CMO Impact
Leading a Culture of Innovation as a Growth CMO

Saving Business: Maybe It’s Time to Teach the New Dogs Old Tricks

April 13, 2016

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In a recent article, Richard Honiball, Chief Marketing and Merchandising Officer of the Navy Exchange, weighed in on the shift to the latest and greatest in marketing strategies, new technologies and even team members. Here, he shares why a focus on a balance between the old and the new just may be the key to saving some of today’s business problems.

When I was writing this – originally titled “Customer Service vs. Customer Experience” – I received an email from a friend (a successful executive that had been in the industry for a long time) that said: “Maybe it’s time for this “old dog” to move on and let someone new take the helm. Maybe it’s time for some “new tricks.”

I was giving my reply some thought when it hit me – perhaps that’s our problem. Maybe we are moving too quickly toward the “new dogs” and losing some of what made our brands and businesses strong to begin with. 

Companies are sometimes so desperate to move forward, that they become mesmerized by the shiny objects and those digital natives who understand them. The result can be a feeling amongst those long time employees that it is time to move on, their value to the company no longer in need. Or, worse yet, they are pushed aside with little to no transition in order to make room for the “new dogs.” Often, when they depart, there is a drain of knowledge and the company is left with bright, talented individuals who have good intentions, but are ultimately rudderless in the storms that ensue.

The value of an organization can’t just be in its technology, its products, or even its customers – it needs to be vested in its people, too. Four, even five generations are participating in today’s workforce, many side by side. Customer segmentation can no longer be cleanly done around age or income, but instead, personalized micro preferences that can find a thirty-year-old urban male listening to the same music as a seventy-year-old suburban female.

Embracing this new age of consumerism means embracing the same diversity in an organization’s workforce and ensuring that all are valued.

When “Out with the Old” Doesn’t Work

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in change and new technology – I cringe when I hear someone defend his or her ideas with the battle cry of “well, this is how we did it last year.”

However, many others are too quick to turn and embrace technology as the answer to their question, without understanding the question that it is being asked. Too many rush to the belief that “out with the old and in with the new” is the solution that will propel their business forward. Forward, maybe, but toward what? What is the goal? Does it provide value to your customers? Will it drive engagement, and eventually sales? Is it sustainable?

If you can figure out the answers to those questions first, then maybe you need that new app.

The pillars of industry, the ones that we quote today weren’t adverse to technology, they embraced it. However technology was rarely at the center of their strategies – the customer was. The industry veterans of today are the ones who are here to remind us that all of the technology in the world won’t be worth anything if the customer doesn’t engage with it or if it doesn’t produce value.

I spent quite a bit of time consulting with several start-ups led by brilliant founders, many of them Millennials, industry game changers who see the world differently than their larger corporate counterparts. Interestingly, their ideas often hearken back to business in the past decades, where service, personalized selection, engaging events, and “trunk show” selling were tools that drove business. Look at current retail successes Bonobos and Warby Parker: Fundamentally – if you strip away the technological aspects of these concepts – they are at heart old fashioned retailers. No different than the road shows and retail events that mom and pop stores hosted with great success many decades ago.

Ironically, many of these new businesses often seek out experienced individuals to help guide them, combining their new inspirational ideas and innovations with the advice and guidance of seasoned executives and team members to help bridge the gap between past and present. A collaborative of what made retail business successful in the past and what can make it so again.

Come to the realization that – while your best days may be in front of you – your best ideas may sit behind you, waiting to be dusted off, recharged, and complimented with the wealth of new technology that we have at our fingertips.

What if the combination of the “seasoned” and the “fresh” is the perfect modern-day recipe for driving business forward?

Working together to discover how what once worked could work again – with a new spin, or a boost from technology. Knowing that putting the customer first, in front of any innovation is most important. Finding ways to build mentoring relationships, apprenticeships and true succession planning that can help generations work together to drive customer engagement and profitable businesses. Bridging the gap between those who founded many of our legacy businesses, with those that can save them today. This may be the best use of our most important resources to date.

And to finish the story at the beginning of the article: yes, the “old dog” decided to stay put. There is still quite a bit of bark left in him, and he decided he has a lot to offer the new dogs coming in!

Read the original article on Linkedin Pulse.

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