Slow growth: how should your business deal with the tough years ahead? [research]

Here’s a graph from a recent Accenture report that clearly shows that the economy is not out of the woods by a long shot, and that economic growth will likely stay slow for the next years.

The first graph shows the dismal outlook for the mature economies, something everybody already knew or expected. The second graph shows how hard the crisis hit (American) consumers psychologically and financially: American consumers are still very hesitant about consuming. (If nobody is buying things, it’s no wonder the sharing economy – the next LeWeb theme – is such a big hit).

In the good years, growth could be be captured by looking at emerging trends, and being in the right place at the right time. In a slow growth economy, this won’t suffice, say the authors of the report:

In the past, companies could grow simply by focusing on the “where” and “who” of consumption—places such as emerging markets and growing customer segments such as the elderly.

Today, two additional elements are critical: the “how” of consumption, and the “why.” Both areas have undergone rapid change in recent years—so rapid that executives, even when aware of the trends, have wondered how to respond.

The report urges business leaders to look closely at how consumers are changing, and try to find ways to make a business out of those changes. Among the most important changes Accenture identifies are (as expected) connectedness of consumers, the fact that consumers become social, but also: co-productive.

Apparently, consumers are more and more inclined to give feedback to companies about their products, and even help design new products. I’ve read somewhere recently that we’re gradually seeing a blurring of the lines between production and consumption, and this report seems to support that idea.

According to the report fast growing companies (companies that grow faster than average for their industry) are more likely than slow growing companies to see opportunity in consumer behavior change, and invest more in consumer-facing activities to capture opportunities.

Furthermore, the report seems like a warm endorsement for agile and growth hacking strategies in large companies. Among other things, Accenture says business should:

  • Develop a cutting-edge analytical toolkit that enables them to continuously assess and respond to changes in consumer behavior.
  • Instill an adaptive mindset that helps them anticipate or respond quickly to disruptive market forces.
  • Create an agile organization to introduce the right capabilities to act on fast-developing opportunities.

It’s no wonder that so many corporations are investing in startups through corporate venturing arms, or launching accelerators: they’re trying to make sense of all the changes. And they’re looking for (relatively) cheap ways to test new ideas that are specifically built around these changes in consumer behavior, or even provoke these changes.

Tell us: how will your company deal with the anemic growth in the next years? Share your strategies and tactics in the comments.

[You can read the full pdf here: Accenture][photo: Flickr, iamgreenapple]

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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