In the online environment we often hear talk of a level playing field. Well, I’m here to tell you there is no such thing as a level playing field in business.
No matter how large or small your business is, you’ve got to be prepared for competitors leveraging an advantage against you. This could mean a multinational company swamping your market with an unfeasibly large marketing budget and cut-to-the bone (and often beyond) pricing structure. Alternatively, it could mean a small player exercising their agility and moving into a market before the big guys even know what is happening.
One thing is for sure: in today’s digital economy there is no room for pride or complacency. In fact, if anything, these are the key ingredients required for a competitor (who might not even be on your radar yet) to disrupt the hell out of your business.
My Personal Disruption Hell
I started my career in the newspaper industry back in the early nineties. At the time the Internet was an expensive toy employed by only a handful of computer geeks and extremely early adopters.
Before widespread Internet adoption the newspaper industry was sitting smugly on top of a bit of a monopoly. Through their classified advertising pages, they controlled a huge swathe of the advertising market including the extremely lucrative motors, property and recruitment sectors. This meant that if you wanted to buy or sell a car or property or find or fill a job you had to turn to your local newspaper.
But then something changed.
Internet service providers (ISPs) started charging a fixed monthly fee for Internet access. This meant that Internet users no longer had to worry about sky-high telephone bills limiting the time they could spend online. After this, the speed at which people jumped online certainly beat the connection speeds available at the time. A second wave followed at a faster pace as broadband services made the Internet more usable.
While all this happened the newspaper industry essentially fiddled while Rome burned. Editors scoffed at the Internet as a news source. Advertising managers just couldn’t see how companies like eBay, Monster and Rightmove could have an impact on their businesses, which in some cases had a history stretching back over several hundred years.
I vividly remember conversations with senior managers who were more concerned with short-term targets than with the future of the newspaper industry. Many believed the Internet would never impact on their business, and if it did they would either own that section of the Internet or be long into retirement. It was something that we could afford to take our time over because we had the monopoly.
It took less than a decade for the Internet to bring the newspaper industry down to its knees. During this time some titles have moved from daily to weekly publications; others have left the world of print altogether and gone online. Some newspapers have simply folded.
During this same period it wasn’t just the newspaper industry that fell from a great height. The travel industry and the music industry also both suffered catastrophically at the hands of innovative Internet entrepreneurs. The book publishing industry is currently going through a major upheaval at the hands of Amazon and Apple. Could your business be next?
I was lucky – I could see that the blinkered attitude to the Web fostered by many newspaper executives was extremely short-sighted, and so I took the leap from print to tech and have never looked back.
Email Marketing and Social Media Disruption
Of course the email marketing industry (where I am now gainfully employed) has not been without its disruptors. Social media took a massive swipe at the industry a couple of years ago. Unlike the newspaper industry, the email world embraced the change, integrated email marketing technology with social media functionality and came out of the battle stronger.
Mobile is the current disruptive force in a number of online industries, including email, publishing and e-commerce, and is something that we all need to get our heads around if we are going to succeed. This means changing our strategies to suit mobile users (and quick). With mobile platforms now accounting for 43 percent of all email engagement, it is no longer a technology on the horizon, it’s here and now and disrupting your business.
Prepare to Be Disrupted
It doesn’t matter what business you are in or how successful you are – if you are complacent and proud your fortunes might just be about to take a plunge. This is why companies like Amazon, eBay or Google rarely sit on their laurels and choose instead to constantly invest in the future of their businesses.
What are you doing to shake up your business and ensure it remains relevant in the face of disruption? Share your comments below.
This post first appeared on the iContact Email Marketing Blog.