In recent years it has become fashionable to advise brands to look beyond strategy and find ways to disrupt the status quo to succeed. They tell brands that they need to “break it to make it”; adapt or die.
If you believe the hype cycles, organizations that aren’t disruptive will soon be out of business. They point to any number of successful disruptive industries and players: Uber, Airbnb, Amazon. They say all have found a way to dominate their markets and dispense with the old guard, usually by employing the latest consumer-facing technology. They look at established businesses, with their traditional strategies and their “old thinking”, and convince themselves that the “new” way is best. Times have changed; get with the program.
But this rationale defies logic and common sense.
It’s true that large-scale, established brands find it difficult to change swiftly. It’s especially hard for them to move rapidly and start behaving “like a startup”, as many people advise they must do to survive. But being successful in business is not just about being nimble.
It’s like the parable of the fox and the hedgehog, an idea first raised by Greek poet Archilochus and defined by British philosopher Isaiah Berlin. It separates people into two types: “a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing”.
While foxes try to pursue many things at once and see only complexity, hedgehogs attempt to turn a complex world into basic concepts or principles to help them guide everything they do.
Brands that choose to take a long-term view and maintain a single focus on their goals are perfect hedgehogs. They also find consistent, sustainable business success even when change is happening all around them.
Warren Buffett has talked about the importance of building a “moat” around your business. Once you understand your competitive advantage, you need to create buffers around it that will ward off potential competitors and protect long-term profits.
Many successful modern brands find strength in their scale. They don’t always need to operate under new rules of business to be effective in their category – they can formulate winning strategies that will see them thrive and beat their competitors over the longer term.
Landor’s Global Agile Brand Study showed that successful modern brands have to be both agile and stable. They need to have a long-term vision and stick to their principles while at the same time being able to lead and innovate. Doing this ensures that brands manage the paradox of both constancy and change.
Look at the original “hype cycle”, produced by US research company Gartner. Its adoption curve shows that new technologies have to go through four distinct phases (including the “trough of disillusionment”) before finding a measure of sustainability on the “plateau of productivity”. Large, successful organisations know that while agility is important, there is always time to adapt if the strategy is right.
Think about Nespresso – the Nestle brand that many people believe has been something of an “overnight success”. The Nespresso technology was actually developed more than 30 years ago, but its amazing growth from niche to mainstream took a long time after much trial and error in its pioneering years.
Now is the time for less disruption and more construction. It’s time for brands to think for the future and develop consistent tactics that allow them to remain agile and overcome change. In other words, it’s time they truly behaved like hedgehogs, and innovate through long-term competitive advantages to survive in today’s agile business world.