In the Company of Genius: Adidas, Starbucks, Walmart Receive ‘Genius’ Distinction
A question we hear frequently from clients is: “How do I become a digital Genius?” In our research, Genius brands represent the leaders in digital media, e-commerce, product innovation, and organizational structure. For the majority of brands and retailers, particularly those that fall into the “Average” or “Challenged” categories from a digital performance standpoint, the answer is simple: “You shouldn’t.” The reality is that the people, budgets and technology required to consistently outbid the competition for keywords on Google or drive the greatest brand awareness through a pre-roll video campaign isn't attainable for retailers that lack the size, scale and resources of larger, more dominant players. Instead, the question clients should be asking is: “How can I drive a better return on my digital investments?” or “How should I reallocate capital to maximize the value we're providing to our customers?”
At Gartner, we benchmark the digital performance of brands to understand how digital is impacting consumer sectors. In 2018, we ranked the digital performance of 1,872 brands in our Gartner L2 Intelligence: In the Company of Genius report. Only 57 brands earned the coveted distinction of “Genius.” Over the years, we’ve found that “Genius” companies display three key similarities in their approach to digital strategy that brands and retailers of all shapes and sizes can learn from.
Adaptation to the New Rules of Media
In many ways, digital has leveled the playing field, allowing smaller brands to compete. In simple terms, growing a brand in a pre-digital era was fairly straightforward — take a relatively mediocre product or offering, establish positive associations around that product or offering through a brand, and reinforce these core associations across mass-marketing channels. One-way mediums like television favored big brands which had the relationships and resources to reach vast audiences with their messages. Digital, however, has completely upended this paradigm. While the old guard (consumer companies founded before 2000) outperforms across more traditional, resource-dependent digital media like paid search, the new guard (consumer companies founded after 2000) grows their brands through newer, more visual mediums like Instagram. However, what ultimately differentiates Genius brands, regardless of size or age, is their ability to reimagine branding, content and messaging for visual, mobile-first digital platforms.
Agile and Respond to Consumer Trends More Quickly
While digital platforms have created a more competitive environment by enabling new companies to start up at a fraction of the cost, the free distribution of information across the internet has also fundamentally shifted how consumers discover brands and products. With internet giants like Google and Amazon.com providing the transparency of information for consumers to make smarter decisions more quickly, consumer demand is changing at an increasing rate. However, brands that leverage real-time indicators of these trends, like Google search volume and consumer sentiment through Amazon reviews, and capitalize on these insights faster than the competition benefit disproportionately.
Infect the Organization With Digital Excellence
As legacy brands increasingly turn toward acquisitions to fuel growth in a digital age, Genius organizations leverage their size and scale to maximize the digital presence of their acquired businesses, particularly across paid media channels like social media and Google search. However, the biggest winners also apply learnings from their acquisitions to existing portfolio brands.
So, what can retailers learn from what we call “Genius” brands?
- There's no one-size-fits-all approach to digital media. As Amazon pushes the pace of innovation across retail, driving awareness for new initiatives requires both scaled reach through traditional digital marketing channels and authentic brand storytelling through mobile-first, visual mediums like Instagram.
- Capitalize on new consumer trends. Partner with brand manufacturers to optimize online and omnichannel assortment which caters to consumer demand.
- Create a culture of innovation. While Genius organizations provide acquired brands with a platform to scale, they also remain nimble enough to inject learnings into legacy businesses. Avoid letting short-term goals on profit and productivity get in the way of long-term sustainable growth.
Jake Matthews is the CPG research director at Gartner, a leading research and advisory company.