Most people who know me are unlikely to put my name in the same sentence with zombies, especially in the context of designing book covers. My style tends to embrace architecture, nature, Art Deco and sometimes a splash of unabashed whimsy. Yet when a colleague recently asked me if I could come up with something for his Romeo and Juliet riff in which the star-crossed lovers team up against the ghoulish undead, I heard myself say, “Sure! Why not?” Not only was it a chance to expand my mental margins (and get paid for it) but also to explore the correlation to today’s businesses needing to stay relevant in a mercurial marketplace.
In a nutshell, no matter how well a particular approach to your services and products has served you in the past, nothing courts obsolescence faster than the belief that the status quo will continue to work in the future.
Take restaurants, for instance. When customers began paying more attention to what they were eating, savvy restaurateurs recognized the need to tweak their menus to reflect nutritional information, calorie-count, heart-healthy choices, gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan, low sodium, no trans-fat, etc. Longstanding cooking techniques such as fried, breaded, battered and glazed began giving way way to grilled, roasted, broiled and steamed. Depending on the cuisine, there has also been a downsizing of plate and portion size to trick the mind into feeling “full.”
Another example is the landscape design business. Southern California homes that once boasted lush green lawns have now turned to a combination of drought-resistant plants and ground cover, artificial turf, and bark, brick and decorative rock – lawn alternatives which 21st century landscapers have had to step up and accommodate in order to stay viable.
Own a brick-and-mortar shop? Many have already transitioned to an online or hybrid presence in response to their customers’ desire to have 24/7 access, not have to deal with holiday crowds and parking lots, and addressing the escalating fears that being out in public places such as urban malls isn’t nearly as safe these days as it used to be.
Even publishers of books, magazines and newspapers are making the shift to electronic platforms in concert to the way today’s readers like to read. Given the fact that 30 percent of trade paperback and hardcover books end up in landfills, the evolution of ebooks and self-publishing reflects not only a “green” environmental solution but also a way for authors to exercise more control over their intellectual property, accrue higher royalties and get their books on the market much faster than via traditional channels.
With these examples in mind, what has your own business done to reinvent itself in the past year? The past five years? The past decade?
The following are some considerations which should be at the top of your To Do list:
- Study your competition’s unique selling points. What can you do to (1) emulate their successful platform and (2) differentiate yourself in attracting the same clientele?
- Explore new ways to keep your existing clients and customers happy. Engage them in the process by letting them know their opinions count. At the end of the day it’s much easier and less expensive to retain loyal fans than it is to pursue new ones.
- Become a lifelong learner. Educate yourself (and your employees) on industry trends by attending seminars/webinars, reading new business books and trade publications, tuning in to podcasts, and expanding your social media network.
- Update your business image. Whether it’s a creative retooling of your website, a redesign of your corporate brand, an expansion of your existing services and products, or doing seasonal window displays to catch the attention of passersby, it’s the Bright Shiny Object Syndrome that makes people curious to discover something new.
- Invest in new technology that will allow you to manage your time and delivery systems more efficiently. You may also want to invest in the expertise of a marketing coach to guide you in maximizing your resources, identifying ways to diversify, and reach potential consumer groups you might not have thought of.
It also goes without saying that survival is ultimately contingent on the mindset to take risks, to try things you’ve never done, and to stay absolutely and positively fearless. Your business adversaries may not be zombies but they will indeed eat you alive if you’re not prepared to stay one step ahead of them.