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Plan for Disruptive Change

September 12th, 2012 Comments off

In every vertical, in every market, a common theme is emerging that characterizes successful marketing – “innovate or die.”

Disruptive changes within various markets were once the exception and were admired in trade publications as case studies for innovation.  To say the world of marketing has changed in the past few years is a tremendous understatement.  Innovations that foster disruptive change are no longer the driving force to market success.  Markets themselves have become disruptive in nature and foster the need for innovation as table stakes to be part of the game.

Name a market that is not characterized by tensions between global and local cultures resulting in dynamic shifts in product attitudes and in usage behavior.  Name a market where mobile and digital applications are not radically affecting how brands engage customers as part of the relevant dialog that customers expect from all relationships.  Name a market where customers are not seeking new physical and virtual experiences that go beyond simply satisfying a cognitive need.  Name a market where global economic conditions have not shifted to create a “new normal” expectation of trust for brands to deliver on their brand promise.

Now, look at how most planning has changed to address these disruptive market conditions.  Ok!  We made you look.  It was a trick question.  Most planning has not changed and can be characterized by the following:

  • Hierarchy processes driven primarily by price
  • Lack of review of solutions compared to needs for existing “process fillers”
  • Multi-year contracts for large expensive solutions that result in a disincentive for innovation
  • Reluctance to try any new approach that has not already been tried by several other companies

These processes remind me of an old poster I saw years ago… two eyes staring out of a cave with the caption: “If you are very careful, nothing good or bad will ever happen to you.”  Of course, in today’s marketing environment, being very careful means that something very bad could happen to you.

As you might expect, market leaders are taking a different approach.  Table stakes are not good enough for them.  Their planning processes reflect the new normal disruptive marketing environment:

  • Shorter planning cycles
  • Involvement of purchasing for general budget setting, but not selection of specific solutions
  • Speed to trial of low cost, low risk projects involving new approaches to research
  • Free-flow of idea sharing between various research teams to rapidly scale new solutions
  • Organizational transparency that involves brand managers in the problem definition and research solution design stages
  • Rapid conversion of research solution measurements into organizational metrics that scale across  and connect  marketing and operations processes

In the end, and that can become an unfortunate but true metaphor for many companies, simple fear of change and love of policy and process creates an organizational inertia that prevents a true response to the very real nature of markets.  Nowhere in an organization is that more reflected than in the planning process.  Markets have delivered a simple, clear, consistent and uncompromising message to marketers and their planning process – “innovate or die.”

The choice is yours.