Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The new job guarantee: there isn't one. Why even the strongest brands must evolve or die

Was reminded about the pace of change today in reading Seth Godin's blog on the fate of the Singer Corporation, which once employed more than 12,000 people in a single plant. Business today moves at the speed of light, and the only guarantee for workers today is this: there are no guarantees. When was the last time you took inventory of the brands that have come and gone in your lifetime? Are you old enough to remember Underwood typewriters, or even the IBM Selectric? How about film? Or most recently Gottschalks? Pontiac is going the way of Rambler and Packard.

From Seth's blog:

"When was the last time you even thought about Singer (or a sewing machine for that matter)? The cycles are far shorter now than they were during the century that Singer was a shining light for corporate success. More now than ever, success today is no guarantee of success tomorrow.
"Sometimes we spend more time than we should defending the old thing, instead of working to take advantage of the new thing. I bet you can list a dozen "critical" industries that will be as relevant to life in 2020 as Singer is to our world today."

Big media is also an endangered species. I thought about this earlier this week when I followed the entire first day of the Iranian protests on Twitter: raw, unfiltered and often first hand accounts. By the time I tuned into the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams had nothing to tell me. It was clear to me then that CNN, NBC and the other networks are just as endangered as newspapers: if they don't change.
Change is hard, it's traumatic and it often turns your world upside down. But at the end of the day, we don't really have any other options.

As Seth concludes:

"The key difference is that back then, managers and shareholders could stall and fumble and wait out the transition until after they retired. Now, it's almost an annual event. Hiding isn't working, and neither is whining. The best marketing strategy is to destroy your industry before your competition does."


Anonymous said...

I'm trying to read the tea leaves here. Are you telling the reader that the Bakersfield Californian is going the way of the Singer sewing machine? Are you planning to take Godin's advice and destroy the paper?

Richard Beene said...

There are no tea leaves here and - pardon me here - but I find your query a tad simplistic. If you believe the mass media (newspapers, local and network TV, radio, wire services, syndicated news, cable news channels, direct mail etc) cannot thrive and continue to grow long-term - as I do - then it would be suicidal not to take radical steps to reinvent the model. There are many cases of companies "destroying" themselves and emerging as different, viable enterprises. IBM, Intel and Kodak are among big brands that destroyed existing product lines to survive (much as the car companies are doing today). Nostalgia is a strong emotion, but it doesn't pay the bills. So the quick answer is: yes, we are prepared to do whatever is necessary. The paper will survive, but it inevitably be a different animal than it is today.

Anonymous said...

Newspapers have to change and become a different animal, but you do not articulate what that animal will be. Perhaps you do not have any idea yourself. Change to what? Do what ever is necessary? So far, the changes made in the Californian have meant reduced content and poorer coverage of the city. Maybe the WSJ has been partially successful at remaking itself with paid premium on-line content (I just paid $103 for an on-line subscription). But when the Trib chain and the NYT and other biggies haven't figured out what the newspaper of the future will be, tea leaves or not, it's unfair to criticize a small newspaper's ability to lead the way to the future. I sincerely wish you all the best success in your efforts; you have the challenge of a lifetime on your hands.