Renewal of businesses and brands is critical for survival. That sounds trite but true. On-going businesses have challenges to stay relevant in their markets. A recent study indicated that of the Fortune 500 companies in 1975, less than 75 were on the Fortune 500 list just 40 years later. More than 500,000 new start-ups are created every year in the US alone. Of that, 50% are likely to fail within the first year. Within the first five years, another 50-80% are expected to fail. There are many reasons for failure of businesses including a bad economy, lack of funding and lousy business ideas or structures. Certainly these are contributing factors. Yet, regardless whether you are a startup, small business or corporate giant, we believe that another big reason is a business' inability to adapt to changes and become “fast, fluid and flexible.”
How does one meet that challenge? The marketplace demands and expects businesses and brands to evolve over time. A proactive renewal process keeps a business relevant and in tune with customers’ needs and new business models, as they too evolve. Sometimes these changes are barely noticeable beyond the normal rhythm of business news and information. On other occasions. it is big, noticeable "in-your-face" change.
Consider the following three companies: GM, GE and Kodak. During the Great Recession, GM had to be bailed out from a distressed state and eventually streamlined their car line and brought in new management to affect the turnaround. GE, a model of growth in the 80s and 90s had fallen on hard times and while the company continues to expand, it is not the Jack Welch's GE of old. Kodak, one of the great brands that many of us grew up with is a pale shell of itself as its business models and strategic plans did not evolve and the company was not able to take advantage of the new digital era. I am sure that each of the readers can think of several examples in their industry of companies that were successful and unsuccessful in their attempts to renew their business model and brand.
An example of a successful company that went through business and brand renewal is Cintas. Cintas started its business in industrial rags and laundry in the early 1950's. They created a distinctive set of capabilities and its own business model called “The Cintas Way” which was a combination of products and services wrapped in excellence in process and technology. Their plant operations, a highly refined logistics capability and a customer intimate focus in its sales and marketing that combined service innovation with customer knowledge helped guarantee their success. Why? Cintas took a very proactive approach albeit somewhat evolutionary. Cintas grew its brand through continuous growth along several strategic vectors in the “Ansoff Product/Market Matrix.” They created new markets, new products and services based on their ever evolving strategic capabilities, and through distribution partnerships. Think about this. Cintas went from rags and laundry to address the security needs of companies by building a secured document destruction and document storage business. How is that for business/brand renewal?
Over and over I've seen how businesses that adapt and change are much more likely to stay in business than those who fight tooth and nail to stay the same as they have always been.
I'm here to tell you that no business is too big to fail or too small to succeed. Let's look at companies like Borders or Blockbuster. Borders failed because they relied too heavily on the brick and mortar retail business of their stores. Barnes and Noble, by comparison, added technology in the form of Nook was more aggressive with e-commerce of their retail products. As a result, they built an eco-system of digital content delivery to reinvent their brand and their business. Borders went out of business in 2011 while Barnes and Noble is still in business today. At this time, it looks like Barnes and Noble will need another reinvention/renewal as it is struggling financially as of late.
In a similar fashion, Blockbuster failed because they stayed true to their brick and mortar stores and did not see the threat from a little-known upstart named Netflix. They failed because they were unable to adapt to the market disruptions in their business, mostly because digital delivery of content were disrupting their traditional retail storefront business. By the time they responded to Netflix, it was too late as this article explains.
Why did this happen and could it have been prevented? The companies that were proactive, fast in making decisions, fluid in their response, willing to pivot and flexible in adopting new businesses and business models were successful. Of course, a company is only as good as their executives so we have to give credit to the vision and execution of their top teams. They all anticipated change and adapted their businesses to the realities of the new marketplace. Continuous improvement requires a feedback loop that continually evaluates, assesses, designs, implements and manages the change that is derived from the process. Those companies that were successful delivered on this key requirement.
It's important to note here that this improvement process is a result of a “business system.” What do I mean by system here? A system is a repeated course of action – a way of doing things that brings about a desired result. The combination of people, time, money, tools, systems and processes used to manage the business had a significant and critical impact on the ability of these successful businesses to adapt, evolve and improve over time.
Keep in mind that no company, large or small, gets it exactly right on the first try, which is why starting a business or building a brand is such an iterative, discovery-based process. Through each business cycle executives will learn something new and modify or evolve their business model to adapt to change. Sometimes that change is incremental. At other times, the change is much more significant. Business assumptions change and your business models will change as you will learn more about the customers and niche you serve. Changing directions, implementing a new business model or revitalizing your brand does not mean failure. In fact, that realization is the end result of a visionary and clairvoyant company. It may or may not result in a completely new vision and direction. It does, however, mean taking stock of everything and adjusting the strategy and plan accordingly.
Do you have any business renewal stories you would like to share? For additional reading on this topic, please check out our other articles on renewal in our April C-Level Beacon newsletter and on our blog available at www.clevelpartners.net/blogs. Also, there have been a couple of articles written in the HBR and TIM that focus on renewal that you may find interesting.
C-Level Partners focuses on profitable growth and we would be happy to chat with you about your brand, your business and your vision. Drop us a line at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.