With the recent news that Snowgum and the Hard Rock Cafe in Australia have gone into administration (plus the announcement that Electrolux is ceasing domestic production), it is clear that brands must take active steps to remain relevant in this changing and tough economy.
The simple reality is that no business is immune to extinction – regardless of its size or historical success. Simply because an organisation has been lucrative, dominant or powerful in the past, does not automatically mean it will remain so in the future.
Consider how once-dominant mobile phone brands like Motorola and Nokia have languished in recent years – with their counterpart Blackberry teetering on the edge of extinction. In the case of each of these brands, the marketplace moved on around them and by the time the incumbents realized they were no longer ahead of curve, it was almost too late to do anything about it.
Naturally, this poses questions for the dominant brands of today? Could the very same factors which led to the demise of other iconic brands erode the relevance of a brand like Apple for instance. Certainly the lack-luster market response of Apple’s new iPad Air and iPhone 5C could be early indicators that Apple’s relevance is not as bullet proof as it was even 5 years ago.
Having worked with hundreds of organisations across every imaginable sector, I would suggest there are 10 important things that struggling brands must do in order to win the battle for relevance:
1. Change before you are forced to
Most businesses wait to innovate until their hand is forced. As Steve Jobs himself once observed, If not willing to cannibalise own business someone will do it for you. Consider how Blackberry and Nokia have done just this in recent years. Rather than recognising the seismic shifts afoot in their industries, both these tech giants essentially relied on this historical size and market positioning until the writing on the wall was too dire to ignore. In contrast, look at how Encyclopaedia Brittanica started preparing for the post-print age as far back as the mid 1990s and therefore had shifted entirely away from their reliance on paper-based products by the late 2000s.
2. Become clear on the business you are actually in
Many businesses fall into the trap of defining themselves by the products they sell or the markets they are operating in – all the while losing sight of who they are and why they exist. Consider how Kodak did this and veered off track in the 1970s and 80s. Rather that remaining focussed on their core DNA as a memory preservation company, Kodak started to see themselves as a film company – a paradigm that left them unwilling and unable to embrace the post-film world.
3. Prune dead wood
Any gardener knows that restoring vitality to a garden required pruning away the old in order to make way for the new. It is the same in business. Consider how global scientific company DuPont have consistently stayed ahead of the curve by being willing to prune away even their most successful past cash cows such as Nylon, Lycra and Teflon. Sony have also recognised the importance of this in turning around their flagging fortunes. The end of their decade-long marriage with Ericsson and the spinning off of entire business units is an attempt to restore the tech giants agility and innovative flair.
4. Question everything
The moment any business or leader thinks they have made it, they have passed it. Never fall into the trap of feeling that you are too big to fail or that what has worked in the past will work in the future. Question everything and spare no sacred cows. Consider how IBM did this in the early 1990s and saw one of the most dramatic turnarounds in recent corporate history.
5. Re-engineer outdated systems and processes
There is a big difference between being in a groove and being in a rut. Many businesses need to honestly evaluate their internal systems and processes. Which of them is outdated, inefficient or simply the ‘way things have always been done around here’? Harley Davidson realised the importance of this in 2009 amidst a severe sales slump and set about re-engineering their internal systems. This exercise saved them $275 million in annual running costs and resulted in the business regaining it’s nimble responsiveness.
6. Beware biting off more than you can chew
While adopting new products and services is a key way of regaining relevance in a flagging business, beware of trying to change too much too quickly. Consider how Billabong fell into this trap in the late 2000s by acquiring a long list of other brands in the marketplace – a fateful steps which has played a key role in them losing focus.
7. Become ruthlessly customer-centric
It is critical you stay focussed on how the needs, desires and preferences of consumers are changing. Your strategy can never be a ‘set and forget’ one. Geoff Bezos has a novel way of doing this at Amazon. At every board meeting he leaves an empty chair which represents Amazon’s customer. No decision is made without the active consideration of how it will impact on the person in that empty chair.
8. Look to ‘imovate’
The term coined by leading business thinker Oded Shenkar highlight the values of innovating through imitation. He suggests that others may be doing things you can learn from. What practices and ideas are competitors using that could you incorporate and do differently or better? Consider how Lego did this in embracing video games; Samsung did this in the development of their smartphone range; and how even Apple did this by not inventing the MP3 player but rather making it sexy.
9. Encourage dissension within the team/organisation
The most valuable source of innovation in any time is the individual who has fresh eyes or a dissenting view. Are you allowing and encouraging those views to be heard? Ikea did and the whole basis of their flat-pack business model came as a result.
10. Seek a point of difference
The old marketing adage is true… it is better to be different than better. Rather than trying to out do the competition in your market, how can you pursue a new market in a new way? Consider how Cirque du Soleil did just this and managed to build a flourishing business in a dying industry (circuses).
Michael McQueen is a Sydney-based speaker, social researcher and 3-time best-selling author. Having presented to over 150,000 people across 5 continents since 2004, Michael has his finger on the pulse when it comes to emerging trends shaping business and culture. He has helped some of the world’s best-known brands navigate change and stay ahead of the curve with clients including KPMG, Pepsi and Nokia.
In addition to featuring regularly as a commentator on TV and radio, Michael is a familiar face on the international conference circuit having shared the stage with the likes of Bill Gates, Whoopi Goldberg and Larry King.
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