The Battle for Relevance: Why Change Matters

Jul 19, 2016 | Branding Strategies

For a decade or more there has been a steady drum beat: change, change, change.

We hear it almost on a daily basis, “The pace of change is accelerating.” For instance, a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) found that 96% of executives surveyed agreed that change is accelerating, and 62% reported that the pace of change related to digital transformation is “accelerating significantly” in their industry.

We feel the pace of change, and we can see it. There are disruptive companies like Uber and Airbnb, and disruptive technologies like 3D printing and VoIP. The signs of change are everywhere.

But so what? Change is just a fact of life. Why is this topic garnering so much attention?

I’ve been turning this question over in my head for months, and then it dawned on me. Change matters, because it affects relevance.

Disruption Leads to Irrelevance

The taxi industry is fighting Uber tooth and nail, because ride hailing is making the taxi companies irrelevant.

Ride hailing is the disruption. The taxi industry’s business model is tied to telephone dispatch and having cars available in popular spots. A ride hailing app, like Uber or Lyft, makes that infrastructure irrelevant.

Once you’ve hailed a car from your phone you never want to call a taxi company again.

The taxi industry is fighting back by targeting UberX and unlicensed commercial drivers, but this a short term battle. The war for relevance is in ride hailing, which will be an uphill battle for the taxi companies.

It’s Better To Be Hated Than Irrelevant

Gene Simmons said, “People either love KISS or hate us with all of their guts, and that’s the way we like it.”

There’s a real gem in this quote. Irrelevance is the worst place for a brand. Love and hate are visceral emotions. They take energy, commitment, and knowledge. Irrelevance, on the other hand, is purgatory. Your brand may exist, but no one cares.

When a market is disrupted there are winners and losers. The winners gain relevance, and the losers lose relevance.

When a brand faces the losing side of disruption this is a battle cry. What made you successful won’t make you successful. The rules have changed, and it’s time to re-examine everything. If you hesitate your brand may become irrelevant.

The Battle For Relevance

The taxi industry cannot win against Uber through legislation alone. They’ve got to adapt and change, especially with their business model.

To overcome a disruption there are two fundamental strategies:

  • Differentiate: Find a way to out innovate the innovator. This is usually a long shot, but sometimes a company can find a way.
  • Neutralize: The more effective approach is to neutralize the competition. They’ve leapfrogged over the industry. Now it’s your turn to counterattack with a comparable solution — something that’s “good enough” — so that you can commoditize their advantage.

The stakes are high in either scenario, but you’ve got to fight. When the pace of change is accelerating you have to constantly strive to gain relevance at the expense of others.

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Jeremy Miller

Top 30 Brand Guru

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