In perhaps his greatest role yet, Tom Hanks as Josh in Big is the classic tale of teenage angst and the all too familiar desire to skip this awkward stage and just be all grown up (whatever that even means). Getting ‘big’ instantly causes issues for Josh – despite the cool job, tricked out apartment, and attending fancy parties, he just can’t deal with the responsibilities for his new adult life.

Organizations too have the desire to be ‘big’ – make a certain revenue, serve a specific need, solve a particular problem. But unlike the movies, growth usually doesn’t happen overnight and how you choose to be ‘big’ has huge implications for the path you take – do you invest in innovation or should you focus on building relationships and invest in marketing?

When thinking about how to grow, there are essentially three options:

  1. Support your existing community with more products and services
  2. Expand your products and services to more people in markets you are already in
  3. Expand to new markets or audiences

Choosing a growth path means making choices about where you will allocate your team’s time, energy, and money.  Let’s look at these in more detail:


Support your existing community with more products and services

Question To Ask: How can we better serve the people that we already engage with?

If you already have an existing community of people who are engaging with your brand, an opportunity might exist in serving them in a deeper way. In a previous blog post, we mentioned our disdain for the word ‘consumer’ – partly because it blocks your ability to see your customers/donors/clients/users as fully-formed individuals. Think about them as people, consider their lives and where they are fulfilling other needs that make sense for you to fill? For example, Uber added services like UberEats – allowing the brand to penetrate deeper into the hearts and minds of its customers, who are used to using the app to find a car nearby.

Implications Of This Path: Grow your expertise. Gain a deeper understanding of your audience and their needs in order to create new product or service opportunities for them.


Expand your products and services to more people in markets you are already in

Question To Ask: How can we reach more people like the ones we already serve?

This strategy is perhaps the one that is most commonly pursued by organizations – how do we reach more people? Organizations often cite the enormous size of the market or need – ‘it’s a 15.3 billion dollar market!’ But knowing that isn’t enough to justify taking this strategy. What’s equally important is sizing the opportunity that is available to you specifically and defining how many ‘more’ people you want to reach, where you find them, and what should you say and do?

Implications Of This Path: Invest in marketing. Allocate your resources in building a marketing strategy that is aggressive in increasing brand awareness, consideration, trial.


Expand to new markets or audiences

Question To Ask: Who has or where are there unmet needs that my offerings can fulfill?

If you’re looking to broaden your impact, expanding into new cities or reaching a new audience can be very appealing. This strategy makes sense if you have grown as much as you can in your existing markets or with your existing audience. Moving to capture new markets brings scale and impact, but also diverts resources. What is the best way to capture new people or new geographies in a way that makes sense for your brand? Chef Rick Bayless spent the early part of his career as a Restaurateur opening fine-dining Mexican restaurants. In more recent years, his brand has focused on expanding into new markets by opening fast-casual restaurants in airports and universities and creating his own line of salsas to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise eat at the original upscale restaurants his brand was previously known for.

Implications Of This Path: Invest in building relationships – identify the people or organizations that might help you successfully penetrate a new market.


Choosing a growth path matters because the decision has big implications for where your team spends its time and money. Are you investing in developing new products and services or are you investing in advertising and new distribution? It is difficult to know how to allocate your resources if you don’t clearly know what big looks like. Of course, regardless of which path you choose, you can’t ignore your existing service or products, as you don’t want to disappoint your current community in pursuit of a new one.

While the appeal of achieving overnight growth will always exist, choosing a growth path means you’ll be better equipped to handle the responsibilities that come with being big including dressing for and eating at fancy parties.  



Sehare is a Strategist at Compass(x) Strategy, a Chicago brand and growth strategy firm that creates sustainable growth for passionate companies.

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