Incremental Changes + Marginal Gains = Successful Brands

In a rare idle moment a few weeks back I managed to catch a repeat on Sky of the rather brilliant documentary Bradley Wiggins – A Year In Yellow. It’s a very good watch, not just for cyclists or people with even the slightest interest in the sport, but because it touches on a number of areas which anyone looking to develop their brand and general marketing / promotion of their business could well take note from.

The achievements of Dave Brailsford, the Performance Director of British Cycling and principal of Team Sky can’t have passed anyone by and some might say that he, more than anyone, has been responsible for road cycling to be enjoying the huge surge in popularity.

Much of what Brailsford and performance coach Shane Sutton achieved with Bradley Wiggins et al will go down in history and the crowning glories of the Tour de France and Olympic gold medals is an incredible palmarès to boast.

The passage which struck a chord with me is when Brailsford talks about Incremental Changes and Marginal Gains, specifically with Bradley Wiggins. He knows that a complete broad brush approach to Wiggins’ training won’t do anything other than probably kill the cyclist, but by systematically focusing on small areas for development (incremental changes) then these (marginal gains) will all add up to achieve the true potential of the rider.

A combination of diet and nutrition, training programmes interrogated to the nth degree, psychology and the work/life balance (as well as the supporting team around him) achieved the result which, as we all know, was pretty sensational.

OK, so Wiggins wasn’t the strongest rider in the Tour that year, but his team around him were all (except one, perhaps…) on board with the strategy, something which would also make these incremental changes add up to a very big gain.

“It’s possible to walk a thousand miles but only if you do it one step at a time,” says Brailsford in a event interview with Marketing Week. “We looked at every component that could influence performance and how we could improve it even by the smallest margin. Put all those little gains together, you get quite a significant increase in overall performance.”

So replace Wiggins the person with your business and your brand. Replace his team with the staff you employ. Replace the goal of winning the Tour de France with your own main business objective(s) and put yourself in the scenario of pre-2012. What marginal gains might be made by undertaking small, incremental changes that would all add up to achieve your Maillot Jaune or Olympic gold? A few suggestions might include:

Consistency – simply ensuring that your existing visual elements are all on-brand in terms of typeface, formatting and imagery. It may sound simple, but if your customers are getting mixed visual messages then how can they build allegiance with you?

Messaging –  it’s easy for communications to slip, both in frequency and content, but making sure they all share the same copy tone and personality can focus the mind of both the author and the audience.

Business Diet – are you and your key people consuming the right information? This means keeping in-tune with your industry, abreast of developments and aware of what’s going on around you. A healthy bit of competitor scanning never hurt, but you’d be surprised how many businesses have got tunnel vision and therefore miss what’s being served up around them.

Detail in Data – when was the last time you looked at your database of customers or prospects? You’d be surprised at how many (even large) companies who haven’t dedicated a little time and effort to cleaning up their database. No big deal, you say? Well next time you’re doing a direct mail campaign, think of how many are just ending up in the bin or not delivered to the right person.

Training and Breaking – keeping on top of the game is never a bad thing, but it’s never the only thing. Try to stay current and up to speed, but don’t forget to take your foot off the gas every once in a while, let the peloton take the strain and enjoy the countryside as you coast on by.

Go Change Your Window – a friend who worked in managing a very successful clothing retail business would always tell her staff, “If it’s a quiet day, pop into the front window and change the mannequins around a bit.” It didn’t have to be much, more the act of a member of staff in the window was enough to spark curiosity and draw in customers. If you don’t have a shop window, then what about your website? When was the last time you put a fresh image on there?

I’m not going to suggest this is business consultancy in any way, just musings from watching a very good documentary on a subject matter that is close to my heart that got me thinking.

I might however suggest that the biggest steps forward a business can make is not to attempt huge changes to their brand (visual identity in particular) when there are plenty of common sense, good housekeeping, incremental changes that may all add up to something pretty big indeed.

What I will definitely suggest is that, if you can, watch the documentary for yourself and see if any of it inspires you as well.