Working to a ‘new normal’ or ‘getting back to normal’? — you’re in crisis

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Marketers and brands are talking about the new normal or back to normal.

Those people and businesses are most probably sleep walking towards inevitable crisis.

One definition of the word crisis is ‘a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger…a time when difficult decisions must be made’.

The key word for me in there is ‘difficult’ and it signposts why people like normals; it’s because they’re easy.

Normal means we can carry on doing what we’re doing, that we don’t need to do anything ‘difficult’ like change.

And change is a risk. Moving away from something that is bringing you success is a risk, so organisations put in place measures to minimise that risk. But by doing that they slow down their ability to change, which ironically puts them at greater risk as they lose their ability to keep up with the changing needs of their customers.

And, or they simply lose sight of the customer.

Their propositions barely evolve over time and any change is driven by internal, operational or financial motivations.

History is littered with examples of brands working to a normal that almost always ends in disaster.

One of the most famous is Blockbuster, the video rentals company that had the world at its feet, which at its peak in 2004 had revenues of $6bn.

From this peak, revenues fell away, generating only $1bn in 2011 and going out of business entirely in 2012.

Its board pushed the business to invest more and more in its retail business, fighting to maintain the way the business had always operated and starving its fledgling efforts to move online of the resources and investment it needed to get going.

Its decisions weren’t motivated by customer needs, but by steadfast belligerence to maintain the normal.

Netflix on the other hand is a different story.

It launched in 1998 as a DVD rental and sales website. A year later it launched its first subscription model offering unlimited rentals by post. In 2007 it launched its online streaming service. It then developed an algorithm so users could find the shows they’d like easily. Then they began making and receiving huge plaudits for their own TV shows and films.

Who knows where Netflix will go next, but it has demonstrated unequivocally the success that can come by keeping a focus on the customer and not sitting back and enjoying the normal.

So if you catch yourself talking about the new normal, or getting back to normal take a moment to think about these well-known words by Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”