January was boring. It always pales in comparison to December but this year felt even more of a comedown as I faced it with technical glitches meaning I could barely buffer a reel let alone the latest streaming sensation. So much so, I decided to do an early spring clean to keep my mind off the knowledge that we couldn’t stream Traitors or Saltburn. As I sifted through the clutter of my belongings during a routine spring cleaning, Jim Collins' ‘Good to Great’ unexpectedly tumbled down from the bookshelf landing with a thud on my head. Was the universe telling something? Am I just very clumsy or perhaps there was some timely lesson to remind myself of within Collins’ famous pages? Without quality streaming services or short form video content to distract that train of thought I soon found myself writing a thought piece on the timeless wisdom of ‘Good to Great’ and its relevance to the ever-evolving landscape of the advertising industry for you to read.
Jim Collins is a fascinating polymath, a rock climber who has scaled the heights of El Capitan and was mentored by the late great business guru of all time, Peter Drucker. Commonly topping lists of business influencers, he stands as a beacon of insight for those navigating the complexities of commerce. Collins is someone you should get to know if you’re serious about business.
Collins sought to understand what makes companies go from good to great. Collins and his researchers assumed there would have been some incredible metamorphosis of overnight success that occurred. But when they questioned execs from firms that had gone from good to great over how their revolution happened so quickly, they found the execs were confused by the premise of the question. They would insist no such revolution happened and the change from good to great was much more of a subtle evolution. It was not just a series of big gambles that paid off big but more a series of calculated risks and experiments that built to massive success over time. Ripples that built up to waves rather than a sudden tsunami of success.
How does that help you? As you look ahead to what 2024 means for you and your brands you may be forced into proposing big risks and assuming overnight revolution is a must. But as Collins and his experience shows, that rarely happens. You should assume an overnight success will not happen for you and take that into your planning. Take calculated risks. Test, learn and recalibrate. There is a need for risk-taking in advertising but taking risks in media can have serious damage to brands and the industry. Betting the farm on a proposed, new saviour media channel or format is probably very foolish. We need to balance bravery with wisdom. Encourage thoughtful experimentation over blind faith in unnecessary chance. Build the farm, not bet the farm.
The year ahead promises opportunities and challenges. In a world where the allure of bold ideas and revolutionary changes often overshadows the value of steady progress, Collins advocates for a measured approach grounded in calculation, resilience, and adaptability. In the dynamic realm of advertising and media, where innovation is both essential and fiercely competitive, the importance of calculated risk-taking cannot be overstated. Dove's Real Beauty campaign serves as a compelling example of how the power of thoughtful experimentation can snowball into success. By challenging traditional beauty standards and fostering meaningful conversations, Dove not only captured the attention of consumers but also built to meaningful differentiation and commercial success. In contrast to that is the infamous New Coke debacle that rumbled on from the 1980’s that was pitched as ‘intelligent risk taking’. Whilst there may have been some intelligence behind it, it looks awfully like unnecessary risk-taking in hindsight.
Good to Great’s principles of gradual evolution and calculated risk-taking offers invaluable guidance for navigating the complexities of the advertising industry. We can go into media planning in 2024 with clarity and purpose knowing greatness is not achieved overnight or via any one big bet but is the culmination of small, deliberate steps and calculated risks taken over time. Below are five guiding principles to help with that:
Prioritise gradual evolution over sudden upheaval
Embrace calculated risks informed by data, insights and experience
Remain agile and adaptable in the face of changing trends and feedback
Stay true to your brand identity and values while seeking external inspiration
Maintain a long-term perspective, understanding that greatness is not a destination
By adhering to these guiding principles, we can navigate the complexities of 2024 with confidence and conviction, crafting media strategies that drive meaningful impact and propel brands towards sustained success. If you still desire a revolution you can have it but have it over a decade not by December. You may then see yourself selling the board on the first small step of a giant leap from your brand. It may not be the sexy pitch but it is likely to be the right pitch, grounded in evidence and reality rather than what you would like to believe. Take people on this journey from good to great, to build the farm rather than bet the farm.