Every business needs to confront change at some point along its cycle. Yet change isn’t simple and the fear of alienating core customers whilst trying to win new ones is a strategic dilemma that challenges every business and its leadership team.
No one gets out alive
Museums, charities, restaurants, pubs, hotels, attractions, clubs, broadcasters, cinemas, newspapers, magazines and book publishers (the list goes on), all need to align with new market forces in order to make their businesses emerge stronger and fitter in the future.
Managing change means managing a portfolio to ensure new and relevant products and services are being developed in time to satisfy emerging needs. The Boston Growth-Share Matrix helps us do that.
The challenge for any business is being nimble enough and the danger is only doing what you’ve always done and expecting to satisfy new customers with new tastes by asking them to order from the old menu. They won’t enjoy their meal, they won’t come back and they won’t recommend.
Sign of the times
One conversation I’m hearing a lot in the media and publishing sector is the following:
“We want to find ways to make our business more engaging and lively online. If we do this, we can be more relevant and attract a more diverse audience of younger people who want to engage at a different level with our brand and help us grow. But our traditional customers don’t come for that. So, how can we find a way to be relevant to the new without alienating the old”
Audience development isn’t a series of concentric circles. You can’t start with the people you traditionally serve and build infinite circles of new customers outwards. Instead a business has to shift, and shifting means some people will leave as others join.
There’s no better way to understand this challenge than to sit down and analyse the personas that make up your existing and potential market. Good customer segmentation will help a business see whether it can reconcile the needs of an existing audience under one program or whether it needs to service each segment separately in order to grow and retain the traditional cash cows to ensure an effective and timely transition from old to new. It’s a juggling act that is not for the faint hearted. It’s also why change feels like the only constant: a business never stops changing and it needs to be one step ahead of the market to thrive. What is your business doing to stay ahead and thrive?
A lesson from the Trust
Although I’m writing about forces of change in the media industry, I find it useful to view change and the way it is being implemented in other sectors. One current fascinating example is the UK’s National Trust.
The Trust has implemented a customer engagement strategy and is being savagely accused of ‘Disneyfication’. Its chairman, Sir Simon Jenkins, wants to make properties more accessible to the public by opening up roped-off areas, recreating historical scenes, lighting fires and getting rid of ‘do not touch’ signs that are the traditional demarcation lines of non-engagement in its 300 or more properties. His strategy is about making the customer experience more memorable and driving a higher level of engagement to provide a visitor experience that will help grow the Trust as an attraction and family outing and have new people visit more frequently whilst also encouraging their friends to join. Critics say this is ‘intellectual slumming’.
Rethink the way you do everything
But the Trust will have pondered the risks of alienating their 3.8 million core members long enough to know that the risks of inaction, and therefore not appealing to a new generation of consumers, is an even greater threat than change.
New initiatives, like giving velvet cloaks to visitors as they enter Hampton Court are, in the chief curator’s words, ‘for our very survival (…) we need to reach out to people who just aren’t interested in history.”
Naysayers complain that the “buildings are not meant to be welcoming”, calling the initiatives ‘infantile’, and accusing the Trust of ‘crossing the line into entertainment’ and being “patronising to the public.’
Every business has a legacy. This is why I see parallels between the Trust and UK publishing. Like the Trust, UK publishing needs to trade a certain history for an uncertain future. Fear and habit make us protective of the core and, even if we know core customers are not likely to ensure long term viability and sustainability, we tend to hang on to them and allow them to run our businesses.
I’ve written about transformation before and practised it at many levels.
A solution for publishers might be to develop a “parallel” offer for new audiences instead of trying to entice them directly into the traditional “pipeline.” This is because square pegs don’t fit round holes and reaching new audiences usually works best with new approaches. If new approaches differ significantly from traditional practices, they may be more effective as standalone diversifications rather than extensions to the core.
Don’t change the core – re-invent it
The National Trust aren’t in fact choosing between one audience and the other. Instead they are leading a “parallel” strategy by offering participatory activities whilst preserving old labels and interpretative tools. At some point the business will have to make a choice. It won’t always be able to afford to do the “and”. Effective portfolio management means juggling parallel offers long enough to get started with a new audience and, once you can show how this converts to sales, you will need to make informed decisions about divesting parts of the business that might no longer qualify as “core”.
Is your business trying to cut a new direction but having its efforts sabotaged by the old guard? If so, how are you handling the situation?