5 Reasons You’re Not Going to Grow in 2020

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Kyle Börner

Cofounder, Chief Creative Marketer and Strategist

The Common Management Traps to Avoid at All Costs

How do you stay motivated about your 2020 marketing budget?


Not in an Oprah stand-up, scream, and dance kind of way.

I’m talking end-of-year.

When the hard numbers are presented.

Awareness.  Traffic. Sales.  Revenue. Market Share.  CAGR. Size.

How do you stay motivated when the numbers are lower than expected?

Sitting at a new client’s table a few months back, with the executive’s hand firmly stuck in his hair, I was asked, “So what do we do next year? Should we double, triple our Social Media budget? What? I don’t know!

After he shared frustrations about failed attempts to move product online and his growing inventory, I told him, “You need to change your focus. You need to be 100% customer-oriented. And your marketing needs to communicate confidence in your customer-orientation.

He almost fell off his chair, but five minutes later after sharing with him what I’m about to share with you, he clapped his hands with a newfound enthusiasm for 2020, a larger marketing budget, and a clearer understanding of what it means to be customer-oriented.


Everyone wants it consistently, but it can be evasive and bewildering for management.

Your industry IS a growth industry or WAS a growth industry.  Either way, no matter what industry you’re in, the growth of YOUR BUSINESS is always under threat due to a failure of management.

What do I mean by failure?

If you’re not growing, your management is failing the business by keeping it one or more of these buckets:

1. Narrow Product-Orientation

When a business narrowly defines its purpose, let alone its industry, it’s guaranteeing its decline.  This is a common occurrence in organizations that are overly product-focused. A good example is an automobile company that blindly defines its purpose as “making cars” instead of “providing safe transportation”.  Which do you think describes Chevrolet, and which do you think describes Volvo?  Yes, that’s quite possibly the easiest question you’ll answer today.

Product-oriented companies also fall into the “Indispensable Trap”.  No business or product is indispensable.  Just ask Elon Musk who has proven to traditional automakers and gasoline companies that they’re no longer competitively superior to the power, efficiencies, and sustainability of electricity.

As you know, you’re in the customer satisfaction business, not the goods-producing business, which is why you need a customer-first orientation.  The needs of customers are constantly evolving, and if your product and marketing don’t change alongside those needs, your competition may very well beat you to it, or they already have.

2. Absence of Originality and Vigor

Do you remember when Steve Jobs returned to Apple after a 10+ year hiatus? He remarked that Apple lost ground to Microsoft because it lost its level of differentiation; ie. the originality and vigor that set it apart from the competition (pretty much they lost him, ha).

When management fails to exercise or improve on the original levels of creativity, confidence, and awareness that first made the business grow, they lack the demonstrated will to survive.  Don’t get me wrong, the urgency behind sales and communication trends can interfere with a business by repurposing itself as a producer of goods and not a producer of customer satisfaction, but…

You have to break away from this monotonous cycle of decay and lead the rebirth of the organization’s originality and vigor.  Start attracting the all-stars of your organization with a customer-first orientation to really master your markets and industry, and you’ll expose the Grade D management and personnel that may be the cause of your potential invisible decay.  Once you do this, do not be surprised if your customers also follow your lead, further reinforcing your purpose to always be creating customer value.

3. Reliance on Industry Norms and Trends

One thing you should never do when your numbers aren’t growing is to blame the industry.  Instead, you should ignore the industry completely.  Relying on the advantages and trends of the industry can be self-deceiving and self-sabotaging, not to mention the majority of your competition is likely doing the same thing.

You should be concentrating and relying on your business.  Creating, discovering, and capitalizing on new growth opportunities undiscovered by the industry (furthering your originality in the meantime).  Yes, it is possible, and to further your excitement, when you do this you create demand, not force demand (we’ll compare marketing and sales later).

We’ve seen too many companies fall into the “envy trap”.  That’s why we deter clients from copying competitors, and instead, we help them by creating marketing innovations that positively change their industry, thereby reversing the direction of the “envy trap”.

4. Wishful Thinking and Complacency

Similar to when companies knowingly-or-unknowingly replace customer-orientation and originality with product-orientation and trend following, companies also replace creativity and innovation with cruise control wishful thinking and complacency when they experience growth.

Here’s a familiar example.  When do you receive more “brainstorming calendar requests”?  If brainstorming calendar requests are your organization’s response to stagnation or decline, then the absence of stagnation or decline likely leads to the absence of brainstorming calendar requests, which is downright frightening.

The solution is simple.  Never settle for being second to the competition.  You won’t find one leader of industry who settles for second.  That’s why they’re always considered innovative, creative, and customer-oriented, and why their marketing is better than the competition, too.  Furthermore, you won’t find an industry-leading management team that emphasizes their personal preservation over that of the business. Industry-leading managers are literally obsessed with taking care of customer needs, not selling them, and that’s why they’re creating more new growth (and sales) than the rest.

5. Super Focus on Sales and Production

When the focus of the business is on sales and production, more times than not marketing is neglected, and hence the Achilles of your growth clipped.

First, selling is not marketing.  Sales is concerned with transactions, whereas marketing is concerned with the values that make up the lifecycle of the transaction.  Let’s be honest here. Marketing is more complex than sales.

Second, “marketing” that overly communicates the needs of the seller is not marketing.  Traditional automotive companies are yet again another prime example. They emphasize new low lease prices and “inventory that must move” by displaying a dog dropping their puppies off at soccer practice; ie. “no value marketing”.  How often do you see a Tesla commercial?  Hardly ever. That’s because they practice “real marketing”, ie. creating value-satisfying products that customers want and need to buy, and value-satisfying marketing that discovers, creates, and satisfies customer wants and needs. Tesla doesn’t take L’s when it advertises.

In my 15+ years of business, I continue to encounter managers that improperly define their business purpose. This is most true in the IT landscape where managers are made up of programmers and engineers who, at no fault of their own, fall into every one of the aforementioned buckets.  They turned to us to first rethink their marketing, and that influenced a rethinking of the business as a whole.

What managers need to understand is that they’re in the customer satisfaction business, not the product delivery business. A business with customer-oriented management keeps a business growing no matter the industry.  They’re always on the lookout for opportunities to create new customer-satisfying value in both their product and marketing.

Please don’t shortchange marketing.

Make your own luck by committing to what guarantees business growth.

100% customer orientation.