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Creative Action in the Face of Change

Unless you’ve had the uncommon experience of selecting a career in a field that remains stable and unchallenged for decades (and, if so, I hope you’ll be sure to E-mail me to identify this splendid choice), your company or organization will likely be faced with one or more daunting market forces that require you to effect change or atrophy.

And of course, the challenge is made all the greater because all too often you are left asking with some concern, ‘But how do I make this change? What’s the path? How do we get through this?’

Let’s look at some examples:

  • You are president of a company that provides a specific contract manufacturing service. However, the biggest customers you’ve enjoyed for decades are in trouble — because the products they sell are becoming obsolete.
  • You are a marketing manager with a community bank, watching with trepidation as larger players dominate the market with rates so aggressive you are loath to match them. You see that your bank is losing key customers, and you are pretty sure that these important customers are responding to the great deals offered down the street.
  • Your small software engineering company has developed a great new Web technology, and you’ve done your best to protect the intellectual property involved. You are on the brink of making your first significant sales when your biggest prospect confides that they’ve just been shown a somewhat similar product – perhaps not as good as yours but a heck of a lot cheaper – developed by one of the world’s best-known software companies.
  • You head up a non-profit organization, with several other local organizations vying to offer the same services that you do. You want what’s best for the community – and you also feel strongly that your agency is best equipped to provide the services in question. Your funding is always dependent on the good will and whims of others, so over time you need to establish your superiority in an appropriate manner … or shrink your agency.

None of these professionals is alone in facing rough and ongoing challenges and threats. Major record labels have LimeWare and Apple crowding in on them. Century-old American manufacturers know that greatly increased outsourcing will save them a lot of money but will also bring social and public relations costs. U.S. car companies have to decide whether to continue to bet on big gas guzzlers or try to convince Americans that small and hybrid are beautiful.

Clearly, there’s no resting on your laurels in business today. Nor are there easy and apparent answers for the roadblocks you’ll face. That said, the ability to gather, analyze, and use business intelligence even before crisis hits can make the difference between thriving, just hanging on, or fading into history. Here are a few specific tips:

  • Don’t let trends and innovation sneak up on you. This means that you must intensify your commitment to following the news within and outside your trade, keep a very close eye on your competitors, and use your imagination as well. If you can envision an innovation happening, chances are, someone will eventually bring it to life. Should that person be you?
  • Know your business strategy, but don’t carve it in stone. Include alternate scenarios in which you face such potential threats as a reduced demand for your product, shrinkage in the market to which you most often sell, or ferocious price competition. Devise realistic potential solutions for these not-yet-realized threats.
  • Use the power of communication to your advantage. Is your product more expensive or harder to find than competitive offerings? Perhaps potential customers need to know why it’s worth the money or the wait. Are competitors hawking a way of doing business that doesn’t benefit your customer? Make it clear that you have considered all the angles, and are providing the smartest solution on the market. Public relations, buzz marketing, focused guerilla marketing, and other innovative outreach can be uncommonly effective in keeping you ahead of the pack in tough situations.
  • Make big changes when you need to. Whether by acquiring or merging with another company that is headed in the right direction or repurposing your firm’s technologies and skill set to be more in tune with new and different market demands, you can stay afloat as your competitors struggle in rapidly changing market scenarios.
  • Get the help you need. Major moves and company-changing decisions are best made with the assistance of experts with an outside perspective. Whether you need to conduct your own market research, develop a new perspective with a strategic business and marketing analysis, decide between two or more alternate plans for action; or find effective ways to communicate to your sales and distribution channels; customers, investors or others — don’t go it alone. Independent strategic marketing firms’ top people spend enough time in clients’ executive suites and boardrooms to have the skills, tools, and learned ability to help you move forward with confidence.

Michelle van Schouwen is president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC, which provides strategic marketing, advertising, public relations, interactive development, and consulting services to a range of clients nationally;(413) 567-8700;