Friday, 23 December 2011

Growth Opportunities for 2012

Despite the doom and gloom merchants who seem to be surrounding us today about where the economy is going and for how long we will have to live in recession there are still may areas of growth. Not everyone and everything is in recession. So I thought I would share a few strategic thoughts as to where I see growth in 2012.

In every market their are always growth opportunities, even if it is just for insolvency practitioners, accountants and journalists! But, ignoring these sectors where is real growth coming from? It does not take long before you can see that if you want to look for growth, you just need to look beyond the news headlines.

Headlines Aren't Real

Headlines tell (and continuously repeat) what's happening as an average across the entire economy, so slow growth coupled with a reduction of public sector spending means that slow adapting traditional companies will be feeling the pinch, particularly if their growth has disproportionately come from public sector spending. The key reason why headlines aren't real is that they only really report bad news (apart from that final ahhh... story) put in for the human touch element.  Bad news sells and grabs headlines, while success never gets a mention. 

Headlines only show averages and I've never met anyone who is average. No-one is ever average and so no business is ever average. So when looking for growth and success turn off the TV, radio and throw away the newspaper and on line news and start by looking at what's happening in the real economy.


The high street is dead according to the every expert with up shops empty or closed and yet people still shop in ever increasing numbers and we are building more of them than ever before. Go tell companies like Apple, John Lewis or any of the major supermarket chains about the collapse of retail and they will laugh out loud at you. Retail is not dead, it is just changing and changing faster than many retailers can adapt.

Twenty years ago I worked with retailers advising them to add more value by making their stores more consumer friendly with information and better zoned retailing layouts. Today, retailers need to be adapting to embrace a web active consumers, bricks with clicks stores like John Lewis who will have grown their online e-commerce business to be around 20% of their business integrating it with their modern well designed retail estate. To ignore online in many sectors is like King Canute trying to hold back the tide, but working with it you can appeal to many customer groups by using online an integral part of the retail experience.            
Successful retailers are providing modern inviting retail spaces with mixed offerings of retail and consumption are doing well, particularly as part of larger venues. Strategically the big are getting bigger and the others must look to diversify. The number of retail environments is increasing, with many others planned.  The changing nature of our retail environment to larger integrated retail centres which is the key driver of change as consumers move from convenience shopping to shopping as an experience event, 2012 will see that strategic shift accelerate, Click here to see local data company You tube explanation for more details.   


Knowing where the consumer is going in 2012 is vital for success for many UK businesses. Consumers are buying more and more high quality items. Luxury top-end brands are growing fast and the UK has several strengths to capitalise on, companies like the revitalised TATA Jaguar / Land Rover Group of top end vehicles has never been stronger, both at home and abroad. Land Rover's new Evoque for example had a pro-order of 27,000 vehicles, and both companies are investing in new plant and new models.

This changing shift in purchasing behaviour opens business opportunities for forward thinking business owners to look at higher value consumption, top-end brands are growing globally at over 20% with our ability to design great products is a great strength, from fashion to architecture we are world class and the opportunities for growth are significant.

 The Green Market
The green agenda is also a huge growth market in the UK, and its not just solar panels, although this is a great success and one which will survive the Governments ill-judged slashing of the Feed In Tariff (FIT). peopel buying green products and ethical, traditional and home made sre all opportunities for 2012.

The Green agenda, being promoted long-term through the Green Deal, where not only green products are going but also where huge growth for the home improvement market will come from in 2012, supported by new financial channels opening up to fund these domestic sector.

If you would like to learn more about consumer growth trends then here is a good source of of trends for 2012 at trend watching.

Mobile Markets 
The growth of SMART mobile phones is now a major emerging market, this growth currently 650 million in use set to grow to 1.3billion by 2016 provides a whole new market to exploit.

As the world goes mobile so whole new markets are emerging, from gambling to live offers and app building mobile customers are one huge growth market which smart companies are getting into.   


Exporting, that old business strategy chestnut is always a mythical panacea for any struggling economy and a favourite for politicians looking for a quick solution to any problem.

Exporting though is not a catch-all, for example exporting to Greece may not be the best idea in the near future, but to elsewhere provides an excellent opportunity for UK business to exploit. BRIC countries, (Brazil, Russia, India and China) provide excellent opportunities for growth. These countries are developing huge new middle classes looking for the type of products which we design, make and retail.

