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Disruption Is For Everyone

A few weeks ago I was with a client, discussing the reinvention of their advertising campaign – the foundational piece of their brand messaging. Was it still on point? Could it be modified to reach a younger audience? Could we do so without compromising the brand's reputation or its relationship with its older, more established customer base? What impact would an additional, regionally focused campaign have? And how would these actions play into broader issues such as overall economic trends, shifts in buyer habits, how technology changes consumer behavior, and how the brand engages with social media? 

It can be difficult for a small business owner, or a mid-size firm not in a "mainstream" industry (the ones splashed all over the press, i.e., tech, consumer goods, fashion, beauty products, food and beverage, automobiles), to recognize the need to respond to (let alone get ahead of) the trends and shifts we experience as consumers ourselves. We have a bias of knowing, right? "People will always buy x like this, because that's the way people have always bought x."  But no industry is safe, and someone somewhere is thinking about how to out-maneuver you, simplify what you sell, or how you sell it.  Yellow Cab was so busy looking at United Taxi they never saw – or imagined – Uber coming. 

Companies must be open to radical reinvention to find new, significant, and sustainable sources of revenue.

It doesn't matter if you are a third generation retail store on Main Street, investor in the home furnishings and accessories sector, owner of a print house, or entrepreneur in the media services world: sooner or later either you or a competitor is going to figure out how to make or sell your product or service better than you are now. 

With some guidance from a recent article in McKinsey, here are some notes on how to think about, then execute, your own disruption:

  • Don't underestimate the old rule that things always change. Always. Staying still is not an option.

  • Incremental changes or building something new outside of your core business can provide real benefits and, in many cases, are a crucial first step for a digital transformation.

  • However, if your initiatives don’t lead to more profound changes in the core business and if they avoid the real work of re-architecting how the business makes money, the benefits can be fleeting and too insignificant to avert a steady march to oblivion.

Simply taking an existing product line and putting it on an e-commerce site or digitizing a customer experience is not a digital reinvention.


Reinvention is a rethinking of the business itself.

Companies need to ask fundamental questions about who and what they are: a manufacturer, a service provider, a b2b or a b2c, etc. A truly deep look may uncover intriguing truths about the business's core competencies.

Netflix’s evolution from a company that rented DVDs to a company that streams entertainment for a monthly subscription to one that now creates its own content is a well-known example of continuous reinvention.

Apple, with its move from computer manufacturer to music and lifestyle brand through its iPhone and iTunes ecosystem, reinvented itself—even as it continued to build computers.

John Deere created a whole series of online services for farmers even as it continued to sell tractors and farm equipment.

There are many elements to a transformation, from end-to-end journey redesign and embedding analytics into processes to open tech platforms.  

What’s often missing, however, is a comprehensive view of how an organization sets the right ambition, how to architect the right elements for the transformation, then how to systematically and holistically undertake the change journey.

The value that Amazon originally provided, for example, wasn’t selling books online but rather providing convenience and unheard-of selection. Understanding the real source of its value allowed Amazon to expand exponentially beyond books.

Later, Amazon reinvented again when it realized the source of its value was not the products it was selling, but the platform it had created and the corollary technological and logistical capabilities it had created. Less than 20 years after it launched in a garage, Amazon bid on, and won, the CIA's $600M dollar cloud computing contract – against 60-year-old IBM – a company whose stated business was specifically computing.

The temptation may be to focus on digitizing existing processes rather than really rethinking them. As stated above, it is not enough to simply add an e-commerce component to an existing business. Often, it's not just the brick-and-mortar and online integration that will sustain real long-term value. The key is to identify the customer journeys that matter most and then map out the touchpoints, processes, and capabilities required to deliver on them.

The authors of the McKinsey article report that the most successful companies start by focusing on the most important customer journeys, then work back from there to design and build out breakthrough customer experiences. 

To read more about quick wins, avoiding "change exhaustion," funding change, speed, and more, read the original article here.

Shinola at Global Shop 2017

Shinola at Global Shop 2017

UCLA Anderson Retail Conference

UCLA Anderson Retail Conference