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Sitting comfortably? You shouldn’t be

If you want to push your brand performance to new heights, comfortable is the last thing you need to be. Feeling comfortable means you’re not exploring the boundaries.

To stand out in your industry and stay ahead of market shifts, it’s important to keep pushing your sales and marketing teams, your agencies and yourself. Get used to that uncomfortable feeling – it just means you’re cutting against the grain.

This is the second article in our Ordinary is the Enemy series, where we’re sharing tips to help you choose bold new ideas over the tried and tested.

When experience works against you

You have a wealth of experience and knowledge in your industry. Informed decisions have helped you get where you are today.

But experience is a double-edged sword. It tells you to ignore new ideas because you know what worked last time. Experience is what gets you mistaking ‘what I should be doing’ for ‘what I’ve done before’.

What if you’re happy with your market share, and want to stick with what works? Here’s a cautionary tale.

In 2009, BlackBerry counted for around 20% of the global smartphone market. Including a full mobile keyboard helped them catch the attention of text-addicted teenagers and city-working professionals alike. They were riding on the crest of a wave. Yet, just three years later, by the end of 2012, they accounted for just 3.2% of smartphone sales.

So what changed? For one thing, the smartphone market shifted towards bigger, touchscreen displays. It didn’t help that between 2009-2012, Apple and Google were releasing new phones that were designed to fit this trend.

While the release of the first iPhone in 2007 coincided with Blackberry’s continued growth, Apple’s later model would have a huge impact, and cement Blackberry’s decline.

Blackberry’s market share started dropping in 2010, around the time Google released their first Nexus phone, quickly followed by the release of Apple’s iPhone 4. By the end of 2010, Blackberry’s market share had already dropped to 14.3%.

BlackBerry wasn’t focused on winning new customers by changing up its products to follow where the market was going. They chose to focus on their existing customers, and missed out on millions more.

They’re a prime example of what can happen to an incumbent business that thinks having a big market share is enough. Blackberry were comfortable with their position and chose to play it safe. They weren’t ready to try something new, and ignoring the needs of their evolving market cost them dearly.

Are you playing it too safe?

With the dangers of becoming too complacent in mind, it’s worth taking a few steps back to take an honest look at your business.

Have you been using the same strategies and sources of inspiration for a long time? When was the last time you deliberately looked outside the norms of your sector? If you habitually paint by numbers it can be difficult to identify habits that are holding you back. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Are you selling what you do rather than why you do it?
  • Are you busy selling features rather than showing how you solve customers’ problems?
  • Read one of your communications. Do you sound just like your competitors?
  • When was the last time you looked outside your sector for inspiration?
  • Is your benchmark for excellence what the market leaders in your sector are doing?
  • When was the last time your agency showed you an idea you ‘didn’t think the board would have the bravery to sign off’?

Even with these as a guide, it can be difficult to look at your position objectively – especially if your industry is shifting. Kodak experienced this when their market moved towards digital.

With hindsight, it’s easy to say that when they acquired Ofoto – a photo-sharing website – in 2001, they could have jumped ahead of their market to digital photo-sharing (before Instagram or even Facebook got there).

Kodak were so close to capturing the attention of their audience, but they didn’t go far enough. After rebranding Ofoto as EasyShare Gallery, they used it as a digital avenue to get more of their customers to print photos. But they didn’t push the idea any further. If they’d committed to pushing boundaries, they could have been an innovator in their market. But they stayed in their comfort zone, and failed to do the uncomfortable work of pushing their limits.

While they recognised their market would be affected by the rise of digital, they didn’t see it transforming completely. They thought online photo sharing was a way to expand their printing business, not a new business in itself.

Don’t do a Kodak. Keep looking at your brand objectively against the needs of your target audience and your industry.

Are you too late?

Worried you’ve already been overtaken by the market and your competitors? Don’t be. You can still make a comeback.

When Nintendo released their Wii U console in 2012, they failed to take into account the smartphone and tablet gaming revolution. After disappointing sales, Nintendo reported its first loss in 30 years.

Fast-forward to 2016, and Nintendo announced a new console, the Switch. Combining features of handheld and home consoles, the Switch emphasised what the Wii U should have: gaming fun for the family and casual gamers. It didn’t claim to have graphics or hardware that would stack up against the Playstation 4 or Xbox One, it just marketed what it did best.

The Switch sold 8 million units worldwide in its first 10 months and was projected to beat Playstation 4 and Xbox One sales in its first year.

So how did they make such a comeback? They kept an eye on their market.

Smartphone gamers were reminded of Nintendo when Niantic released Pokemon Go in 2016. This helped Nintendo. When they released their first mobile game – Super Mario Run – it reached 200 million downloads. In March 2017, the Nintendo Switch was released.

By tapping into the smartphone gaming generation, and focusing on the right console gaming audience, they found their sweet spot.

Nintendo’s example goes to show that even if you think you’re too far behind your competitors to make a comeback, think again. They returned to market at the right time with a product that focused on their strengths and served the right audiences.

Dare to be first

In 2007, Cadbury’s broke the mould of food sector advertising with their famous ‘Gorilla’ video. The 90-second ad featured a gorilla on a drumkit, drumming along with Phil Collins’ ‘In the air tonight’. That’s all.

Apart from the beginning and ending frames, you’d never know it was an advertisement for chocolate – never mind for Cadbury’s. It threw food sector marketing norms out of the window by only showing the product in the final frame.

A great example of a brand that took their marketing way out of their comfort zone, to create one of the most successful and talked about ads in a generation.

To do this takes insight, industry knowledge, but above all, the bravery to try something different.

Take an objective look at your brand and its marketing to spot areas where you’ve become complacent. Then, see where opportunity lies by looking at how you’re positioned against your competitors and the changes in your industry.

Here’s a few simple exercises you can try to help get out of your usual headspace. Ask yourself:

  • What if my brand had an unlimited budget?
  • What would I change about the product/service to attract a new audience?
  • If my customers redesigned the product/service, what would they change?
  • What would my customers do if they ran this business for a day?

The answers should give you some outside-the-box ideas. Don’t be afraid of failure at the ideas stage. Not all will be winners, but when you find a common theme you know you’re onto something.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You’ll be amazed at what it can do for your brand.

Look out for the next article in the Ordinary is the Enemy series, where we’ll have more tips and ideas for you.