Sometimes you have to break things. Shake it up. Bust it up. ‘Cause that’s where the breakthroughs live.
–Randy Gage, author, Risky is the New Safe
Over the past few years it has been intriguing to watch the decline of well-known brands and companies: Blockbuster, Nokia, BlackBerry, Best Buy, Borders, and Kodak. These are just a few names of companies that are filing for bankruptcy or experiencing significant declines in revenue and/or market share.
One lesson that can be drawn from how these companies handled change is that there is a significant danger faced by dominant firms that refuse to cannibalize themselves—to give up existing sales in order to position themselves with the next generation of products and services. Kodak invented the digital camera yet was unable to cannibalize the profits from its film business to invest in new digital technology. Management reluctance ultimately led to Kodak’s demise.
Giving up what’s making you money sounds much easier in theory than it is to execute. To paraphrase author Steven Pearlstein, “The key to success in such a fast-changing environment…[is] keeping a mind open to numerous possibilities, having the discipline to experiment with several conflicting strategies and moving quickly to embrace one of them when the direction of the market becomes clear.”
Perhaps the best way to handle this dilemma is to devote a certain percentage of your time to developing what’s new, be it mobile delivery, a new product, or new audience.
Randy Gage, in Risky is the New Safe, provides five marketing lessons for entrepreneurs who may not want to play it safe. They also apply to the insurance industry:
- Action beats perfection: A well thought-out plan executed today is better than the perfect plan executed whenever you figure out it’s perfect. (Which is usually never.)
- Boring kills: A book, video, sales letter, brochure, opera, story, song, dance, or any creative work can never be too long—it can only be too boring. Insurance is already thought of as boring. Do something to spice it up.
- Say what you want: When you want someone to do something, don’t speak in codes. Whether you’re talking with your kids, raising money for a charity, crafting a marketing message, or persuading a business owner to let you work on their insurance program—tell them what you want them to do. They’re big kids and they can decide if they agree with you or not, and if they want to take that action—but only if they know what the message is.
- Be bold: The best promoter of you, your agency, service, or cause is you. You know it best, and no one is going to make a more passionate case than you. If you believe you provide the best value, stand up for it.
- Take risks: The insurance industry is by its very nature risk adverse. But to move forward you may have to take risks and experiment. You won’t always succeed, but you will learn and you will move forward. A Facebook ad may not work. That new marketing piece is going to be bold, different, and unconventional—and that’s why it will work.
Gage titles one chapter in his book, “Move Fast and Break Things.” That was the mantra of Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook family, he says. The insurance industry tends to not want to break anything! This is a new skill many of us might have to learn.
A more realistic mantra might be to “Move Fast and Try Not to Break Everything.” And: “Keep an Open Mind.”
The reason these businesses don’t change fast enough is because what they do is still working.
–Alan Wurtzel, former CEO of Circuit City, and author of Good to Great to Gone.