What surfing can teach us about how to grow brands

I started surfing at a young age and like most kids who surf, I too dreamed of one day becoming a pro. Non-surfers may be surprised by this, but surfing has taught me many lessons that I regularly apply today, not as a competitor in the World Surf League, but as the director of growth strategy at Function Growth, the growth accelerator that is part of XenoPsi. .

When a surfer is in the water, they compete with others for a limited amount of good waves. Catching the right wave requires the right positioning. It is not the strongest paddler who catches the wave, it is the one who is smart enough to know where the next wave will break and gets there before anyone else to catch it.

As a surfer gains experience, they develop a creative flow on how to ride waves. They create lines and arcs in the wave with their board, expressing his personality and creative touch. But the waves are not a static canvas; they change and change constantly. The best surfers are those whose creativity can match the demands of the wave.

As creative legend Lee Clow mused, “There’s an independence in surfing. It’s just you and the ocean. There aren’t a bunch of rules.”

I agree. But I would add that there is a rhyme and reason for surfing that becomes apparent as one accumulates experience facing the unknowns of surfing each new wave. Similarly, customers face many unknowns when posting content to engage consumers.

The brands that we advise at Function Growth are locked in a daily, if not hourly, competition for attention, affinity and the willingness of consumers to buy a good or service. Like surfers competing for waves, they too are competing for a limited resource: consumer mindset and action.

Just as it is not the strongest paddler who catches the best wave, it is not the “loudest”, or the one who spends the most on media, who gains the attention of consumers. It’s the brand that does the best job of meeting your needs and converts that with messages delivered at the right time. Just like in surfing, positioning is everything.

Still, you can never know what will happen when you catch a wave until you’re right on your board and riding it. They may have some indication of what the wave might do based on the way it rises as it refracts off the ocean floor, but they can’t know for sure. Each wave requires a commitment to face the unknown. A good surfer is able to react to unknowns and continue riding the wave.

What if they make a mistake and fall? Process what could have been done differently, make a note of it, paddle again and catch another wave.

But before getting in the water, a surfer needs to know if the conditions are right to find good waves. Knowing where the good waves will be requires constant monitoring of weather forecasts, wave models and wind data. It is standard practice to read swell charts and look at hourly data from buoys to see if wave direction and height will line up for your local surf breaks, not to mention daily tide changes. It requires data analysis and smart forecasting to set yourself up for success.

Marketers and their brands share the same challenge. You don’t know exactly how a consumer will react to a specific message before it is broadcast. They must be able to quickly test and iterate, react to what the consumer tells them, and then test again. This is critical because a customer cannot create what they want and expect consumers to respond the way they want. They have to match art and creativity with demand. Doing this requires planning, research, testing, and strategy informed by these skills that are the keys to growing a brand.

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