Change is inevitable in business, and unavoidable. No matter how much we want to think we’ve prepared for it, sometimes we can never be prepared enough. And as entrepreneurs, it’s our job to remain fluid and move with the prairie winds.
But today presents a particular challenge, as we witness one of the biggest intellectual changes yet: In 30 years, we’ve changed from an unconnected world to one entirely connected. We’ve watched computers move from oddities in colleges and universities to necessities in virtually every home. Cell phones, too, have morphed, from enormous to tiny – and now they’re going back in the other direction, with the release of the Apple iPhone 6S! New technology has made it possible to be on a conference call in South Dakota with partners in New York, London, and Tokyo -- all at the same time.
Those are a lot of technology shifts to keep up with, and companies have had to evolve along with them. The companies that have survived are the ones that know this important lesson: Listen to your customers.
Consider just one example: National Geographic. The print industry has been one of the most affected industries since the technology boom. Many newspapers and magazines have either closed up shop or gone fully digital. National Geographic, however, has embraced technology: Today, its magazine is still in print and the brand has millions of loyal Instagram, Twitter and Facebook followers, both for its account and its photographers' accounts. Specifically, National Geographic has over 65 million followers.
The company wisely realized that to stay firmly planted in its print ways would have killed its business. So, it went to where the food was -- online -- because it knew how critical it is for businesses to have a healthy online presence, with both a website and social media.
Another business to consider is Netflix. Netflix has fundamentally changed the way TV is consumed. I believe it was the catalyst that drove the shift toward over-the-top television, helping pave the way for my own company, C-Suite TV, the first web-only, on-demand television platform with programming designed for the c-suite. People want to watch what they want to watch, whenever and wherever. When was the last time a businessperson said, “I have to be home in order to watch my show"? Maybe 1999.
However, Netflix wasn’t without its hiccups. Its original business model was subscription based, where people could rent as many movies as they wanted, keep them as long as they wanted and trade them in for new ones after mailing them back. The company surged in popularity, despite the ubiquity of video rental chains. Eventually, those chains went out of business. Netflix thrived.
It then moved to include streaming video, which even further bolstered its popularity. But, in 2011, when it split into two companies, Netflix and Qwickster -- its spin-off designed to continuing delivering only DVDs by mail -- and increased its prices, people, to put it bluntly, were pissed.
Netflix quickly realized its mistake, and reverted back to providing both digitally streaming videos and DVD-by-mail under one roof, and under one bill.
So, follow the Netflix example. Learn your lesson: Listen to your customers.
Domino's is another company that has made drastic changes; I featured its story on C-Suite with Jeffrey Hayzlett. Dominos was all about fast delivery -- pizza in 30 minutes or less, or your pizza was free. There was less concern about taste or quality; Domino's just wanted to get you your pizza really fast.
But as technology changed and people gathered to discuss the brand online, Domino's realized it had a problem. People were trashing its pizza's quality. And that fact had financial implications: In 2008, sales started to drop and Domino's found itself among the last national pizza chains (with Chuck E. Cheese's) left. Images started to go viral of pizza being delivered on time, but with the cheese and toppings still stuck to the cardboard.
Domino's went into action. Taking to the airwaves, it made a huge proclamation: We hear you, our pizzas suck and we promise to improve them, it said. And improve that pizza it did. When Domino's rolled out its new campaign and new recipe, sales skyrocketed. Its c-suite executives told me they nearly ran out of pepperoni!
Again -- and I can’t say it any more clearly -- listen to your customers. They will tell you what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong, and they’ll speak with their wallets (and their social media accounts)!
Other companies that have made drastic changes include McDonald’s, expanding its menu options to include healthy items, in addition to the traditional hamburger and French fries; and Apple, moving beyond computers and expanding its product lines to Apple TV and its ever-improving iPhones.
So, the takeaway is clear: As technology continues to improve, companies will be forced to adapt, change or die, based on their customers’ ever-changing demands and expectations. I challenge you, too, fellow entrepreneurs, to look to the future and be ready to roll with the punches. Change is inevitable, and it’s up to us to keep up with it.