Can we pivot a heritage brand to compete with the most innovative audio tech companies in the world - before time runs out?
A well-known, iconic British heritage brand; but despite an impressive pedigree and a royal stamp of approval with Queen's Seal, they were steadily losing market share to tech giants and the Private Equity owners were getting ready for closure. How can we turn the company around and position them as a market leader by playing to their strengths instead of copying the competition? Is the answer product innovation, or a deeper transformation?
"Product innovation" was the original ask - with the objective of reclaiming a place as an industry leader, gaining back market share, and reversing a declining profit curve. But digging deeper with the Executive Leadership Team, and the Private Equity board, it was clear the ask wouldn't achieve the task; innovation might create a short term buzz but - it would simply be a waste of money if a clear future vision and the foundations to support consistent innovation were lacking - and immediate cash flow was at a critical point. There wasn't much runway left; the Board of the Private Equity owners were ready to cut the company loose.
To fulfill the objective, my team would need to achieve two goals in parallel, on two different time horizons;
- Firstly find a way to improve short-term cashflow to keep the company running, both through cost-efficiencies and revenue growth opportunities, in order to provide runway for the second task;
- Establish both a clear future vision and organisational foundations for long-term growth and market leadership; a deep company transformation.
|Insights & mind shifts||
⛵Knowing where you are going is the first step to getting there.
Interviewing the Executive stakeholders, it didn't take long to uncover the first challenge derailing success; there was no vision for the future, and no calibration with the market or customer needs. Without a clear direction, the company was, at best, treading water. By establishing a clear compass direction, we could create clarity throughout the business, and synchronise efforts to a common goal.
✂ If you prioritise everything, you pioritise nothing.
The lack of direction lead to a lack of focus throughout the company; when you're not sure what your strength is, or what your market needs, you naturally try to be everything to everyone. The result; neither brand nor product provided customers with anything to latch on to; research revealed customers couldn't distinguish this company from any other. And without a clear vision to guide product strategy, products were mainly built by reacting at a feature-level to competitor offerings. The result was a huge, expensive product portfolio, with a long tail of many loss-making SKU's, and primarily undifferentiated products suffering from feature-dump, out of touch with customers' real needs and current audio behaviours. However, that was also an easy first step to release immediate cash flow to fuel near-term innovation. Focus is scary; but with solid customer insights and a clear business strategy, I could gain the confidence of the board to implement a 65% rationalisation in the portfolio, maintaining a disciplined focus on just a few products designed specifically for the needs of the two most relavant, lucrative customer archetypes.
🎯✨Product-market zeitgeist makes competition irrelevant; when you can confidently intersect your own strengths with the future of the market, that's a recipe to win. While cost-efficiencies and iterative product improvements gave us some immediate wins, to give this company the best shot at long-term survival, we'd also need to anticipate the future, conducting a future foresight study in the Music & Audio space within the wider project. This company still had significant strength to draw on, including a strong local history, and iconic product design. Copying competitors meant losing touch with that identity but customer research showed there was still value there. By triangulating the future market direction and company strengths with an extensive market needs and sizing study, we could identify exactly which archetypes and needs to focus on. This gave the company a long-term blueprint for innovation.
😎 Buy-in and $ investment from a confident Board and Executive team: these stakeholders were tightly involved at every stage, even accompanying my team on field research in the home of customers. This was a critical step in establishing a culture of evidence-driven decision-making. The PE owners were confident a step-change had been made and agreed to fund the innovation pipeline to increase momentum
👍 Immediate 137% increase in profitability. Combining cost-efficiencies with targeted growth opportunities delivered immediate results, which would only improve over time as market traction increased. Initial tests from the pilot project, including product design and marketing, also showed much stronger product purchase propensity and brand loyalty than the company had ever seen. By focusing on just a few products, specifically designed for the identified archetypes, our testing showed a much higher degree of interest and loyalty, with customers really resonating with products they felt were made 'for them'.
⚡ Building at pace, while maintaining alignment. With a clear vision, an evidence-driven strategic framework and culture in place, and a strong insight feedback-loop fueling product and marketing strategy, my team established a solid foundation for decisions across the company to happen faster, with greater cohesion and success; while leadership was increasingly confident in decentralising decisions away from management, reducing wasted resource and freeing up Executive time to focus on forward-looking planning.
🌱 Scaling success with a new blueprint for innovation and decision making. Alongside product innovation, my team designed a new workflow to scale change within the business and embed insight and innovation as a core capability. This worked so well, th ePE owners scaled this workflow through other companies in their portfolio.