The mighty pigeon - hailed for its athletic prowess, loved as a family pet, employed as a trustworthy message carrier. For centuries, the pigeon was renowned the world over. It was a high-priced, prized commodity.
Fast forward to today, and the once-noble bird is now an utter nuisance - dubbed "a rat with wings". So what changed? How did the pigeon lose its value so quickly?
It had the marketplace on utilitarian birds all to itself, only to lose it in one fell swoop. Unfortunately, many brands once considered titans of their industry have suffered similar fates, and it comes down to marketing myopia.
When companies and brands climb rapidly through the growth stage, they can lose sight of the business they're really in. This doesn't happen overnight. Systemic mismanagement and a focus on the needs of the company rather defining the company in terms of the customers' goals, often lead to a failure to identify and adjust quickly to changes in the market.
Refusal to see beyond your own narrow definition of what exactly your company offers can be a near-sighted approach to businesses, and for many companies, can lead to failure.
Technology will always change. Competition will always pop up, sometimes from where you least expect it. To successfully navigate through these cycles and come out stronger at the end, companies have to always look externally and ask themselves not what they are selling specifically, but what problem they are solving.
Sustaining a blockbuster hit
Think about Blockbuster, the blue and yellow pigeon of the entertainment world. You probably think their demise was inevitable as soon as Netflix burst onto the scene. What you may not know is that the movie rental giant had to acquire Netflix but balked, citing current sales. several opportunities
Blockbuster saw itself as strictly a retailer that sold a specific good in a linear fashion, instead of taking the holistic view of an all-around entertainment delivery company that could evolve its offerings to fit the soon-to-be-changing needs of its customers. They forgot what business they were in. And in a relatively short time frame went from a Friday night staple to running joke.
Companies that grow to become synonymous with their service offering can have a difficult time shifting their thinking. A cardinal mistake (or perhaps a pigeon mistake) is allowing ego and past success to get in the way of testing assumptions about the marketplace.
Adapting to new assumptions
For years BlackBerry dominated the mobile PDA market. It was the premier mobile gadget and became so ubiquitous in business it earned the moniker "CrackBerry."
So what happened? How did it fall to the bottom of the smartphone barrel?
It's fairly simple really. They failed to adapt and innovate in a consumer-technology market that was, and continues to, evolve at a rapid pace. The best PDA maker (arguably one of the first smartphone makers) completely missed the smartphone market. It was their steadfast insistence to their old assumptions that contributed to their myopia.
BlackBerry also failed to tune into the fact that consumers were driving the smartphone industry - it was no longer just for business. As such, they missed the boat on the "app economy" and that smartphones were no longer just communications devices - they were entertainment devices.
Pigeon-proofing your business
Take a look at the landscape of newly successful companies of the present day and you'll probably find a future pigeon or two in the bunch. But you'll also be able to pick out the companies that are built to last in the very long run, not because of the technology they've built, but because of how they focus on solving pain points within their customers' journeys.
The biggest disrupter of this young century has been Uber. They understood from the start that they are a transportation company, not a taxi company. This way of thinking will always open doors as technology evolves and needs change.
Traditional taxi companies who only considered other taxi companies as competition were blindsided by a left-field idea with a solid basis confirmed through extensive customer lifecycle mapping.
Same story with Airbnb. Hotels focus on selling hotel rooms, Airbnb is in the business of experiences. It plays out in everything from the design of the app to their refreshingly breezy marketing efforts.
Airbnb is one of a number of companies expanding their innovative approach inwardly to align each and every employee with the company mission and give greater insight into the customer journey. Through visuals, Airbnb puts itself in the well-worn shoes of its travellers, empathizing with them each step of the way.
Customer experience has to be the heartbeat of your business. Companies, whether early-stage or enterprise, can never lose sight of the North Star that guided them to early success. A hundred years ago, when pigeons were the muses for some of our greatest artists, no one could have predicted their fall into obsolescence.
If you want your company to avoid the fate of the pigeon, Blockbuster or Polaroid, you need to understand the business you're truly in.