Companies such as Paul Smith have demonstrated an excellent business strategy of balancing their business model with the classic third, third, third split of income which is up £20 million to £196 million this year evenly split across UK, EU and rest of world (ROW). By balancing their income streams they have driven their profits to £24 million this year.

Don't be frightened of looking at export markets as a strategy, we are an excellent exporting nation, people love British products, from cutting edge technology to fashion through to our heritage and education and you should be looking at these opportunities in 2012.       

Growth in the Middle East

The middle East is a new emerging market as it redefines itself after the impact of the Arab Spring in 2011. Companies such as Coca-Cola which is currently investing nearly $1 billion in the Middle East, click here for article. With oil becoming even more important supported with stable high prices, countries such as MENA (Middle East and North Africa) provide growth opportunities for UK companies. Their growing populations of young well educated and online connected middle classes (Face book and Twitter created and sustained the Arab Spring) these are sensible markets for many businesses to look at moving into.   

Why Strategic Planning Works

There are many sectors of the UK economy which are doing quite well and some are doing better than ever. The companies doing well in our economy demonstrate good strategic planning and are set-up to succeed. They can respond faster to changes and take advantage of changes to and within their markets. For 2012 their are going to be winners and losers as always.

The evidence is that those with a plan to succeed will do better than those without. Those who have a clear well defined strategic plan focused on where they want to go and with a plan to get them there will be more successful than those who wing it. 

Like to learn more then contact us at Cowden Consulting or see our website or social media channels for more about Cowden Consulting:-

Our services: business planning, strategic planning, business development and support services. 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

What makes a great BRAND

What makes a great BRAND?

Despite what marketing people passionately believe most people don’t think about brands, they just get on with their lives. The coffee they buy, the supermarket they go to and petrol station they visit happen almost by accident. In Britain today we are too busy to think through these everyday inconsequential purchases, focused on saving time, not forgetting something or rushing from place to place on a tight deadline. So do brands matter and if so why and how?

Consumer Choice

Let’s start with the basics, the consumer has choices, endless choices if they choose to use them, but in many everyday cases as in my examples above, the consumer sacrifices those choices for simple expedience. The inability to see (or value) brand differentiation, between Starbucks and Costa, between Tesco and Morrisons between BP and Shell, and yet they each fight for space in consumers minds through tiny differences which if we stop and think about do actually exist and we the consumer do actively value.      

So much more than First Impressions

So in today’s Britain, what is important about a brand? Is it the halo effect, the first impression, like the smile on the front of a car or is it something more, something deeper and more tangible? Ask the owners of Sunny D (the 90's orange juice lookalike) and you will find that the halo effect does not last if your brand is not true to itself and to its consumers. Customers have to believe in a brand, it must tell the truth, be transparent and honest if it is to be successful. Gerald Ratner (former MD of Ratners the jewellers who said about his products "because it's total crap") also found out that in today’s world everyone must truly believe in the brand, not just the marketing department but the whole company has to believe it and most importantly practice the brands beliefs.

Being clear and precise is also important in the company’s messages for a brand to succeed, a strong undiluted brand message must enthuse internally but must also consistently connect with customers through touch points, look at Innocent, Dorset Cereals or Apple as classic examples of touch point. They also demonstrate a clear story delivered with passion about who they are what they do and why they matter. This focused and consistent message is not just a marketing message but an ingrained set of values which consumers buy into with passion. These brands not only position themselves as premium players in their fields and earn more but they also continuously find new ways to spread their key messages to customers, they have a clear brand strategy to achieve it.       

Everyone Lives the Brand

Another vital aspect of any brand success is that the people within that brand demonstrate what they preach, they live that lifestyle, support that brand and contribute to its success. It is their lifestyle, it is a part of the way they and their brand do business.   

Great brands go beyond the brand to understand its real value to existing customers but also to tomorrow’s customers.  Whether it is a family run local shop or a global supermarket chain great brands position themselves so they develop and hold a market position to develop long-term success.   

Great brands also develop their own uniqueness, not just the product or service but the whole package is how we do it around here. There needs to be not only consistency but the brand hand writing and value on how they do it. The best brands always develop singular simple signals for customers, cutting through jargon to create clarity without patronisation.    
For brands to succeed in today’s global markets these golden rules have never been more important as consumers have never had so much information, but if you follow these simple rules of brand success you can develop and maintain a great brand.   

