Earlier this month, TRA began its Sunrise Session with a question: What keeps you up at night?

Perhaps an odd question to be asking at 7am on a cold and foggy Wednesday morning when we were in fact the ones keeping our audience awake, but a meaningful one nonetheless.

Lucky for us, the answers from the audience reflected the key themes that we were there to talk about – uncertainty about ways to generate new business opportunities and growth, nervousness about the pace of change and whether their organisation will still be relevant in a couple of years’ time, and a general sense of being busy and overwhelmed.

A couple of months ago we posed this same question to the 25 senior marketers and business leaders that we spoke to as part of our recent Discovery Project. What emerged from these conversations was that growth in a challenging environment is a key concern for modern Kiwi businesses.

Growth is hard

Growth is proving difficult to achieve in a landscape that is changing rapidly, where people are consciously cutting back on their consumption, where the threat of a startup launching a game-changing product in your category looms large and where organisations aren’t even sure what business they are in anymore.

At the same time, marketers are being challenged with confronting new truths: the IPA releasing the report “Fifty years using the wrong model of advertising”, as well as new evidence that proves attitudes don’t determine behaviour, customers aren’t loyal, and that people do not provide accurate insight into their decision making processes.

Four big tensions

There is a level of nervousness in the industry, and our Discovery Project uncovered four big tensions that organisations are grappling with as they attempt to overcome the challenges they are facing.

  • BAU vs Innovationbalancing the need to keep the lights on with the need to reinvent everything that an organisation does, largely driven by C-suite demands.
  • How to act like a startupconfronted with the idea that there may be people tinkering away in a shed who could launch a product that reinvents entire industries, organisations (and dedicated teams within organisations) are increasingly being challenged to think and behave like startups.
  • Reading the signalshow to stay ahead of change when your external environment is driven by local and global cultural shifts which you have no control over, and which cause the landscape to change so quickly.
  • Knowing your customeran organisation-wide focus on the customer, but balancing this with the dawning realisation that customer experience is no longer the key to competitive advantage when everyone is doing it.

Of these four tensions, the one that resonated most with those in the room was the idea of balancing resource between BAU and Innovation, with 74% of people acknowledging that this is a challenge their organisation faces.

Tension is a great motivator

It might sound fairly doom and gloom, but marketers can rest a little easier in the knowledge that (1) they aren’t alone, all marketers and business people are experiencing the same challenges regardless of job title or industry; and (2) there are practical ways that organisations can look to overcome these challenges.

The good news is that these tensions are feeding our creativity and encouraging us to think differently. So how can organisations use this as a springboard to thrive and grow well? It comes down to a change in mindset, one that is centred around four main principles.

Principle 1: Comfort

To feel comfort in the face of uncertainty, organisations must begin with authentic customer-centricity which takes into account the wider cultural, social and individual context of a customer’s whole life.

Secondly, organisations must take steps to understand exactly what business they are in and clearly define their unique value. For Dollar Shave Club, they have realized that it’s not just the razors that people are buying, it’s also the sense of community.

Principle 2: Direction

Organisations looking for direction must shift their focus towards purpose. In a shift largely driven by changing societal expectations of business, growth and purpose are no longer opposing forces.

Organisations with a strong and authentic purpose are growing, and growing well. In fact, an investment in the companies on the Stengel 50 (a list of the world’s fastest-growing brands, powered by purpose) over the last decade would have been 400% more profitable than an investment in the S&P 500.

To find their purpose organisations must take both an outside-in and an inside-out view – starting with the broader context and culture that they operate in, and narrowing down to their own brand assets and people. Often it is an organisation’s employees on the ground that hold the most meaningful insight into what the organisation stands for.

Interestingly, the search for direction was the principle that resonated most with the audience and reflects our desire to find authentic and meaningful ways to progress forward.

Principle 3: Confidence

The key to confidence in uncertain times is being able to measure what you’re doing and use that to predict the future. We’re of the opinion that organisations have become overly reliant on numbers to measure performance. But one number (NPS, profit, shareholder value etc.) won’t tell you the future.

True foresight comes from being able to identify patterns. Those organisations who can use their understanding of patterns to see how one small change can result in an impact elsewhere will achieve the confidence they need to manage change.

Principle 4: Inspiration

With new data sources coming online each and every day, organisations are in need of experts who can analyse and make sense of data, but they also need ‘meaning makers’ – partners and people within their organisation who can tell stories and bring the data to life. These meaning makers provide the inspiration to unite an organisation behind a purpose or common goal and drive change.

As Shaun finished the session by saying, “What a time to be alive”. While these are challenging times for sure, they are not without their opportunities – and progress is there for the taking for those who can shift towards a modern growth mindset.