Bill Taylor has said that if your customers can live without you, eventually they will. Conversely, I’m fascinated by how so many industries will stick to business-as-usual for as long as they can before they have to change. In each case, the rules of supply and demand will at some point over-ride the sentiment of legacy. The more people who do what you do, the more easily you can be replaced, and the less noticed your absence will remain.
Everyone nods at this point. But …
That realisation actually spurs a fundamental question that businesses and brands should be asking themselves. And it’s a very uncomfortable question to confront. How would you like your brand to come to an end? To reference TS Eliot, with a bang or a whimper?
Your answer will drive your strategy. Or rather it will drive the mindset behind your strategy.
You can ride your current train of thought all the way to silence – do what you do for as long as you can until the margins become unbearable and then call it a day. Many companies who close do this: fight the “adverse” market until the adverse market wins. It doesn’t have to be a financial disaster – providing you have very clear exit criteria and you’re prepared to act on them.
Or you can steer the course that feels ridiculously risky at the time – beach and burn the ships and step onto a new and unfamiliar land. Sometimes that works. Or it brings death forward. If it does work, you’re no longer the brand you were, but it was you who killed your history. This approach gets lots of airing in the bookstands and lots of bravado nodding at the strategy retreat, but seldom happens. Too often, it plays out as re-arranging the deckchairs on the Lusitania.
There is a third option. You wait for the industry as a whole to adapt – which is actually, the first option, but with a hurray of collective hope in the middle that temporarily jolts everyone awake. Industries often call this leadership. It’s not. It’s herdship. The same industry with shared next-generation technology is, in reality, a new era of lack of differentiation. But it brings comfort in the numbers – and it delays the inevitable. There are any number of previously-analogue industries trying to do this. Resetting the standards so that they can tell customers what they’re now prepared to do for them.
The thing is every brand has a lifespan – because every customer has an attention span.
And every story has an ending. What’s yours?
Photo of “END” taken by E. Dronkert, sourced from Flickr