Growth strategies: The basic playbook

Tried-and-true strategies are tried-and-true for a reason.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

There aren’t many challenges in life with a fail-proof playbook at the ready.

Finding your first job out of school? Raising a child to become a conscientious global citizen? Achieving inner peace and spiritual fulfillment? You’re out of luck.

A rare exception: Corporate growth strategies. For once, there’s a tried-and-true playbook, and the nice thing about tried-and-true playbooks is that they tend to work.

Sure, popular growth strategies aren’t entirely one size fits all. And if you’re selling ice-cold water on a blazing desert island, you might want to stick to your current business model.

But for any exec looking for effective growth strategies, we recommend not looking too hard. The best growth strategies are glaringly obvious—and you’ve probably already used them. Here, we spotlight a (non-exhaustive) sample.

Market expansion: You’ve tried this before. It’s simply selling “the same stuff to new people,” as Gino Chirio, EVP of growth services at Maddock Douglas, put it in the Harvard Business Review.

Done correctly, though, it’s a key ingredient of any growth strategy. Take Amazon’s expansion into India in 2013. At the time, much of the country lacked internet access, and people primarily purchased goods using paper currency, not credit cards, in brick-and-mortar stores, per the Harvard Business Review and HR solutions company Velocity Global.

Amazon met would-be customers where they were: The e-commerce giant served free drinks to more than 10,000 merchants in more than 30 cities, outlining the benefits of e-commerce and convincing them Amazon was a trustworthy partner, per HBR. After that project, dubbed Amazon Chai Cart, the company then unveiled Amazon Tatkal, a “studio on wheels,” per the company, which allowed the same merchants to launch as online vendors.

The company continued with other India-specific initiatives (the key ingredient here), and eventually, it paid off: By 2022, Amazon had an estimated 35% market share of India’s online retail market, according to Statista.

Product expansion. Maybe you’re not looking to sell the same thing to new people, though. Maybe you want to sell new things.

Just like Amazon’s market expansion strategy in India, a good product expansion plan is tightly tailored to the specifics of your organization. It might mean enhancing current products to target a new consumer base or introducing entirely new products for existing customers.

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The reward can be immense, even game-changing. One enduring example: Diet Coke. The leadup to Diet Coke’s launch was as extensive as you’d imagine, and key ingredients of a successful product expansion were present.

First, the math worked: “The economics of Diet Coke were so unbelievably simple because it didn’t have any sugar. When you remove the second-highest cost item after aluminum cans, you can make the numbers trend pretty well,” the late John Farrell, a former Coca-Cola vice president, once explained.

Second, there was a clear demographic ready for the product: Ahead of its launch, the target demo was “baby boomers who were getting 20 years older and 20 pounds heavier,” according to the company. “We had an in-depth knowledge of our target consumer and the issue of weight in America,” former Coca‑Cola planning manager Jack Carew noted.

When the product was finally ready for primetime, former Coca‑Cola USA president Brian Dyson called it “the most significant new product introduction in the entire 96-year history of The Coca‑Cola Company.” A look around grocery store aisles today can confirm.

Strategic partnerships. Call it the buddy system for corporations. Sometimes, you need a little backup. That’s where strategic partnerships, where two or more aligned organizations collaborate on a common goal, come into play.

A master class in the form: Apple and MasterCard.

Here, there was a clear mutual benefit: Before launching Apple Pay, Apple needed credibility in the world of payment processing, as well as credit card collaborators, which is what it found in the form of the already reputable and well-established MasterCard. The payment technology company, meanwhile, got the benefit of being the first authorized option for Apple Pay. In the corporate world, we have a lovely, overused word for that: synergy.

Mergers and acquisitions. Finally, there’s another teamwork-makes-the-dream-work growth strategy that can majorly pay off when done correctly: M&A. Just listing mergers highlights how indisputable they can be: Heinz and Kraft, AT&T and Time Warner, Exxon and Mobil, Romeo and Juliet. Ben and Jerry. OK, we’re getting carried away here, but the point is, when they work, they work.

News built for finance pros

CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.