Adapt or die: Being brave in business

BY Australian Retailers Association
09 March 2015

business, work, study, glassesHenry Ford once famously said “If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.” He was a visionary and his thinking was ahead of his time. He changed the conversation and it changed an entire industry. He was that generation’s Steve Jobs. Just like Ford, Jobs constantly changed the conversation. So much so that in ten years time, there is a fair chance most young people won’t realise he founded Apple making personal computers and not phones, music players and interactive watches. Jobs was never going to toe the line of his competitors or maintain the status quo within the technology sector. He was confident, he was driven but more than anything else, Steve Jobs was brave! Brave enough to believe in himself, his vision, his products and his company. Was he a once-off for our generation? What other brave leaders are out there? Which brands are bravely corrupting the status quo? And what can we learn about becoming brave in business?

Leading from the front starts at the top

Brave brands aren’t interested in following - they lead. But to do that they need strong leadership themselves. As Gandhi famously said, “be the change you want to see in the world.” Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Marissa Mayer, Kerry Packer and the likes are leaders who totally epitomize what their brands stand for. Like Ford before them, they change the conversation and then set about changing their companies to ensure they’re practicing what they’re preaching at every touch point. Just like Yvon Chouinard!

Chouinard is a firm believer that “if you want to change the corporations, change the consumers.” So, in 2011, his world-famous outdoor apparel brand Patagonia took the unprecedented step of taking out a full-page advertisement on ‘Black Friday’ - the busiest shopping day in the United States – imploring shoppers not to buy their famous $500 goose-down jackets. ‘Don't buy what you don't need’ they instructed, highlighting that it was simply bad for the environment to buy things you didn’t need. Rather than using it as a one-off publicity stunt, the brand has continued to build on from this conversation starter creating a strategy that flies in the face of every common-sense business model. Promising to focus on actually limiting growth and profits, the ‘Responsible Economy’ is his call to arms for consumers and businesses to rethink disposability. Whether the brand can sustain this provocative anti-growth position remains to be seen but if anyone is brave enough to make it work, Chouinard and Patagonia are. But what sets them apart? Why did they have the courage to champion change when maintaining the status quo would have been so much easier?

How to be brave in business

Businesses owners, consumers and the economy have all taken a hammering in the last few years, so you can forgive all but the biggest brands from being brave. However, the tide is now starting to change and with a good deal of uncertainty still in the air, there’s never been a better time to be daring.

Imagine taking the world’s biggest, most iconic and instantly recognisable brand and erasing it from your products. Now that’s brave! But it’s exactly what Coca-Cola have been doing across the globe with their brilliant Share A Coke campaign. Devised and launched right here in Australia, the brand wanted to re-engage consumers in stores and online, so offered them personalised cans with their names on them. Although an extremely simple idea, it took huge bravery on the part of the company to alter their brand in such a way and the gamble has paid off.

So ask yourself, is there anything you’ve always wanted to do? Are you ready to be brave? Here are some tips if you are:

Never be afraid of failure

If you were too afraid of failure you wouldn’t have gone into business in the first place. Be proud of what you’ve achieved so far and ask yourself if this is a worthy or necessary next step in the evolution of what you’ve built to date.

Budget your bravery

Being brave is not free. If it was, everybody would be doing it and it wouldn’t be called bravery! Put aside a budget and don’t be miserly. If it’s worth doing it’s worth doing right. Most brave ideas actually fail because people didn’t put the money behind making them a reality. But never bet the house! If failure is going to destroy your business, is it worth it?

Test the water

Why not start small and see if there’s a need for and reaction to what you’re going to do by testing your idea before going all in. If it doesn’t work the first time don’t give up, tweak it and repeat the process until you start to see results.

Build relationships and build awareness

Build relationships with your customers! There’s no point in being brave or doing something brilliant and then your customers not buying into your new venture. Talk to them, engage them and critically, make them aware of what you have done once you’ve done it. It’s money down the drain if nobody ever hears about it.

Invest in technology

With the rise of mobile sites, in-hand price comparison tools and online alternatives to bricks and mortar stores, consumers now have more active control than ever before. The smartest brands are investing heavily in technology to educate, entertain and most of all, attract customers in store.

A final thought…

Deciding you’re going to be brave is actually one of the bravest things you can do in business. So, if you’re considering it, congratulations, you’ve taken the first (and some would say the hardest) step. But please don’t run in to it blind, unprepared and foolhardily. The above are thoughts. They’re not facts, they’re not rules and they’re not all there is to successfully being fearless but they’re certainly a step in the right direction.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Australian Retailers Association

Founded in 1903, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) is Australia’s largest retail association representing Australia’s $310 billion sector, which employs more than 1.2 million people. As the retail industry’s peak representative body, the ARA works to ensure retail success by informing, protecting, advocating, educating and saving money for its 7,500 independent and national retail members throughout Australia. For more information, visit www.retail.org.au or call 1300 368 041.

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