Dec 3, 2015

Great Brands Are Built in Periods of Great Change

If you ever had aspirations to grow an iconic brand, now is the time.

Great brands are built in periods of technological and social revolution. Many of the iconic brands that we know today were established between 1875 to 1925 — companies like Ford, IBM, Hershey’s, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, Philips, and 3M.

Over a third of the brands listed in the 2015 Top 100 Brands were founded during this era. It was a period of great innovation and entrepreneurial spirit fueled by advancements in manufacturing, transportation, and electricity.

Richard Rumelt, author of Good Strategy / Bad Strategy, explains, “In 1880, the trip from Boston to Cambridge and back was a full day’s journey on horseback. Only five years later, the same trip was a twenty-minute ride on an electric streetcar.” The streetcar is just one example of innovation in the late 1800’s, but with it came suburbs, commuting and new ways to work and live.

These massive shifts provided fertile opportunities for entrepreneurs to challenge the status quo and create wholly new methods of business.

You have a similar opportunity. Technology is shifting rapidly, and the conditions are ripe for business innovation.

The Uberization of Industry

“For the first time in history, the world’s leading experts on accelerating technology are consistently finding themselves too conservative in their predictions about the future,” writes Steven Kotler.

Kotler’s assertion is startling. Change is nothing new, but the pace of change is accelerating. This is both unnerving and exciting.

For example, how many cab companies saw Uber coming?

Once you’ve hailed an Uber car from your phone it’s hard to imagine looking for a cab on the side of the road. As a consumer, Uber is a logical form of transportation — it’s a natural extension of the devices we use daily. But for the cab companies their entire industry has been turned on its ear.

In less than six years Uber has transformed an industry.

Innovation Happens Through Application

Uber is a great example of how companies leverage technology to transform industries.

Uber can exist, because most consumers have a smartphone with access to high speed internet. It’s a service that builds upon readily available technology.

Uber’s fabulous innovation is not in technology, it’s in connecting. It created an ecosystem for independent drivers and commuters to connect with each other, and it provided the infrastructure for a commercial transaction to take place. Uber’s application of technology transformed the taxi industry.

The same phenomena took place one hundred years ago too. Entrepreneurs like Henry Ford and Milton Hershey took advantage of the available technology to make a remarkable impact.

  • Henry Ford democratized the car. He didn’t invent the car or gasoline engine. Ford created a management system to mass produce vehicles.
  • Milton Hershey made chocolate a treat for everyone. The “Hershey process” produces chocolate more cheaply than other chocolate making processes.

If you dig into the stories of the iconic brands from 1875 to 1925 you will find fascinating examples of companies that applied technology to transform industries. Rarely did these companies invent technology. Most of their innovation was in the application of it.

A New Way to Work

You have an opportunity to transform your industry and create an iconic brand. The tools and technology are all around you. The challenge is finding new and innovative ways to apply them.

Great brands are built in periods of immense change, because they discover new ways to serve their customers.

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