If you want to develop your company's brand and are looking for some advice on developing your company, its marketing, its sustainable competitive advantage then contact us at Cowden Consulting to see how we can assist you, or read more about us in this blog or at Cowden Consulting.

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Cowden Consulting is a strategic planning and implementation business which works in partnership with customers to grow and develop their business, contact us to learn more.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Great LEADERSHIP is all about your VISION

Great LEADERSHIP is all about your VISION

Vision, is as we all know the most important leadership trait for a successful leader to have. That does not mean they can see but that they have a strategic vision for their business. Great leaders may be charismatic, they maybe forceful they may even be likeable, but for them to be successful they must have and be able to communicate and inspire others through their vision. 

According to Right Management consultancy’s survey of 1439 chief executives and senior HR people from 707 organizations across the globe found that the outstanding trait of successful leadership is the ability to create and communicate a VISION was the most important characteristic for success. The score of 92%, demonstrates just how important a characteristic this is across such a large number of very senior people in business.   

Business VISION
The Right Management consultancy, which is owned by the Manpower group: survey provides clear confirmation to everyone in leadership positions that the single most important factor for success is that of creating and communicating a clear vision to their people.   

“Without a clear vision no leader can succeed today in business”

Leader v Manager

The key difference between a leader and a manager is often simply summarised in that a leader sets direction while a manager ensures the delivery of the plan, or elements of it. This simplified statement is a good starting point in explaining how these two roles can be clearly defined.
The research, which is heavily influenced by North America, revealed that leaders evolve from a wide variety of backgrounds, experience and job functions within companies across a wide range of industries.  Western corporate CEOs are most likely to come from Operations and Finance, with more specialised areas providing a less likely route to becoming a chief executive.

Failing Chief Executives

Conversely, the top factors that contribute to the failure of chief executives include a wide-range of factors, which include both soft skills factors as well as the obvious failure to achieve acceptable results. The leading reason cited for failing chief executives is the failure to build relationships or team culture, reflects today’s’ importance of talent management.

The reflection that science is now more important than the science is evident:  “Leadership development today is more science than art,” said Sue Roffey-Jones, practice leader at Right Management. “In today’s business environment leadership development needs to be grounded in real work and focused on the critical competencies required for success in Chief executive level roles.”

Key Skills

The importance of being financial and operationally literate to the CEO role is also becoming more evident: “We would assume that people are promoted to CEO from operations and finance because they are perceived to have developed competencies that are important for the CEO role,” said Roffey-Jones. 

“However, given what research has revealed to be the critical competencies for a CEO, how would a company develop leaders who have demonstrated a track record of ‘Creating a strategic vision’ and ‘Inspiring others and maintaining leadership responsibility’ when these roles are more likely to be the fairly exclusive domain of the CEO?” said Roffey-Jones

Succession Planning
The importance of succession and smooth transition is becoming more important. With the exception of the sudden changes, such as BP’s sudden need to be seen to change direction in response to events, companies today are investing time and effort in succession planning. Good well planned succession planning ensures long-term shareholder value and the ability of avoiding the football management culture of change.     

Executives, board members and business leaders all recognise that talent management plans, including succession management have become essential for sustained performance in today’s organisations. 

If you want to develop your company's position then there needs to be a vision for it, where it is going and why. If your look for some advice on developing your company, its marketing, its sustainable competitive advantage then contact us at Cowden Consulting to see how we can assist you, or read more about us in this blog or at Cowden Consulting.

Or learn how to plan your business successfully see our video to learn more:-  

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Cowden Consulting is a strategic planning and implementation business which works in partnership with customers to grow and develop their business, contact us to learn more.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Do you have a plan for Growth?

Do you have a plan for GROWTH?

Do you have a clear vision of where you are going to take your business? Are you sure that everything you do today to increase turnover, acquire more clients and reduce the amount of time you work in your business is actually working? Successful businesses develop strategic plans to move their business forward, to grow and succeed.

The first role af any owner or director is to have a plan, from star-up onwards (not for the banks) but for you to own and deliver. That plan needs to be kept alive, fresh and driven to focus on success and succeeding.

