• Bill Petrie

Screaming at the Ocean

Updated: Mar 11

Resisting change is still your least effective business strategy

At the peak of their power in 2004, Blockbuster Video had 9,000 stores worldwide and had recently been sold for $9B. Meanwhile, Reed Hastings, who had founded Netflix in 1997, understood that online technology was the future of the video business and created a model to support the change he saw coming. Blockbuster’s response: ignore the noticeable shift in the desires of their target audience and, instead, focus on creating a more “home theater experience” by selling popcorn and Junior Mints. By 2013, Blockbuster had closed all remaining stores and virtually ceased to exist. In nine short years, Blockbuster went from the video market king to a footnote in history because they didn't adapt to change, let alone drive it.


When the subject of change is discussed, people tend to react as if they are at a seventh-grade dance: on one side of the room, you have folks who claim to love change, while glued to the opposite wall is a group that resists change with every fiber of their being. Both of these perspectives are, in fact, accurate as society has a love/hate relationship with the overall concept of change. However, that love or hate is mainly based on the driving force behind the change. For example, I loved working from home until being forced to do so due to the pandemic.


Simply put, people very rarely grumble about change that is directed by their actions or decisions. It’s change that is forced by others or society that creates negative feelings. This uneasiness is generally shared as any variety of “it was better in the good old days” statements – especially in the promotional products industry. Whether it’s the proliferation of internet purchasing or working with millennials, many like to fault stagnating sales on changes outside of their control. However, when the layers of the blame onion are peeled back, it’s easy to realize these are little more than hollow rationalizations.


Internet Purchasing – The old sales adage that states “people buy from people they know, like, and trust” is as accurate today as it’s ever been, with a slight difference. Today the adage should read, “people buy from people, brands, and companies they know, like, and trust.” The fact is that internet distributors are not the cold, faceless companies of the past. Today, many build meaningful – and trusting – relationships with their clients. If you are losing sales to an online competitor, it merely means that you are not providing the value or experience that your client is seeking.


Working with Millennials and Gen Z – The fact is that both generations have grown up with more technology than any previous generations could have ever imagined. They communicate using methods that may feel unprofessional: text, Twitter, Facebook messenger, Snapchat, and Instagram, to name a few. However, it’s not the responsibility of millennials and Gen Z to ignore decades of technology to make older generations comfortable. It’s our responsibility (full disclosure: I’m 51 and, therefore, a member of Generation X) to adapt to how they choose to communicate.


I have good news and bad news.


First, the bad news: clients will continue to leverage technology to make purchases as long as the experience is frictionless. Younger generations will persist in utilizing technology to communicate and conduct business.


Now, the good news: Individuals and companies that adapt to and integrate societal change are the ones that truly succeed. Instead of doing everything in your power to avoid the change, seek to include that change in your business strategy:

  • Learn the value of content marketing

  • Listen to ideas from other generations - young and old

  • Find ways to leverage emerging technology to complement services

  • Take advantage of mentoring and other education available

Quit complaining about change; it’s as inevitable as death and taxes. Ignoring the rapidly changing business environment is as effective at standing on a beach and screaming for the ocean to turn left. It’s up to each company to drive (or, at least, adapt to) said change or embrace irrelevancy while pining for the way things used to be. The management that ran Blockbuster Video shouldn’t blame their demise on streaming technology any more than Kodak should blame digital photography’s proliferation for their bankruptcy. The fact is both companies failed to modify their businesses to societal change and became cautionary business tales.


Clinging on to outdated sales practices and lamenting about the “good old days” might make for exciting fodder at the local watering hole, but don’t mistake it for a business strategy - ask former Blockbuster executives. It is, however, a quick way to be left behind by your competition and win the race to obsolescence.


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