Book Review and Innovation Summary – "When Growth Stalls"

When Growth Stalls
A few weeks ago I received “When Growth Stalls” by Steve McKee in the mail. “When Growth Stalls” is a relatively short, easy, and pleasant read.

The book starts by making the point from research that 54.9% of companies’ growth is either currently stalled or stalled at some point in the last decade. Growth can stall for a variety of reasons including: market techtonics, the lack of consensus at the top, a loss of focus, a loss of nerve, or creation of marketing inconsistency.

When you look at the world and the findings of the research in the book, one thing stands out, and that is often companies run into trouble because executive teams either are too busy to notice or too afraid to admit that they:

  • Have lost their ability to differentiate their products or services from the competition
  • Have customers who don’t understand the company’s point of differentiation anymore
  • Don’t know their place in the marketplace anymore
  • Have trouble making decisions
  • Can’t state their company’s core competency in simple terms (and neither can the employees)
  • Have lost clarity on who the target audience is
  • Are transferring their own lack of clarity on the future direction for the company into its marketing
  • Find it dangerous to take creative risks
  • No longer produce marketing and advertising that captures the interest and imagination of customers
  • Are not commiting sufficient resources to ensure success of market plans

In summation, as I see it: ultimately when organizations achieve success, they tend to ride the winning horse too long, fight about which horse will win the next race, or deny that a new race will be run at all.

McKee’s main point is that taken together – a lack of consensus, a loss of focus, loss of nerve, and inconsistency – form a vicious cycle that can derail even the most promising growth companies of yesterday. But, once you realize you have a problem and come to terms with it, you can try to set your sights on a simple, singular, and directional “Top Box” for the entire organization to focus on. A “Top Box” is an organizational goal that is specific, time-bounded, and measurable – one that everyone in the organization can see and take tangible actions to help achieve. Your “Top Box” should ultimately be served by your marketing strategy – which could be driven by the given equation:

Top Box = I choose X


  • I = The prospective customer you’re trying to serve
  • choose = the decision they’re going to make
  • X = Your brand, product or service

And to achieve your “Top Box”, you have to take things back to basics. You have to define a clear “who” to target, make sure that your “what” is obviously different than everyone else’s, that every part of the customer experience reinforces that differentiation (and your brand), and that your positioning is clear and consistent.

Digging deeper into positioning, Steve McKee defines five main categories of positions:

  • Someone
  • Something
  • Somewhere
  • Sometime
  • Somehow

And, the position you choose must be:

  • Relevant
  • Believable
  • Credible
  • Differentiated
  • Defensible

If your new market-driven positioning meets these five tests then you must be ready to move boldly in the marketplace, and start making the change real. But execution is, of course, everything so you must:

  • Execute your positioning consistently across the organization
  • Execute your strategy consistently over time
  • Invest consistently in making your brand distinctive

So, if your company has stalled, maybe it is time to go back to basics, redefine your organizational focus, make it a living, breathing reality every day from the inside out, and then (and only then) tell people why they should believe.

So, are you ready to recommit yourself to growth?

My interview with “When Growth Stalls” author Steve McKee can be found here.

Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

Steve McKee




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