GROWTH needs a strategy!

A strategy is a researched approach supported by a detailed plan of continual action steps. The reason strategies are so vital is they keep things moving, and in business, if you are not going forward, you’re going backwards, and that can happen very fast. So, if you want your business to be successful and/or pay you more, having a strategy that focuses on growth is a must!

If you have no formal strategy to take your business to the next level you need to refocus your priorities right now to create growth, here's the first stage of a growth strategy framework:

Step 1 Create a clear vision of what you want to achieve:

There’s an old saying that you can’t hit a target you can’t see. Well your vision is your target. Your vision needs to be very clear in terms of what you want from your business, by turnover, profit, customer type or all three? What’s your ideal position in that market, do you want to be known as the premier supplier of your product or service, or a low cost or niche player?

What about your personal goals to support your lifestyle?  You need to be very clear about what you want and what you don’t want. Have a clear focus that will keep you aligned with your long term goal for you and your business. 

Cowden Consulting provides Strategic Planning Workshops which enable owners to create their vision of what they want to achieve. Our SPW faciliated workshops provide the opportunity for owners to work on their business not in their business. To learn more about Strategic Planning Workshops (SPW's) or contact us by clicking Cowden Consulting to discuss your needs, or go to our website to learn more about us.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Strategy: out compete the competition

How to outcompete the competition 

In mature often saturated markets developing a unique strategic position which gives you sustainable competitive advantage in your market is the holy grail for business owners. To be somewhere that your competitors aren't, and to have something that cannot be taken away is what everyone setting up in business dreams of achieving. It is one clear defining way of out competing the competition is to develop a sustainable competitive advantage in a market

Sustainable Competitive Advantage

Few companies can lay claim to that holy grail position for any length of time, here are some that come immediately to mind: Ferrari, Rolls Royce Engines, Hoover, Apple's Iphone and Ipod, Boeing, Walkman, Sky, Microsoft Windows, are all good examples of companies who have achieved, or are holding it today. 


To be recognised as the market maker such as Hoover gave it unbelievable control of the market for most of the 20th century, not only owning the market it was even named after them. What changed? A loss of focus and desire to continue to own the market coupled with the airplane ticket fiasco which opened the door to new competitors and to one man in particular James Dyson  who grabbed the opportunity to replace Hoovers once held position in the market launching his own Dyson brand through technology shift of his cyclone bag less vacuum. 

His passion, created from vacuuming at home and becoming frustrated, seeing the cyclone idea at a sawmill which then took 15 years, 5,127 prototypes to turn into a winning product, which today benefits upon 60% recommendation purchases and has allowed Dyson to spin his cyclone technology into air dryers and washing machines. 

Features of Strategic Competitive Advantage 

What are the key features of sustainable competitive advantage for any company in their market, well here are the most commonly found top five:-

  • Charge a premium for its services; even low cost suppliers out price other low cost suppliers.
  • Lead the market by innovation; will get to market new ideas quicker or in a more dominant market shift way.
  • Controls the key channels to market; from buying decision processes to pricing structures.
  • Owns the pace of change within the market; from technology development and consumer shift
  • Control of buyer activity; the significant majority of the share of buy (SOB) and share of space (SOS) through its dominance.   

To achieve sustainable competitive advantage is extremely difficult, most companies manage to reach a challenger market position. For that to happen their has to be a clear vision of where the company is going and where the market opportunity exists. For men like James Dyson the advantage was that he was in the right place at the right time, with the right product that enabled a technological shift in the market with his bag less vacuum.

If you want to develop your company's position then there needs to be a vision for it, where it is going and why. If your look for some advice on developing your company, its marketing, its sustainable competitive advantage then contact us at Cowden Consulting to see how we can assist you, or read more about us in this blog or at Cowden Consulting.

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Monday, 29 August 2011

Strategy: How Steve Jobs changed the world

Apple’s founder and talisman, Steve Jobs has finally had to step down from running the world’s most successful company, it is probably overdue that the world recognises this brilliant strategist who changed the world.

Had Steve Jobs just set-up Apple he would have gone down in history as a great inventor, but to have done it twice over with the same company, creating the world’s biggest company in the process surely makes him the greatest ever. Possibly his most important contribution was that he created markets and then the best products possible for those new markets. Steve Jobs understood that the technology needed to work for customers, rather than expect people to work the technology.   

