Say you're the CEO of a major corporation. You want to increase revenue in order to grow your business and boost the returns to your shareholders. How do you do that?

(a) Take market share from the competition.
(b) Enter new markets.
(c) Expand your core markets.
(d) All of the above.

We'll get to option (d) in a minute, since that's obviously the winner -- if you can pull it off. First, let's examine the pieces of the puzzle.

Take market share
The business world is full of cutthroat markets, where top-notch businesses fight tooth and nail to claim their share of a limited number of potential customers. Take the mass-market retail sector, for example. Giants like Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Target (NYSE:TGT) have figured out how to cut huge slices of a very big pie by applying economies of scale.

But in a super-mature business such as selling groceries and household goods, you can't expect fat profit margins. Broad-line retailers have some of the lowest gross and net income margins of any business. After all, price hikes would drive your customers across the street to a more cost-effective competitor. The only way to get ahead here is to kill the competition.

Enter new markets
As a low-cost seller, Wal-Mart is doing all right in these tight times. But the company is still looking abroad for fresh growth, building stores in India, China, and Mexico, since the U.S. market is pretty well saturated.

Similarly, back in the 1990s, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) stole a march on good old Netscape with its Internet Explorer browser, using its dominant market share in operating systems to get a titanic foothold in the then-brand-new Internet browser space. For more than a year, Microsoft has been considering a buyout of all or part of Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) to do the same thing with its overall online presence.

Expand core markets
This is what Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) is doing when it pushes the online viewing option any way it can. It's not about taking market share from Hulu or Blockbuster (NYSE:BBI), but about growing the addressable market for digital movie distribution. This market segment is still in its infancy, and it may be years until we know who'll dominate and who will be a wallflower at the big dance. But that makes it all the more important for Netflix and its rivals to stake a sizable claim in this virgin territory. Simply getting a toe in the door means massive short-term growth.

All of the above
Clearly, there are various ways to get into fresh growth. Conservative value investors might prefer the tried-and-true market-share gainers, while mavericks like me like to sniff out entirely new markets before they've been surveyed, mapped, and tamed.

But a lucky few can hit on several of these growth strategies -- or all of them -- simultaneously. The most obvious example to me is Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL):

  • Steve Jobs has breathed new life into the Macintosh, and the Mac OS X platform has been stealing market share from Microsoft and its Windows hegemony for years. Taking market share? Check!
  • Apple is a serial market inventor. The iPod largely created, then dominated, the digital music market. The iPhone was unlike anything that came before it, and it's holding its own against hordes of imitators and usurpers -- and I could go on. New markets? Checkity-check!
  • The iPhone is tethered to a single service provider in nearly every geographic market where it's available. Apple is clearly not trying to take over the entire cell phone world here. Instead, the company keeps updating its hardware and software in efforts to get smartphones into the hands of people who would never have bought such an uppity handset before. OK, the market expansion's checkmark is a bit sketchy -- but you have to admit that there is one. Triple-check!

Sure, dominance in any one of those categories can bring big profits. When it comes to finding the strongest companies, though, the answer is always "all of the above."

Finding further Foolish growth:

Grab a free 30-day trial pass to Stock Advisor and see what other companies share Apple's multifaceted growth opportunities. Tom Gardner has recommended a consumer technology veteran thrice, with satisfyingly market-thumping results. Dave Gardner has seen similar success with a video game designer, recommended three times between September 2002 and last October.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund is a longtime shareholder and customer of Netflix, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Microsoft and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Apple and Netflix are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.