Business insight: Companies stuck in the mire need to ask hard questions

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Technology increases reach to more customers and markets, but it also offers an opportunity to get closer to customers and partners.  Photo / Thinkstock
Technology increases reach to more customers and markets, but it also offers an opportunity to get closer to customers and partners. Photo / Thinkstock

You operate in an industry popularly perceived to be in decline - how do you keep going?

Watch and observe how people use and interact with you and your competitor products or services. Go through the process of being a customer. Ask yourself a few hard questions, such as how you define your business and what problems do you solve or opportunities do you create for your customers? Chances are these haven't changed a great deal and they might just be being solved in a new way.

For example, people still eat breakfast or need sustenance in the morning, even if they are not sitting down to a bowl of cereal, say. If you define your business as being a supplier of breakfast cereal, you could be toast; but if you define it as providing "fuel for people", your brand, if not your current product range, could still be a platform for the new phenomenon of eating on the run or snacking.

What do people say about your brand and who connects to it and why? Finding the answer will help define how far you can stretch it, but it won't limit it. Imagine a few hypotheses and stress-test how you could reimagine your products and services. If you've got a good brand and a really clear definition of what's at its core, you'll often be surprised by what is possible.

Technology developments can give companies wider customer reach - how do they take advantage of this?

Technology increases reach to more customers and markets, but it also offers an opportunity to get closer to customers and partners. The conversation is in the hands of consumers, but we can listen now and get involved. This can help us shape and change what we do or seed ideas. It can also help transform how a business does things, speeding-up the design and innovation pipeline, making the business potentially more responsive and flexible.

Can you name a business or industry that has reinvented itself in recent years?

Dow Design worked with Tru Test, recent winners of the Supreme Award at New Zealand's International Business Awards. It has developed a deep understanding of its customers and is very aware of its branding and product positioning in many different markets. We worked with it to reinvent and reposition three of its brands in the electric fencing sector.

We also worked with Hellers, whose management has always tried to be innovators. They identified that their competitors had become a sea of "copy cats" and it was time to game change. The solution was to create a disruptive and distinctive brand.

Simon Wedde is group account director at Dow Design.

- NZ Herald

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