Dealing with Disruption

How to be a credible disruptee in your technology market.

To be in the tech industry is to continually be in the path of disruption.

In a relatively brief period, disruption has been frequent and rapid in the tech industry – from the demise of mainframe computing to the replacement of twisted copper pairs with fibre cable and onwards to the arrival of the Internet. From the growth of Big Data; the transition to cloud computing; mobile, and the Internet of Things (IoT) – disruptions have created a ripple effect that’s transformed businesses, markets, commerce, behaviour and culture.

When disruption arrives, it divides technology players into two camps: those who create it (the ‘disruptor’), and those who have to deal with it (the ‘disruptee’). And while it may seem that those who create it are assured a market advantage, history has shown that’s not always the case. Think back to Steve Jobs acquiring the fruit of someone else’s labours on personal computing technology and making it the first of many Apple market disruptions that changed the world.

Two responses are key for those tech businesses that are obliged to deal with disruption:

The first is recognition – of the true impact that disruption will have on your market, your customers and at a higher level – brand and future success.

Of course, analysts and commentators love a bit of disruption. With every claim of next-generation technology and ‘game-changing’ innovation we see a raft of five- and ten-year predictions around who will or won’t survive in their current form, and who tomorrow’s winners will be.

For some organisations disruption means rethinking the portfolio, delivery and the value chain – for others it’s more deep-rooted and about changing organisational behaviours, culture and skillsets. Whatever the level of ‘organisation reinvention’, the marketing function must consider what level of commitment it wants to invest to propel the cause:

1. focus efforts on promoting and amplifying the effects of individual change projects around the business

2. exert greater commitment and influence by supporting a broader programmatic transformation, together with other business functions sharing common beliefs

3. prepared to lead the charge and act as a change agent and debate-generator for a more progressive model

Every level of commitment is not right for every business. But the point is that marketing leadership need a strong internal point of view about the stance they are taking and the role they should play.

The second response is authenticity – because you can’t ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ in the tech sector.

A thin veneer of IoT or a fluffy cloud proposition can cause more harm than good if it’s not credible, supported and sustainable. It’s not enough for the business to merely charge marketing with creating a quick fix – it needs more than a campaign or a sprinkle of ‘trouble-making’ on an existing portfolio.

Marketing is a key partner in propagating and communicating a culture of innovation – but the task needs to be around broader programmes that affect the value proposition, operating model and mindsets.

The process of recognition can benefit from impartial insight and an objective assessment and articulation of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. At this point, you begin to discover authenticity ie. what you and your technologies can truly offer now, and promise for the future.

Unless you’re able to match or even trump a technology disruption then your best strategy is to meet it with brand, marketing and ecosystem fire. But beware, a veneer of marketing won’t hide weaknesses such as a vision vacuum, unempowered sales people or a siloed portfolio.

Wherever your marketing leads, your portfolio, services and solutions must follow – with customer education, thought leadership and business-focussed benefits that demonstrate vision and a command of new disruptions. Those technology companies that can achieve this have the opportunity to catch the wave of disruption and leave others in their wake.

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