All eyes are on Silicon Valley (and to a lesser extent, Silicon Roundabout) for the latest innovations and disruptions. Everyone assumes that change is being driven by this sector, and this sector alone – and that traditional ‘legacy’ brands (bricks, not clicks) are struggling in the wake of such a seismic shift.
Delve a little deeper, however, and a more nuanced picture emerges. Far from the panicked stampede towards ‘innovation at any cost’, legacy brands are cleverly carving their own niche in the modern world. I spoke to just a few of the many experts and conference speakers who are documenting this trend and sharing their wisdom and learnings with business audiences at corporate events.
Justin King – former CEO of Sainsbury’s
Justin took on the challenge of a fast-failing family business, leading it through the growth of online and dealing with the challenge of customer loyalty in the face of price comparison sites.
“I understand completely why businesses – why individuals – always want to look to the next big thing (or the next small thing) that’s a creative idea. But we should never forget where we come from. We don’t do that in our everyday lives, so why should we do it in business?
I sometimes would look at boardroom agendas, and we’d have an eight-hour meeting all talking about what we’d be doing in six months or twelve months or two years’ time. Why weren’t we spending five or six hours talking about what we were already doing, and how we could do that better? It’s true in retail that the easiest extra sale is the sale you make to a customer you’ve already got. It’s significantly harder to make a sale to a customer you haven’t yet got – and yet it’s amazing how many retail organisations spend 90% of their time thinking about the latter, and very little of their time thinking about the former.
There’s a phrase I’ve often used in business: ‘you cannot run up that down escalator fast enough’. If the core of your business goes backwards, however far forward you’re running, you cannot cope with that base going backwards.”
Alex Hunter – customer loyalty expert, and former Head of Online for Virgin
Alex was responsible for getting Virgin America off the ground – he then took charge of all online strategy for the Virgin Group. He now consults for a variety of new and legacy businesses on how they can compete and win in the online world.
“Where I think a lot of traditional companies trip up is thinking ‘We need to be on Facebook, we need to be on Twitter. How do we change our business to suit the digital customer?’ That’s a mistake. You should, as a business, just keep doing what you are doing. You are brilliant because of what you have always done. If you try and change it now because the platforms have changed, you will inevitably fail.
When people ask me ‘what should we do now, what’s the next step?’, my reply almost without exception is ‘it’s business as usual.’ Just keep doing what you’ve always done, but find ways to do it on these new platforms, if your customer is there. Listen to them, respond to them, continue doing what you’re doing. If you’re trying to force yourself onto these platforms, changing the way you operate? You’re doing yourself, your brand, your product, and your customer a disservice. It’s a subtle – but potent – difference.”
Jane Young – founder of Scramblr and Kanbee
Jane is a digital social consultant, and at Kanbee she uses future thinking and change expertise to help organisations redefine what it means to do business in the modern world. She’s one of the UK’s leading conference speakers on the benefits of collaboration.
“The accelerating pace of change in the world around us demands rapid, continuous innovation. Silos and hierarchies are too slow compared with networks of people collaborating openly. Technology is presenting us with opportunities to break down silos and collaborate in new ways, but adoption depends on identifying where the value lies instead of adding ‘just another tool’ to log into and update.
Don’t be driven by the tools; be driven by the problem. It’s not a technology challenge that business is facing today; it’s actually a human psychology challenge. There will always be new tools, and the number of new tools will increase exponentially – you need to focus on making your business flexible to keep up with that. As Darwin said – it’s not the strongest, or the most intelligent that survives – it’s the most adaptable to change. Social business gives us that adaptability.”
So what are the lessons for legacy brands (beyond going to see these conference speakers in action)? The main advice is to stick to what you know, to not risk brand or product diversification at the cost of your original offering, and at cost to your original customers. To really nail your key product or service, and only then think about how innovative technology can bring that product or service to a new customer base.