Guru: Coping with the decline of your business model

The destruction of a company's traditional business models causes a variety of emotions and the need for 'change management on steroids', writes Mhairi McEwan

Q: I've watched sectors such as publishing, music and film have their traditional business models destroyed. I think our sector might be next. How can the marketing department help prepare the business for the coming storm?

A: No one was surprised when Kodak filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. 'Discontinuities' are nothing new, but the scale and speed of the modern changes are staggering. Manufacturing and related industries might be next if the 3D printing prophecy, described by Chris Anderson in his latest book, Makers (The New Industrial Revolution), comes to pass.

This is a case of change management on steroids. If organisations don't adapt to disruptive change, they become extinct. First and foremost, acknowledge that it's part of your remit to act as a canary down the mine - to anticipate, signal and lead change - but not to be first in the firing line as a result. The earlier you can have honest conversations, the better.

Time and again you may come up against strong vested interests. Few people embrace change wholeheartedly, but a burning platform can do wonders to build your case. To convince those around you of the threat, you will need hard data.

Use outside experts to develop models of how your business could transform itself. Learn from companies that have faced a similar challenge.

Fear of change

Learn also to tap into human emotions that are stronger than the fear of change. You'll need to create a vision of the future that feels exciting - in a personal as well as a corporate sense.

Then, the really hard implementation work starts. Just as the development stage in a classical symphony links one theme to another, you'll need a bridging phase. This will probably involve changing core competencies and rethinking team structure, ways of working and skillsets.

Look at the retail industry's move to multichannel. Here we've seen a fresh area of expertise come to the fore that has little to do with traditional skills.

Assemble a task force and include people who can challenge the status quo and take people with them, rather than bulldoze. Understand that, if the business is to survive, there is no choice but to embark on this journey.

Mhairi McEwan is co-founder and chief executive of Brand Learning and co-author of The Growth Drivers. She is a fellow of The Marketing Society.

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