If it ‘doesn’t make any f**king sense,’ it’s ripe for disruption

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As we’ve seen in the digital age, any industry can be disrupted at any time. But those with obvious inefficiencies are the most vulnerable.

Last year, Havas Media’s Tom Goodwin wrote in Tech Crunch that the world’s most popular media company (Facebook) creates no content and the world’s most valuable retailer (Alibaba) has no inventory.

Goodwin’s passage, which also touched on Uber and Airbnb, went viral and spawned countless imitations. Because it’s so true. Disruption is a huge part of today’s marketing landscape and you can’t talk about digital transformation, the unofficial theme of ClickZ Live New York, without bringing it up.

In a session entitled “To Disrupt or Be Disrupted? That Is the Reality” the first question posed to the panel was, “How do you identify business sectors ripe for disruption?”

“Disruption comes when you look at something and say, ‘This doesn’t make any f**king sense,'” said Roee Adler, head of digital at WeWork, who didn’t hesitate for a second.

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(The panelists, left to right: Ryan Bonifacino, Juney Ham, Roee Adler, Keith Grossman)

In WeWork’s case, the office is something that didn’t make any f**king sense. The company was born from the idea that people are increasingly graduating from college and opting to work for themselves, rather than big companies, but still crave the social interaction that comes with going to work.

Hired.com is another company that changed up the traditional idea of work, bringing Tinder-like swiping to employment. Like WeWork, Hired is built around a shift in society, namely the amount of time people spend on their phones. (We look at them 46 times per day, according to Deloitte research from last year.)

“Horses didn’t go extinct”

Keith Grossman, head of sales, Americas, at Bloomberg LP, pointed out that just because something is disrupted doesn’t mean it’s dead. He used horses as an example.

“It’s really sexy to tell the story of the death of everything, but the reality is, things splinter. They don’t die; they work in conjunction with each other,” said Grossman. “People went across the country on horses, but then horses were disrupted when trains came around. This wasn’t the ‘death of horses.’ They became more localized and then cars came around.

“Horses didn’t go extinct,” he continued. “They were relegated to a different realm, for wealthy audiences or sport enthusiasts.”

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The horse analogy is particularly applicable to the retail industry. Ecommerce didn’t make brick-and-mortar stores obsolete. Rather, the two now complement each other.

That shift in shopping allowed Alex and Ani to thrive, despite once having had a single retail location. People learned about the brand while visiting Newport, Rhode Island, and digital allowed them to continue to engage with it once they were back home.

A multichannel strategy

“Incorporating digital is key for retail, especially if you bring in wholesale that can move faster than you,” said Ryan Bonifacino, an adviser to Alex and Ani, and the brand’s former chief marketing officer (CMO). “We had no market presence on the West Coast, but a lot of new purchases are going to come after someone discovers the brand in a Nordstrom in Seattle.”

As the line between on and offline marketing keeps getting blurrier, it’s more important than ever to have a strong multichannel strategy. It’s impossible to avoid disruption, but that’s one way to avoid being completely swallowed by it.

Publishing is one particularly industry that’s been turned on its head by digital and changes in content consumption. But through that evolution, there are still only three ways for us to consume content: reading, listening or watching. As Grossman put it, who cares which platform someone chooses?

“In five years, the word ‘TV’ will mean nothing like what it is today; it’ll just mean the act of viewing video,” he continued. “The tools and the capabilities are just scratching the surface. Anyone who feels that they’re behind there is actually in a position where they can get caught up very quickly, tweak a few things and leapfrog ahead.”

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Key takeaways

From the panelists, here are four tips to avoid being disrupted by disruption:

  • Don’t be late. “Things moving from offline to online was a paradigm for everyone,” said Juney Ham, CMO for Hired.com and a former Airbnb marketer. “Moving from desktop to mobile was a super easy thing to say, but a lot of people didn’t invest early enough to actually capitalize on that.”
  • Don’t be rigid. Not looking ahead and seeing the big picture, Blockbuster laughed Netflix out of the room all those years ago. We all saw how that turned out.
  • Don’t be disorganized. Having good data will help you know exactly who your customer is and thus, exactly where your business should be going. As Adler said, “Make sure that what you’re working on is the single most important thing you can be working on.”
  • Don’t be an ostrich. In the digital age, always playing it safe is actually one of the most unsafe strategies you can have. “So many companies see changes, and put their heads in the sand and decide not to do anything until they’re disrupted by another company,” said Bonifacino. “It’s about being open and saying, ‘How can we disrupt ourselves?’ and having the courage to do it.”

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