As a brilliant businessman and strategist, he more importantly created world class products and ran the company that delivered those products to market. Most superb inventors just invent and most great directors’ focus on leading, to do both simultaneously to such a high standard is an outstanding achievement.       

Steve Jobs is so unusual because he understands that great technology does not sell itself and that to have great technology you have to be passionate not only about what you produce, but also about the world in which your products exist.

Steve Jobs potted history

  • 1976 started Apple with Stephen Wozniak to make and sell printed circuit boards
  • 1978 launched  a new disc drive which made the money to invest in whole computers
  • Launched the revolutionary Macintosh computer in 1984
  • Ousted from Apple in 1985 and returned after creating NeXT in 1996 which Apple bought
  • Created Pixar with $5 billion in box-office sales, sold for $7.4 to Disney in 1996 

Created the i-generation with more to come such as iCloud and entering the TV market

While to many who did not understand his holistic strategy they looked for and saw flaws, tried to stab the ego and even removed him from his own company (to play safe with what he had produced as a single new product).  He played the long game recognising that the world would not be changed overnight, this was his strategic master-stoke, he got the timing right by understanding the big picture and knowing when to strike.

He has been described by those who have worked with him as wilful, irascible, temperamental and stubborn, to name a few, but can anyone do so much without at least those characteristics to change the world? Other words, which people often use to describe him, include perfectionist, insistent and mesmerising and that is how the world will remember how he has achieved such global success.   In his Stanford address in 2005 he explained what made him, drove him and continued to motivate him to become the person and the huge success for which the world will remember him for.    

Steve Jobs changed the world. He saw a world revolution in technology before anyone else and saw how he could drive that change. Great strategic thinking not only thinks about change but also the impact of that change will have, and that’s what makes him simply the best. Other owners and directors were working on improving their share price or becoming number one with their new product, focusing on the today, this month’s or this years priorities, Steve Jobs drove Apple to rethink the world and in doing so became its biggest player. His line in recruiting John Sculley from Pepsi “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world” sums up his strategic brilliance.   

Evidence of this brilliant approach comes throughout his career, from Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire music to launch the Macintosh, through to his unforgettable iPod launch where with a huge back screen shot he casually produced it from the back pocket of his jeans; Steve Jobs has learnt how to successfully engage with audiences. Every product is meticulously planned with product lined up to two years in advance, with innovative marketing from start to finish.

From a business selling technology, it is now seen as having the best retail environment that people actually want to visit Apple shops where the focus is on excellence, not on pedalling technology cheaper than the next retailer. Steve Jobs has always had an eye for detail, which his artistic flare turned geeky boxes into works of art; a calligraphy course he went on led him to have a non standard font Apple Garamond created rather than traditional New Roman Times font, something he goaded Microsoft about at a high school speech some years later. That attention to detail is what demonstrated his perfectionist approach and left the competitors looking and feeling like they were in the dark ages.          

Apple’s “Think different” strategy has worked so well since 1997 because it touched people who felt there was no alternative to the Bill Gates and Microsoft monopoly of software. Think Different also drove change for both the 50,000 Apple employees and allowing his strategy to infect and spread globally.  It was not only technical people who bought into Macs but a whole new generation of users who found that there was a credible alternative that did more than just be a glorified typewriter.
While Apple was never one man, Steve Jobs legacy will be difficult to estimate for many years to come as the world’s most successful businessman. The old adage it is not what one has done that counts but what one leaves to grow that is the measure of a man’s success and that will take time for the world to see his true legacy, but the following puts some numbers behind this success.  

Since Steve Jobs comeback in 1997 Apple has sold:-

  • 26 million iPhones
  • 60 million computers
  • 200 million iPods
  • 1 billion iTunes songs   

Apple is currently valued at $356 billion ($2 Billion ahead of Exxon) making it the largest company in the world. Last quarter alone Apple profits more than doubled to $7.3 billion, sales rose by 82% to $28.6 billion by selling 20 million iPhones, 9 million iPads, 8 million iPods and 4 million Mac computers .

Steve Jobs announcement of his retirement wiped $17 billion *(5%) from its market share, but he has increased its share value by 9000% since 1997.   


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