WARC Commissioning Editor Catherine Driscoll introduces this month’s WARC Guide which provides guidance for high-growth, scale-up brands.

These brands have matured beyond the start-up phase and after a period of consistent growth are ready to move to the next level. However, with lower budgets and the need for a strategic pivot, they can face a host of challenges to maintain or build on their initial success.

High-growth firms, or “scale-ups” are officially defined by the OECD as businesses with at least ten employees and an average annual growth in employment or revenue exceeding 20% over three consecutive years. 

Most commonly, scale-up companies and brands are often targeting new markets, with an emphasis on new customers and gross revenue growth. They’ve built a healthy business with a strong product-market fit and are ready to have their volume turned up. 

Brands ready to scale will benefit by moving to integrated communications planning and longer-term forecasting and measurement.

Acquisition channels can reach saturation point for new brands and their growth starts to level off – a sign it’s time to change media strategy. Research by strategist Tom Roach and System1 will aid brands in navigating a move to television advertising, reinforced by a major study from the VAB on television advertising by direct-to-consumer brands, both of which include advice on improving creative. Video ads that succeeded on social do not translate effectively to television, and targeting all age groups rather than a focus on millennials will lead to bigger results.

The online marketplace Amazon is an option to scale for an increasing array of categories – both brands that started out as direct to consumer, or that were originally found in store. Chris Moe, Founder of Cartograph, highlights that “Amazon’s already enormous presence swelled to such a degree during the pandemic that its importance to consumer goods brands is now far too large to ignore.”

As well as expanding their media strategy, businesses and products looking to accelerate growth need to invest in their brand proposition to build a long-term and sustainable business model. Scale-ups need a strong brand identity, supported by distinctive brand assets, as they broaden awareness and increase media spend.

Scale up brands also need to focus on clarity of purpose and values as they grow, as well as ensuring internal processes and communications evolve. This vision is critical to hiring the right people to retain or build a healthy company culture as the business grows at pace.

More in the WARC Guide to scale-up brands:

  • Matthew Pover, Group Growth Officer at What’s Possible group, shares some of the challenges start-ups face, and the role of the CMO in developing and executing strategies that deliver their long-term growth.
  • Jon Goldstone of the brandgym outlines five key areas for fast-growing brands to focus on to become successful scale-ups, including a focus on positioning, dialing up brand assets and keeping an eye on product quality.
  • Patrick Whatman, head of content at Spendesk, looks at the difference between growth and scaling.
  • Danielle Wiley, founder and CEO of Sway Group, explains how new and rising businesses have a unique opportunity to organically grow their brand by partnering with social media influencers, allowing the brand’s audience to have a stake in its future direction.
  • Jane Clarke, a founding partner at Strat House, explains why scale-up brands need to be clear, crafted, consistent and connected to reach the next phase of growth.
  • Preeti Mascarenhas, Chief Strategy Officer, Dentsu – Singapore, looks at current trends that impact how brands scale across Asian cultures, highlighting considerations around sustainability, diversity, and new technology. 
  • Too many businesses think factors such as employee engagement and diversity will rise once they are successful, but Will Brookes, CEO of Raconteur, cautions that a company is never too small for a focus on DE&I.
  • Finally, Ashley Yetman, partner and the Director of Brand Strategy at Baldwin&, takes a contrarian look at building a brand and advises companies to focus on their own reason for being and what they have to offer rather than copying other brands to find further success.