Qualities of Audacious Leaders
What defined the last decade for market growth strategies? Most brands were transformed by new tech, new trends, and meaningful social issues. It was the decade of the pivot, where brands redefined themselves and took bold risks ushering in a new era to connect with consumers.
Only the most agile companies kept up with this ever-changing landscape. From fast-food giants introducing plant-based burgers to toy companies launching inclusive dolls, these audacious business ideas paid off in the long run. The bold were rewarded, and industries were disrupted. We're taking a closer look at some of the most significant risks that paid off from the past decade and why they worked.
When Burger King announced the launch of the Impossible Whopper burger at all locations in 2019, it generated a lot of buzz and raised eyebrows. No other fast-food chain had previously offered plant-based options, and many skeptics questioned whether it would succeed.
Amid declining fast-food trends, rising labor costs, and changing millennial tastes, Burger King saw a unique opportunity to appeal to a new generation of consumers. By introducing a burger made from sustainable, plant-based ingredients, the company hoped to attract customers who were concerned about health and sustainability issues.
Did their bold move with an impossible burger pay off?
By taking the plunge and pioneering plant-based options, Burger King proved that a high-risk food choice could lead to incredible market growth. Not only did the Impossible Whopper help Burger King stay relevant and appeal to new consumers, but it also drove sales and helped the company expand with new plant-based options.
You could say that Burger King's gamble disrupted the fast-food industry. Since introducing the Impossible Whopper, plant-based meat sales have nearly doubled, and plant-based is now on the menu at many fast-food chains, with competitors like Carls Jr. and McDonald's swept up in the plant-based meal trend.
When CEO Satya Nadella took over Microsoft in 2014, the company was in a tough spot. With the rise of mobile technology, declining PC sales, and the disaster of Windows 8, Microsoft was losing ground.
To say that Microsoft lost its edge would be an understatement. Nadella wrote this memo to Microsoft employees on day one as CEO, "While we have seen great success, we are hungry to do more. Our industry does not respect tradition––it only respects innovation." He appealed to the sense of urgency felt throughout the company and challenged employees to dream bigger than ever.
Nadella's focus on innovation ultimately led Microsoft to pivot its business practice to cloud-based operations. In 2014, Windows Azure reinvented itself as Microsoft Azure. Azure surged and expanded to support a wide variety of programming languages—including Linux, something once unthinkable to Microsoft. Azure transformed Microsoft into one of the most successful cloud computing companies worldwide. Azure infrastructure now outpaces Google in market share, with more than 21% of the cloud market and an annual revenue that's closing in on $50 billion.
If anything, Netflix is a legend for brand pivoting. From its humble beginnings as a DVD rental company in the age of Blockbuster to shifting its streaming service and creating award-winning original content, Netflix has shown that it can adapt to changing times and trends.
One of the most audacious moves Netflix faced was in 2013. At the time, they were the key player in streaming content—in fact, they held 89% of the streaming market share. But despite its success, most of the content Netflix produced was licensed from other studios, and studios realized Netflix wasn't the only streaming game in town.
It was a game-changing moment for Netflix. Do they continue to license content from studios, or do they take a risk and try to create their own original content?
Netflix made an audacious move—they launched the series Lilyhammer in 2012 and the hugely successful House of Cards in 2013. These moves heralded the era of online streaming as a dominant force in media viewing, with House of Cards as the first original online-only streaming television series to be nominated for Emmy awards.
Bold moves can pay off big time. There was always the uncertainty around the cost and quality of the content—and if viewers would even watch it—Netflix banked on a long-term market growth strategy and created some of the most popular shows of the past decade.
Faced with declining doll sales and parents concerned with the unrealistic body standards promoted by Barbie, Mattel made an audacious business shift in 2018. Barbie became more real and less "perfect" as a 21st-century doll representing a more diverse set of body types and celebrating individuality with new interests.
"Barbie was viewed as too perfect and unrelatable. We knew we needed to do more, and the product was the single biggest message we could send to show we were listening and ready to evolve and modernize," said Lisa McKnight, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Barbie and Dolls for Mattel, "The world had changed, and Barbie wasn't keeping pace."
Today, Mattel's Barbie collection focuses on diversity in body types, skin tones, hair fibers, and aspirational goals. Barbie is an astrophysicist, ballerina, and political candidate, and she reflects the considerable interests and ambitions of today's kids.
Barbie's transformation was Mattel's first step to embracing a purposeful vision and shift for the brand.
We're on a journey, and it's progress, not perfection.
—Juliana Chugg, EVP and Chief Brand Officer for Mattel
By reinventing Barbie in several body sizes and skin tones and as a more relatable doll, Mattel has demonstrated its commitment to innovative market growth strategies and embracing a changing world. By taking bold risks, they have positioned themselves as a leader in the toy industry.
The risk of a new and improved Barbie has led to a surge in sales for Mattel. By the third quarter of 2019, Mattel reported a 10% increase in Barbie sales. And despite the dolls being on the market for over 60 years, 2021 was reported to be the best year of sales ever.
Nike isn't afraid of testing the boundaries with marketing gambles. In 2018, the brand had a huge question to answer: how might we connect with consumers in an increasingly divisive political climate and still offer a message of hope?
The answer was Colin Kaepernick. Nike hired the former NFL quarterback to star in their 30th anniversary "Just Do It" ad campaign, and Kaepernick's image was featured on billboards, print ads, and commercials.
In no uncertain terms, featuring the controversial sports figure was met with some pretty strong consumer opinions around the globe. Some people loved it, and others hated it. But, ultimately, Nike went to the bank with the results. Nike products flew off the shelves, and they claimed a $6 billion brand value increase.
As a piece of marketing, this ad campaign was bold and strategic. Nike used its advertising to make a powerful statement about its values and beliefs while also tapping into the passions of today's consumers and embracing the inspiration of athletes. Sometimes to go big, you have to take a long shot at a marketing growth strategy that is unafraid to challenge the status quo.
These five stories prove that sometimes, going boldly into uncharted territory is the only way to achieve true success. Whether it's introducing a brand-new product, betting on an up-and-coming technology, or taking a stand on an important social issue, without audacity, there can be no progress.
We believe that market growth strategies start with a willingness to take risks and step outside your comfort zone. We help businesses of all sizes navigate the ever-changing market landscape, develop innovative new products and services, and grow their brands through research and strategy.
So if you have an audacious business idea that needs guidance, contact Rebel today, and let's make waves together. Let's chat.