Is it me, or do you too get the feeling everyone is in holiday mood early this year? It’s surprising really. With productivity in the UK at a pathetic low, Brexit causing chaos (and the real problems are still to materialise) and even the optimists admitting that 2018 is going to be “challenging” for UK businesses you’d think, if there were any pre-holiday slack businesses would be using it to ensure they hit the new year with a bang!

It may be of course that faced with the combination of low productivity, inflation, Brexit and the struggle businesses are having with digital transformation us Brits are doing what we do best – having a big party and pretending everything is fine. We’ve even arranged a royal wedding in an attempt to keep the champagne flowing at least until the summer. So, I’m sorry to rain on your parade, but if you want to still have a smile on your face this time next year you need to roll your sleeves up and get to work now. Here’s something really useful you can do to kick off.

When was the last time you took a look at your brand? I mean, really look at it. With digital natives now dominating every sector the rules have changed. The digital customer is more demanding than their predecessors in every respect and very few businesses at the moment have business models that can meet their needs and still turn a profit. That’s why every business should be going through a transformation right now. However, although we know that over 60% of businesses recognise the need to transform, which is low enough to start with, the really scary statistic was revealed by a recent survey – only twenty-odd percent of organisations were actually doing anything about it! When the other shoe finally hits the floor for the rest of them, all hell will let loose and those businesses who have been sitting back until now will be desperately scrambling for a place in the sector that they once called home.

The starting gun for this race will be the arrival of the first truly digital organisation in their sector. By nature a real digital business has limitless capacity. It’s automation will enable it to accommodate every customer in its sector and because its offer will be, in the terms of the digital customer, better than those of legacy businesses, they’ll find taking customers from the old boys as easy as taking candy from a baby. The result will be consolidation. There will definitely be room for fewer players in most sectors and once one digital business moves into the neighbourhood more will follow. Initially therefore you’ll have new, fit and hungry competitors to add to those you have fought against for years. In fact, legacy businesses and start-ups will be the least of your worries. Digital businesses from adjacent sectors will find it a simple matter to step over the fence and steal your customers. In fact, if you want scary, you can probably bet that right now you have no idea where the real challenge is going to come from.

However, there is a ray of sunshine on this dismal landscape. As the boy scouts say “ be prepared”. This is what you do.

If you haven’t transformed, you are probably still in business only because no digital competitors have arrived in your sector. All the old faces are sitting around congratulating themselves on standing firm and not being drawn into the transformation vortex and continuing to do nothing. When the poop hits the fan, though, they’ll all be running around like headless chickens proclaiming “we must digitise” and in their panic they’ll probably all head off down the route many have gone before. Now, you have to be aware that 70% of transformations fail and frankly, when you are putting all your energy and resources into catching a lean and fit disrupter failure is tantamount to tripping over your own shoe laces. The fact that 40% of the businesses we know today are earmarked for oblivion in the next few years is the inevitable outcome of this kind of knee-jerk response to the challenge. What you need is to act smart.

The reason most transformations fail is they lack focus. Digitising existing business models is relatively easy, but that’s not “transformation”, only “change”. The reason we use the term “transformation” is to make the point that it’s a much bigger deal. Successful businesses have always started with a clear objective. There has barely been a case since the 60’s where a start-up has succeeded without a real objective and, seeing as transformation is really re-building your business from scratch you need to start by defining what you stand for and what you want to achieve. In other words define your brand.

A brand gives any business focus and with focus comes efficiency. An organisation with a clearly defined brand will move more decisively, more efficiently and, above all avoid the wasteful blind alleys that suck your money and time. At least when you have a brand you know what to do when the need is unavoidable and can jump to it. You’ll steal a march on your more complacent competitors and maybe stand a chance of securing a place at the table in the new sector paradigm. It’s not the total solution of course, but it is an essential first step and it will give you a place in the race.

So, before you pop the corks this holiday, do something to set your 2018 off in the right direction. Remember, this is a race and every runner will be looking for an advantage once they recognise that fact, so why wait until January?

Happy holidays!

First published on LinkedIn December 2017

Phil Darby
August 3, 2018

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