Never Too Big to Fail

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Never Too Big to Fail

AOL, Kodak, Blockbuster Video, Gateway.  Add Blackberry to that list.

In the technology age, the only thing surer than a quick rise to the top for a successful product is the inevitable downfall as new competitors surpass you.  In addition to the brands listed above, brands such as Dell, Microsoft and IBM who were once dominant, continue to find themselves struggling for relevance (ans beware Apple and Google – your time will most certainly come).

The slow demise of Blackberry, punctuated by the recent news that they will discontinue consumer promotion and seek a buyer for what’s left of their B2B line, illustrates just how difficult it is to stay on top for long in today’s hostile technology environment.  From 70% market share in 2010 to just 5% today, Blackberry is just the latest example of a company who failed to see the future and suffered because of it. 

Here are three ideas on how companies can find ways to stay ahead of the game, no matter what their product may be:

  1. Stay True to Your Core.  Look at Apple – everything (so far) revolves around it’s core products.  The Mac and the iOS Devices.  Compare that to Microsoft, who often tries to get outside of Windows and Office and fails with products like the Zune or MSN (with apologies to the overwhelming success of the XBOX, who I covered in an earlier post).  Stay true to what you do best, and own your silo – don’t overextend your brand into product lines that may drive short-term revenue but expose you to future risk.
  2. Hire futurists.  For Kodak to have become an irrelevant brand so quickly, there must have been a lack of understanding of how rapidly digital photography would change the marketplace.  Kodak had been a trusted consumer brand for nearly 100 years.  Surely, they could have found a way into the digital camera market, or perhaps become a photo-sharing destination (ala Instagram or Flickr).  Instead, the brand that so many of us grew up with, simply went away.
  3. Find a niche.  Some brands can be more successful by not trying to be everything to everyone.  Think of a brand like Rockport, which specializes in comfortable shoes.  Or Lululemon, who specializes in yoga clothes and running gear.  Not everyone needs to be the next Nike or Under Armour.  Keep your focus on what your customers expect you to provide them, and be the best at it – don’t try to overspend on marketing or compete with suppliers much larger than yourselves.  You may find your ad budgets overextended with limited distribution options.

Of course, if it was this easy, no brand would ever go under.  There’s definitely a little bit of luck involved too, and knowing when to get out.  Maybe Blackberry would have been better staying focused on business customers and not trying to compete with iOS and Android.  Then again, maybe it just would have hastened their demise.

What current market leader do you think might find themselves out of business in the future?  Why?

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