, you can recognize your own power and resilience.
Get help and advice from those who have been where you are and have successfully navigated to the Jump phase.
At the first sign of plateau or decline, look forward to opportunities in the next phase.
Some businesses become so reactionary they 'jump the shark'. Think of K-Mart's ad 'Ship My Pants'.
What other examples come to your mind?
The next stage, in order to overcome a plateau or decline, is the jump phase. Jumping the shark is not the jump we're talking about.
As mentioned above, decline is part of the natural business cycle for all companies. No one stays at the top forever.
Proctor and Gamble
Procter and Gamble provides an exemplary journey through the business life-cycle. They foresaw shortages of raw materials and stocked up early to become the monopoly soap company they still maintain, for now. As of 2019 Procter & Gamble was still the largest player accounting for 15% of the total global bath soap sales.
In the early 1930s less expensive synthetic soap companies started to gain massive market share when P&G's president, Richard R. Deupree took notice that even though people wanted lower prices, they were still buying luxuries, like radios. Deupree seized the opportunity and instead of cutting their marketing budget, he invested in radio marketing and they sponsored daytime serials, which became known as 'soap operas'. In 1935 P&G committed $2 million to radio ads and by 1939, they increased their marketing on radio ads to $9 million. In 2021 dollars that would equate to over $177,000,000.
When they saw new companies enter the market with less expensive products, other competitors cut their marketing budgets to ride out the depression, but P&G jumped by assessing their strengths and investing in new technology.
Plateau or Decline Phase Focus:
- Ask better questions of yourself and others
- Is your vision clear to your team and customers?
- Do you still resonate with your core audience?
- Has your market/industry shifted
- Innovation and Marketing. This is essential in all phases of the business life cycle
- Take inventory of all your assets and strengths
- Seek guidance
- Look to new technology that has the attention of your potential customers
Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two--and only two--basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business
— Peter Drucker
Does your business have to enter the decline phase? Some businesses are lucky enough to only experience slower growth, while others are headed to decline without recognizing the signs before they have a rude awakening.
One surprising factor that can be the root cause of decline is growth you’re unable to handle. An example of this is something we see with Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brands. If they’ve captured the attention of a large audience and get the opportunity to go into a big chain retailer, that can mean great revenue, but if contracts require that you take a loss for a period of time and you’re undercapitalized, it can eat your lunch. And, if you’re unable to fulfill or get turns, you may burn the opportunity that you could be ready for at a later time.
The good news is that if you have a clear understanding of each phase of the business cycle, you don't have to go through this phase, or at least you can move quickly to the next phase.
Founders and executive teams who have their finger on the pulse and are paying attention to their own cycle, as well as the nature of consumers, they'll be able to jump as the plateau crests and can avoid a downturn.
The nature of consumers remains the same. They want to hire the product or service that best performs the job, is affordable, and convenient.
This is the reason Walmart drove out small businesses across America. As much as people cared about supporting local business owners, they eventually chose convenience and better prices. And now Amazon and online shopping.
How can you interrupt the giants by providing better quality, convenience, pricing, and story?
- Segments & Markets Expansion
- Vision Renewal or Clarity
- Innovation & Marketing
- Personalization & Deeper Engagement
- Socially Responsible Initiatives
Appeal to the values of consumers within your niche and market to them where they spend their leisure time. Use native advertising and storytelling to connect with their subconscious, appeal to their Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.
By establishing your brand as the authority, providing logical benefits and uses of your products and services, and meeting their emotional desires to improve or avoid pain, you'll be able to guide them to buying from you and becoming loyal fans.
While some founders have an exit strategy in mind at conception, many business owners haven't considered it until they reach a time when they've lost passion, experience poor health, or an offer is presented.
Building your brand for an exit strategy early on will help your company focus on the right structure, KPIs, and systems that create a higher valuation and provide clearer direction through the business cycles.
Here are the most common options for exiting your business
- Go public
- Hand over the reins
- Shutdown the business
Once you know where you are, you'll want to decide how to get from here to there. The goal of holistic marketing is to grow your customer base, increase revenue, and earn more of your customers’ loyalty.
While traditional marketing has your departments working in silos separate from one another. Holistic marketing places emphasis on meeting the consumers' needs. Being connected with them is the surest way to shift quickly and maintain your competitive edge.
People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.
— Seth Godin
Holistic Marketing Essentials
Here are a few marketing tools you'll want to focus on and continually optimize, to increase awareness, engagement, and conversions:
- Content (blogs, videos, infographics, etc.)
- Social media (posts, stories, inbound and outbound interaction)
- SEO (get organic traffic to your valuable content)
- Ads (Search and Social Marketing together drives relevant traffic)
- Email (newsletter, optimized abandoned cart, win-back series, etc.)
- Reviews (increase trust and conversions)
- Return Customer Rate - RCR (subscriptions, rewards)
- VIP access (provide a higher tier of service or education)
If you want to grow your company and increase its revenue exponentially, and more quickly, it may be the right time to get an expert on board to guide your marketing team.
If you're in a later stage of growth, having a new perspective from a marketing consultant can open areas for profits that have not yet been realized.
Holistic Marketing Strategy Consulting
Holistic marketing is a strategy that has been used by large familiar companies like Apple, Nike, YUM! Brands, and many more. The holistic marketing strategy includes the following four components:
- Internal Marketing
- Integrated Marketing
- Relationship Marketing
- Socially Responsible Marketing
Internal Marketing is all about empowering your internal teams, so they can work together as one cohesive unit. The first step should be to better understand your brand's mission, vision, and values so everyone can be aligned.
Integrated Marketing is about taking an analytical approach to every action you take within each department with measurable goals to create a valuable customer experience. By taking an integrated approach, every individual on your team will know how they and their critical role impact the customer. This eliminates wasteful activities that aren't contributing to the customer journey.
Relationship Marketing helps your brand build and maintain strong relationships with your audience and customer segments. It's important to know who these people are, what they like, how they like to be contacted, and what motivates their decisions. Understanding each segment's 'why' and connecting them with yours, helps you better communicate the value of your product and service solutions in their language.
Socially Responsible Marketing is about empowering your employees to make decisions that support the mission of your brand and what's good for society. In this ever-growing market of commodities, people are using their voices and spending their money with companies that support their values. Other ways companies make a difference is by becoming involved in charities that are making positive changes.
Using a holistic marketing approach will help you go beyond traditional marketing strategies that were used in the past that treated humans as resources and sought financial gain at all costs.
Hire A Holistic Marketing Consultant
Hiring a holistic marketing consultant for your e-commerce brand will help guide your marketing efforts and create more cohesive messaging across all channels.
Holistic Marketing For B2C/D2C, SaaS, and B2B brands.
A holistic marketing strategy helps E-commerce brands because of the opportunity to connect directly with the customer and build a relationship. But, the same is true for B2B and Saas companies. It unites your entire team and coordinates strategy, visual and written creative, data, technology, and sales to solve the problems of your customers. By engaging your entire team, you'll be able to create a more sustainable model that's rooted in your brand's values.
If you're ready to take your company's marketing to the next level and want all of your teams on board with a cohesive message, it may be time to hire a holistic marketing consultant for your e-commerce brand.