Four years ago, Marc de Swaan Arons and Frank van den Driest who have been consultants for more than a decade and a half, felt that the traditional growth formulas were not working for most companies. So, they approached WPP, which went on to acquire their baby - Institute for Real Growth. With WPP on board, they created a platform that is not for profit, one that is independent, where they could take their study to CMOs who can be inspired by their peers, learn from the best practices and be provided with thought leadership. In a way it is a balancing act, which leads to growth in the eco-system.
Talking about their methodology, and how the ‘engagement’ part sets them apart, Marc de Swaan Arons, Founder, IRG says, “The findings of our first big study around global brand effectiveness was published in the book called The Global Brand CEO in 2010. The findings of the second and third study was published by the Harvard Business Review. The methodology we followed at IRG was similar to what we had been following for the studies, we looked at what over-performers in the market did differently from the under-performers. But rather than just giving people an article or a book and letting them figure it out, what we noticed is that the CMOs preferred to engage around the content clearly, to learn and interact with each other and that’s why we created the platform called Institute for Real Growth.”
Elaborating further on the process he says, “We take the growth leaders on a journey after they sign our major flagship programme called IRG 100. Our costs are paid by WPP- the major contributor and also by Google, Meta, Salesforce and a few other companies. In exchange for their funding, we give them seats in the programme to give to their clients. So WPP for example, has invited six or seven very senior marketing leaders from India over the last three years into our programmes. We typically don’t work on a one-company basis. We have this 26-week programme with the leaders where we connect them to experts, let them chat with their peers on the topic, etc. So, all these leaders connect every week. We are really ‘not for profit’, we don’t charge for consultancy nor do we sell anything indirectly. So, we are able to build an environment of transparency and trust.”
The IRG focusses largely on ‘humanized growth,’ which is not very concentrated on boosting the bottom line or the profits for the next quarter but rather is an approach to growth that’s long-term and creating value for all the people involved. In an exceedingly competitive marketing environment, IRG maps out an inclusive and empathetic vision. Deep diving into that Frank van den Driest, Founder, IRG says, “Chief Finance Officers are the ones that drive marketers to deliver results in the very next quarter and the interesting thing is that the ones we have interacted with through our programme are also completely signed onto this vision of more humanized growth. We strongly believe that the CMOs or the marketing function should collaborate more closely with the finance community because together they can convince investors and shareholders that in reality we’re not running a short-term sprint, we’re running a long-term marathon.”
But as experts in the world of consultancy do they feel that things have changed massively for the industry in the past decade or so, especially with the onslaught of Covid-19? How are they helping leaders adapt to this change effectively? Marc explains, “There’s an Indian saying that businesses do good by doing good. We actually believe that the over-focus on short term profits is a relatively recent thing, while companies have been around for hundreds of years. These firms typically were started by leaders that wanted to make a difference to the community that they served, and if you did that well, you made money. You definitely didn’t create a company to make money. In the last 15-20 years society has been pushing back on companies to ask, why are you hurting the earth, and why you aren’t distributing the value equitably, and Covid accelerated that. In fact, during the pandemic the companies that did well, didn’t only think about profit, they thought about the larger good of their customers and employees. Those firms have seen better retention of employees too, which would have saved the company a lot of money on hiring and training new workforce, etc.”
Frank adds, “What we have learned through our study is that you’re not in a B2B or B2C, what you really are in is human-to-human. It’s really about understanding people. The idea is to create a movement of people who understand that and want to build a better community in which we live.”
So far IRG has interviewed over 750 leaders, including CMOs and CEOs which resulted in honest responses about their learnings, aspirations and failures. They then combine those interviews with actual data around how their companies are performing, and then look at differences in the methodologies between the fastest growing and declining companies, a winners vs. losers study of sorts, which has helped around 250-300 companies till date, including five Indian companies as well of late.
Frank explains, “We’re basically bringing together mine and Marc’s combined 50 years of consulting experience with what we learn in this study to help other leaders & organisations. Besides the programme where we guide a hundred CMOs together, we also run programmes for specific companies. And we work in those companies with a group of 20-40 people for a couple of months to course-correct them. We help companies and people realise their Ikigai which is the intersection of what you’re good at, of what you like doing, what you get paid for and what the world needs. It gives people the energy and the passion to actually create that movement with a humanized growth.”
So, one has to ask, what are the five must-haves for any successful company today, and Marc is quick to reply, “A successful company thinks abundantly about the market they are in, experiences they offer, has multiple business models, an anticipative and agile organization, and whole brained teams- analytical and empathetic.”
Giving an example of one of the successful companies that used some of them, the Founders of IRG say, “A hair care company claiming to have 27% market share was negotiating with Amazon about their virtual share in hair care. But Amazon data showed only 11% share. After introspection, they found that what the company really meant was shampoo and conditioners and other bottled products along with those you buy at the super market while Amazon data included dryers, curlers, gel, etc., which help you take care of your hair. And indeed the market share then was lower. And to the credit of the company, they said why don’t we take the same approach and understand what are the other products used to express yourself through your hair and take care of it. They then started looking at more such products available on small websites and stores to expand their product line, while also realising that by the new logic they didn’t even have as much as 11% but only 3% share. The big change and impact it had was that when suddenly you have 3% market share, it becomes feasible to double it. When it is 27% all you think about is how do I protect it and they would have never thought of entering newer markets.”
When McDonalds came to India, the world got the first McDonalds Aloo tiki vegetarian burger. I ask them how is IRG Indianizing these global case studies that they have collected to make sure, it makes sense to the Indian market and Indian leaders? Marc responds, “The interpretation of the local leaders is what makes it unique to this market. Even in the session we had with the CMOs in India during this visit we shared global findings and made it truly local with the help of the local leaders who were talking about Indian investment climate, stock market and human situation here.”
Frank concludes, “India is a very different market and hopefully what we can leave behind in India is a systemic solution, whereby people have a platform where they can find each other, collaborate and learn from each other and jointly drive more humanized growth with WPP, Google, Salesforce, Spencer, and all the other great companies that India has.”