You can cut your way to greatness

The Fall has officially fallen.  The clocks go back on Sunday.  The fancy dress shops are stocking up on blonde wigs, gold tracksuits and cigars for Hallowe’en.  Parents will soon be buying explosive devices for their kids, to celebrate the torture and execution of a religious terrorist.  And what could be more Autumnal than all the Christmas lights and advertising?

Now, in this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, the green-fingered amongst you will know that it’s also time for a final bit of pruning, before Winter sets in.

It was thousands of years ago when humans first discovered the strange, regenerative effect of cutting plants back.  But it wasn’t until the 1930s that the hormone responsible – Auxin – was discovered.  And even now, scientists are not entirely clear about the counter-intuitive process by which chopping stems can actually result in much more vigorous growth the following year.

In our world, of course, the idea of cutting anything back is not popular.  Conventional wisdom dictates that growth will only come from selling more products, to more people, using more media.  ‘You can’t cut your way to greatness’ is a common (and in the right context, accurate) refrain.

But the gardener’s strangely counter-intuitive approach could usefully be applied to business, with equally positive results.  Because too many companies are effectively overgrown and in need of a good clear out.

They have too many sub-brands.  Too many SKUs.  Too many price points.

They use too many agencies.  Too many messages.  Too many media.

They invest in too many brand diagrams, with too many words.  They buy too many research reports, with too much useless data.  They pursue too many NPD initiatives, with too many dead ends.

In short, they chase too many wastes of time masquerading as priorities.  And by spreading their precious resources across all of these, the real drivers of growth are neglected.

 As the New Year looms into view, the risk is that this proliferation accelerates.  Exciting new brand plans are produced, with yet more action points piled on top of the previous year’s.  But as with the garden, this is precisely the moment to cut back and build a big bonfire.

To pave the way for your ambitious brand extension programme next year, now is the time to construct a brand restriction strategy, outlining all the areas you won’t be getting into.  To stimulate your new lines, kill off some old ones.  To give your communications a new lease of life, pare them right back to the core idea.

It may feel counter-intuitive, but you know what the result of this Autumn clear-out will be?

Goodbye dead wood, hello growth.

  • paul c-c

    So basically manure doesn’t work?

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