Marketing and Change

“The only people who like change are babies with wet diapers.”  The first time I heard that expression was from Sir Brian Wolfson, then chairman of Wembley Stadium in London, who was on the board of directors of a consulting company where I worked.  He either said it at a conference or meeting, or contributed it to a book principals of the firm wrote.  In any case, the quote has stuck with me for a long time.

It is not that most people are against change.  Generally, they are all for it–as long as someone else is changing.  We have plenty of great ideas for how others should change, but when it comes to us and our work, everything is quite fine, thank you very much.

It is easy to become very comfortable with the tried and true.  You are the market leaders with the most innovative product or service.  Your competitors are trying to catch up with us.  Surveys show your customers are so happy it’s hard to imagine them switching companies.

As Rod Laver, the Australian tennis star, said, “The time your game is most vulnerable is when you’re ahead; never let up.” You can say the same about marketing.  When you are #1, everyone is gunning for you.  As marketers our role is to push back on the status quo, maybe even be a little paranoid.  How do we stay ahead?  What could go wrong?  How can we keep that from happening?  What will we do if it does happen?

Here are a few areas of change to focus on:

Competitors – When we do a SWOT analysis, we usually focus on competitors we know the most about because we have the most information on them.  But what about the competitors we don’t know or at least don’t know well?  These can be the most dangerous competitors because they may be the ones that jump the track by creating the new product or the new way of delivering it that makes you obsolete.   Think of the progression in the PDA world from the Palm Pilot to the Blackberry to the iPhone/Droid.  The market moved from the individual Palm Pilot to the networked Blackberry to the visual, musical iPhone.  All within about 10 years.

Customers – It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking of customers as static.  They are anything but.  Your customers are constantly bombarded with messages about alternatives to your products or services.  Their friends question why they are using your product rather than a competitors’ product.   You not only have to protect your customer base by reinforcing that they made the right choice, but you have to keep researching their changing needs and wants to make sure you are meeting or exceeding their expectations.

Macro Economy – Changes in the overall economy including unemployment, interest rates and consumer sentiment, as well as demographic shifts, the legal environment, public opinion, etc. can impact what you offer, how you position and communicate it, and how you deliver it.  Scenario planning can help prepare for some of the more likely changes in the economy.  For example, how will an unemployment rate of 5% or 10% affect demand for your product?  How much will sales increase with 5% unemployment and how much will they drop with 10% unemployment?  By running models on key economic elements, you can be ready when those conditions occur.

Having a few months of “peace” where nothing changes is a nice daydream, but it rarely happens.  As marketers we have to think about change and either be driving change or reacting to it.  I think we would all prefer to be in the driver’s seat.

© 2011-2018 Bill Fellows, Top-of-Mind Branding All Rights Reserved