I’ve been in the consulting business for a long time and am convinced I’ve seen it all. An executive recently told me that he saw no value in social media, that it was a waste of his already limited resources. In his mind, he felt he must have done something right to have stayed in business for over 30 years. Needless to say, it was a very short meeting.
What he and many other executives haven’t grasped yet is that there has been a fundamental shift in buying processes. Prospective customers, distributors, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and stakeholders of different stripes know a lot more about you, your products and services long before they ever engage you! If social networking is about your personal presence, and social media is a platform to extend your reach, social market leadership is about purpose. As such, you’ll need a defensive strategy to protect your brand, as well as an offensive approach that takes your message to the market to drive growth opportunities. By the way, the last time I checked, you cannot not score and win by only playing defense.
So, why do executives fear exploring this new medium? Most often, it’s because of what I call a “cozy complacent” mindset. No one gets fired by hiring IBM, or executing a McKinsey-recommended strategy. The cozy complacent mindset is that of the fast follower, who allows others to take the innovation risk, and waits to swoop in, copy ideas and (they hope) win the race!
Here are five reasons a fast follower strategy is a losing proposition in social market leadership:
- Your position and posture is reactive, not innovative. As a fast follower, you intentionally sit back to see what the rest of the market does. Your ideas, processes and operation are trained to react. You have abdicated any real vision to innovate or uncover new opportunities. In this position, how will you ever attract world-class A-list players? Without forward-thinking people, processes and operations, you won’t have the internal capabilities to respond when disruption comes! And social media is, without a doubt, disruptive.
- Your decision-making processes and new product development and launch practices have to be the best in the world. Given the incredibly fast-paced nature of social media (I’m humbled by what I learn in this space on a daily basis), a fast follower would need the most highly-optimized infrastructure in order to make precise and timely decisions about when to enter the market with a social media campaign, how to re-engineer a competitor’s campaign in such a way that they become indistinguishable to the target customer, all while driving marketing gravity or pull from social media efforts. In the digital relationship maturity model, an organization advances from a position of inaction to one that is reactive before crossing the proverbial chasm to proactive, predictive and visionary. In that final space there are pioneers, slow followers and laggards, but I’ve yet to meet a successful fast follower.
- Your social market leadership strategy cycle will be lengthy. A fast follower needs time to: gear up, copy the innovators and form strategy and roadmaps, create and implement a campaign before the onslaught of competition does the same, invest in actually building, nurturing and turning digital relationships into revenues and profits – and all before the window of opportunity deteriorates. While this kind of thinking may have been successful in the past, the pace of change and the speed of doing business online have since shortened product/service cycles. Influencer marketing today wins market share tomorrow.
- You’ll need to follow the right people. As a fast follower, you’ll need to listen to the right people online, follow their every move, and hope like mad that the firm has good insights. Revenues are actually lagging indicators of past sales and marketing success, so the results you see today may be dramatically different from what lies ahead. Imagine following Wang or DEC in the ’80s, or even mighty Apple in the ’90s before the iPod, all market leaders who suffered great losses. Wang and DEC never recovered, and Apple only recovered because of their consumer electronics, not computers. To everyone who followed Sony’s Walkman and Discman: how did that fast follower strategy work for you? Social market leadership requires agility to move quickly, and that you learn from one campaign to the next if a particular approach doesn’t yield the desired results.
- You’ll need to change the view. I remember seeing a poster years ago when I was at SiliconGraphics (SGI, another market leader who went off the cliff) of a dog sled and caption that said, “If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.” Innovators are constantly in front, exploring new views of uncharted market opportunities. I often ask prospective clients, “What’s the ‘iPod’ of your industry?” When they struggle to respond, it’s a telltale sign that innovation, although a desired trait, may not be part of the organization’s DNA. Becoming the next anything is actually very boring; even Google, a market innovator, was just the next Yahoo.
When it comes to social market leadership, it’s time to leave the cozy complacent mindset and become the first at something. What’s your next move?