Profit Is No Longer the Measure that Matters Most
The sooner business leaders turn their attention from Profit to Advocacy as the primary measure of success, the sooner they will see growth in both. Profit offers a snapshot of success, but Advocacy is predictive of future success. As long you as continue its care and feeding, Advocacy will remain the gift that keeps on giving.
Building a client base of advocates gives you a big leg up on the competition. It means that you’re surfing the wave of digital disruption instead of being dragged along the jagged reef below. It may even mean that you are the disruptor – not only of competitors in your space, but of yourself too. That’s a good thing. And advocates help you do both.
Whole industries have been replaced as digital disrupts our world. COVID-19 has only accelerated this change, yanking us from co-located workspaces and landing us in distributed work environments. Over the past year, we’ve even stopped shopping in our familiar brick and mortar haunts – opting for the relative safety and convenience of the online experience.
Focusing On Things That Do Not Change
Even as we come to grips with the blistering pace of technological change, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos reminds us to focus not on what will be impacted by technology, but instead on the things that technology won’t change.
In a world in which change is the only constant, how do we do that? How do we combat the disruption, overcome the uncertainty, and navigate the ambiguity that helps you be Apple, not Blackberry. Netflix, not Blockbuster. Fuji, not Kodak.
The way we do it is to embrace the job to be done. Acknowledge the fact that even though technology changes, the job we hire it to do does not.
Blackberry, Blockbuster, and Kodak were disrupted because they grew too attached to their specific technology – and not the fundamental user need. The trick is in defining the business you are in and then working hard to address your customers’ needs. Even then, there are no guarantees.
Blackberry, for example, could easily have defined themselves in the highly competitive field of business communications. And they delivered a device that led the market…until it was disrupted not only by a new technology, but by evolving user needs. Blackberry failed to realize that business communications would suddenly and unceremoniously be subsumed by the broader communications business.
The moral of their story – and so many companies similarly disrupted – is that you need to continually verify and define the business you are in. In hindsight, it is easy to see the business you should have been in. But by then, it is often too late.
Nurturing Customer Advocates to Confront Digital Disruption
So how do you stand up to the threat digital disruption presents? The secret lies in getting back to basics. It starts with remembering who pays our salaries: the customer. You need to understand who your customer is and what is important to them. It’s such a simple concept that it’s often overlooked or taken for granted. But let’s be honest: No customers = No business.
You don’t want just any customers. You want advocates. Advocates give you feedback and input that you don’t get from others. Over time, you’ve shared a series of micro-experiences with your advocates that have fostered mutual trust and loyalty.
Advocates believe in you; they provide the insight you need to improve your products and services. They’re also willing to defend you and tell their friends about you. As uncertainty creeps in and risk of disruption increases, advocates join the battle to help combat these uncertainties.
So ask yourself: Do you know who your advocates are? Do you have a strategy for growing their number and a plan for gathering their insights? Are you regularly seeking their input to understand how digital is impacting them and ways in which you can improve?
How to Avoid the “But My Customers Love Me” Trap
Understanding what customers truly want and listening to how you can deliver that to them is all part of the nurturing equation. Your advocates become a key part of doing this. When they’re delighted by the solution you’ve provided, they’ll be sure to let you know. Be beware: it’s not hard to become enamored with their lofty praise.
But this is the trap, especially hard to recognize when a shrinking number of customer-advocates embrace what you offer today. Too often companies don’t realize the disruption that’s taking place just beyond their periphery.
Think back to Blackberry. They had customer who told their product builders how they could not live without their devices. If you are old enough to remember when Blackberry was all the rage, I am sure you knew someone, or maybe were one yourself, who was completely devoted to their device.
But the Blackberry faded quickly as customers realized that emerging technologies served their communication needs better – including needs they didn’t even realize they had. Blackberry missed an important signal. Instead of listening to their customer-advocates, they ignored the coming disruption.
While Bezos tells us to focus on things that will not change, it’s easier said than done. What would Blackberry have done differently if they had asked that question? Maybe nothing. Then again, perhaps they might have discovered that the job their customers hired the Blackberry to perform – as well as the technology needed to perform it – had changed.
Blackberry users wanted to work on the go and easily connect both personally and professionally using only one device. Not just to do email, not just to play music, and not just make a call or send a text. They wanted it all, in one easy-to-use device that reduced complexity and decreased cost. And they didn’t realize this was even possible until Apple disrupted the market, and them right along with it.
Incorporating Advocate Feedback; Trust But Verify
So ask yourself: what will not change in my industry? Thinking about this question can help you uncover a strategy that you can confidently invest in.
As you mull over this one, be sure to keep an eye on technology trends. Conversations with advocates can be hugely impactful here. Seek them out and collect their insights on important developments that give you the inside track on potential business opportunities and strategies.
Follow people like futurist Peter Diamandis, who writes about nascent trends and how they will impact us all. His insights regularly address newer technologies – e.g., AI, 3D printing, VR, and AR – and how they will impact both business and society. Diamandis’ blog is but one source of information about digital disruptions that lie beyond our horizon.
Building a strategy around what will not change and identifying trends that could impact your business are critical steps to avoid digital disruption. Cultivate a client base of advocates to help secure your future. Like scouts on a reconnaissance mission, advocates will keep a sharp lookout for trends you need to be aware of.
Then listen to them; trust but verify. And make sure you are incorporate their feedback into your long-term strategy. Avoid getting caught up thinking that you already know what is happening around you. In fact, assume that your business will be disrupted. This mindset forces you to see the need of early warning feedback from your advocates and a strategy based on what will not change for your customers.
Interested in creating customer advocacy and building product loyalty? Learn from the experts! Check out our Product Momentum Podcast with guest Adam Bates, from Amazon.
Fred Breer is President and Partner at ITX Corp. He completed the Entrepreneurial Masters Program at MIT, and earned his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Rochester. Fred’s expertise lies in executive leadership, innovation, business growth strategies, and building strong corporate cultures.