In 2012, Twinkie fans taught us an important lesson about marketing: When it comes to company valuation, customer loyalty is king.
Rearranging the deck chairs ain’t gonna fix your marketing.
In 2005, the BlackBerry was the pinnacle of smartphone technology. Users developed thumb callouses and referred to their indispensable phones as "crackberries."
Research in Motion (RIM), the company responsible for the game-changing Blackberry, practically created the "smartphone" category. At its peak, Blackberry's share of the market crested 40%. Here's one of their early models:
Sadly for RIM, times have changed. Consider this:
- RIM shares have tumbled over 75% in the last 12 months
- RIM's share of the smartphone market is down to just over 16%. Contrast that to Apple (29%) or Google's Android (47%!) (Source, Bloomberg News)
- RIM consistently miscalculated market forces and demand. Their touch screen efforts, for example, were lackluster and failed by most accounts.
Despite the harsh reality, RIM's newly appointed CEO, Thorsten Heins, claims that there is, "No Drastic Change Needed." Worse, RIM's steward of the brand sees the real problem is actually marketing. Here's Heins on a recent conference call:
“I want to focus more on consumer/consumer marketing. That is a major change for us.”
Lessons of large businesses seldom apply to the small business owner. But it this case, there are several takeaways that fit businesses of any size:
- Marketing won't solve your long-term product or service shortcomings. If your products or services aren't exceptional, no amount of lipstick will convince your clients that you've got a sexy pig.
- Smart companies approach marketing holistically and think in terms of brand experience. The success of the iPhone, for example, is as much due to its excellent industrial design and user interface as it is to its clever ad campaigns. Brand experience (marketing done holistically) takes all of the customer touch-points into account.
- Change is hard (but the only option when you're obsolete). While many will advocate, "compete with Apple!" or "Build the iBerry! (or some such nonsense)," it's unlikely RIM can win at this game. Their culture and systems aren't set up to lead by design or innovation. Rather than trying to be a "me-too" company, RIM should look at what they are good at (enterprise communications and secure email) and find new ways to amplify what makes them truly unique.
For another poignant example, consider the recent demise of Kodak (bankruptcy) - no matter how well-loved you are, an outmoded, broken business model will only last for so long. When the stern is pointing up into the sky and the lifeboats are capsized, rearranging the deck chairs isn't going to save you.
What's a Captain to Do?
If you've read this far, you're probably a leader and care passionately about how to steer your people and organization in the right direction. While it's unlikely you face the challenges seen by Kodak or RIM, it's very possible that the events of the last two or three years have presented very real challenges to your business model. Here's a quick, 4-part approach to addressing seismic changes:
- Look Ahead: Understand the core of the problem and what forces are having the biggest impact on the business. Is the iceberg 100 miles or 100 yards from the bow? Can your current business model sustain the obstacle, or are more substantial moves needed?
- Set a Course: The closer the iceberg, the more dramatic the course correction. If you're in the construction industry, for example, you've probably pulled hard on the tiller. Adjusting your strategy early helps your crew feel like you've got things under control. And, nothing is worse than inaction: your best employees will see the iceberg long before it hits the ship; if they aren't engaged to help make change, they'll find another captain.
- Shout it from on high: Involve your team. Bring them into the process, and communicate clearly why you're turning the ship. Many times, involving the "crew" will yield unexpected benefit. And, just as how the best employees are the first ones to see the problem, so too are they the ones who are most willing and eager to pitch in.
- Execute, Execute, Execute: Talking about how you'll avoid the iceberg does little good if no one ever actually picks up tiller. As part of your strategic planning process, make sure there's a powerful accountability/ownership component...email me if you need help with a realistic accountability framework.
Leadership is about two things: setting an ambitious course and steering clear of hazards. Being proactive and bold in your leadership will help ensure a safe course for your crew.
For more on the topic of strategy, see some of our other blog posts on this topic. Harvard Business Review has also written an excellent piece on 6 strategy insights RIM (or you) can use in your business.
Postscript: Since writing this post 3 weeks ago, RIM's CEO has "clarified" some of his initial statements.