Will you know when to reinvent your business?
Here’s a teaser for you. What do Sony Walkman, blacksmiths, Borders, vinyl pressing plants, Virgin Megastore (in many countries) and drive-in movie theatres have in common?
You guessed it: they were all driven out of business primarily by new technology.
Yet in most cases, the businesses that provided these products and services – apart from Sony, of course – could well have survived if they had embraced new technology instead of fighting it, or worse still, ignoring it and hoping it would go away.
It’s a topic we often revisit in this blog because adapting to a changing technological landscape is critical to the health and continuation of every business.
Becoming guardians of your longevity
It’s our job as business operators (or at least those who have a say in its management) to keep a close eye on emerging technology developments so we can be prepared to make a significant change to the way we do things, or even better, develop and trial plans to adopt the technology before the competition does.
The result of not taking this approach can be considerable lost business, or even the ultimate price – terminal business failure.
Unfortunately, many businesses threatened by developing technologies act far too late.
The good news is there are steps you can take to ensure your business not only survives, but thrives in the changed environment. In fact, if you play your cards right, you might be able to steal market share from your slower competitors.
Here’s how to go about it:
1. Focus on your benefit, not the way you provide it
This is the most critical part of your survival. If Sony had focused on portable music instead of CD players, it could have beaten Apple to releasing the iPod. If Virgin Megastore had focused on selling music instead of retail shopfronts, it could have beaten Apple (again!) to releasing iTunes. And if Yellow Pages had focused on pull marketing instead of printed directories, it could have been Google.
But they all were focused on the (legacy) technology and not the customer benefit. And in most cases it was fatal.
So work hard to understand what it ultimately is you are providing your customers and not just the way you are currently delivering it.
2. Keep informed
The fact you are reading this should provide some reassurance on this one, because you are keeping yourself informed about technology threats. But don’t stop here! Arm yourself with as much information as possible. Subscribe to the lists of the best bloggers and experts – it’s usually free. If you don’t understand something, keep asking people until you do.
3. Cure your technophobia
Technophobia is one of the biggest threats to your business and it’s one reason pretty much the entire retail industry has been caught with its pants down. It’s critical to do all you can to address any comfort zone issues you have with technology.
I don’t mean going and getting a degree in computer science. I mean recruiting some trusted and independent advisors – they don’t have to be on the payroll – and making them part of your world on a regular basis. The more you can bring technology smarts on board, the better your chance of survival and growth.
4. Constantly revisit your business offerings
Have you heard of ‘break it’ thinking? This term refers to the notion of deliberately trying to ‘break’ your products and business model. In other words, having the courage and open-mindedness to constantly challenge what you provide and the way you provide it.
A useful way of doing this is to design your product offering as if it were founded today, instead of in the past. In other words, forget about the technology that was around when your products and services were founded – design them as if they are on the drawing board today. You might be surprised at the results.
5. Resist fighting the change
There have been numerous examples of organisations spending millions on defending redundant technology, when the same investment in R&D may have given them a handy foothold in the new space. For example, the music industry versus Napster, Australian retailers versus offshore web retailers, etc. If these industries had taken on some of these guidelines, they would have beaten these upstart competitors to the punch. Instead, they had a double whammy of significant competition and significant cost in fighting it.
6. Trial new offerings
I used to think the notion of trialling new products was something of a cop-out. I thought that if you were committed to a product and had done your research, you should go ahead and release it.
But I was being naive. Trialling concepts, and in turn products, is a sensible way of staging your product release so you are in full possession of the facts about market acceptance, quality, support and so on before the onslaught of real customers.
7. Time your release
Timing is indeed everything. An early release can hit an immature (ie small) market, and stop you dead in your tracks. A late release may open the door for an undetected competitor, allowing them to grab all-important market share before you have had a chance to get yours out to the world.
But there are few guides to good timing. Only you and your team can assess the right time to come out with a new product, service or package. And that means embracing the previous guidelines and being in a position of influence rather than defence.
These ideas are by no means definitive. However, if your business embraces them it will be well on the way to ensuring its (and your position’s) longevity.
Had an experience with early or late adoption? Tell us all about it by commenting below.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.