Ignoring Innovation Means Getting Left Behind

February 23rd, 2016 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs - (Comments Off)

According to this week’s blog post from member company Social SafeGuard, in today’s highly competitive marketplace, innovation is what ultimately sets a company apart from the rest of the market. Innovation is an essential part of any business that does not want to be left behind, and it can come in many forms when it comes to how a company communicates with its customer base.


Social media is currently the most powerful and effective communications tool available. Twenty five years ago the concept of a globally available, user-generated content platform didn’t exist. Today, the utilization of this platform is a key to success for any business. In today’s highly competitive marketplace, innovation is what ultimately sets a company apart from the rest of the market; it is an essential part of any business that does not want to be left behind. Innovation can come in many forms when it comes to how a company communicates with its customer base.

free_social_media_icons_image_ubersocialmediaIn order for a company to effectively satisfy their customer’s wants and needs, they must constantly communicate and listen to them; furthermore, companies must use the findings of this communication to adapt their product or service accordingly. 72 percent of adult internet users in the U.S. are now active on at least one social network, up from 67 percent in 2012 and just 8 percent in 2005. It is obvious that social media is the most effective way to reach and engage with today’s consumer. History is littered with companies that were once dominant players within their industry, but failed to effectively engage and listen to their customers, which eventually led to their demise. Two prime examples of this are Kodak and Blockbuster.

1. The Last Kodak Moment: Kodak was the primary player in the camera industry for almost a century. Kodak was the American technology company known for inventing color film, the handheld movie camera, and the first digital camera. In the late 1990s, Kodak began to struggle financially due to its sluggish transition to digital photography, regardless of the fact that they invented the core technology used in current digital cameras. After 132 years of business, Kodak officially filed for bankruptcy in 2012 due to their inability to adapt to the changing camera industry. All Kodak had to do was communicate with their customers to discover that preferences were changing, but instead they chose to stick with what they had always done, which resulted in a loss of competitive advantage and economic failure.

2. Blockbuster: For many years, Blockbuster was the dominant player in the movie rental industry. Once Netflix, Redbox, and On Demand Cable Services entered the market, trends quickly changed to customers wanting videos instantly and conveniently. Blockbuster chose not to adapt to the changing marketplace until it was too late. In 2010, the company filed for bankruptcy after 25 years of business and the majority of their stores closed shortly thereafter. While Blockbuster still attempts to mimic their competitors in an effort to regain any possible market share, they are now chasing the industry instead of leading it.

Every company must adapt and embrace social media if they do not want to become the Kodak or Blockbuster of their industry. Social media allows people to create, share, or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. Unlike traditional communication tools, social media has unmatched reach, frequency, and usability. Social media is the medium in which today’s consumer chooses to communicate. It would be foolish for any company to not adopt a platform that provides a free flow of information with a global reach, where all of their current and potential customers are present, and openly telling the companies exactly what they want.

If Blockbuster would have been proactive and engaged their customers, it is possible they would now have 57 million subscribers streaming videos in over 50 countries, and Netflix would be nothing but a failed startup.

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This week on NVTC’s blog, NVTC member company Kathy Stershic of Dialog Communications continues her Brand Reputation in the Era of Data series by sharing principle four: protecting data when it is passed on to others in your value chain.


Here is the Fourth of 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships, based on Dialog’s recent research.

While the last post discussed getting your own house in order around protecting customer data, equally important is protection of that data when it is passed on to others in your value chain.

Consumers regularly agree to share data with a particular organization for immediately known purposes – a purchase transaction, registering for a site or service, downloading an app. There is an abstract understanding that their data is shared. But the specifics of with whom, how and for what are vague to all but the most attentive, usually those who work in a marketing capacity. I recently heard a statistic that a data broker will have about 1500 pieces of information on an average individual! I didn’t know there could be 1500 things about me to be tracked. Who knew I was so interesting?

This vague concept of ‘they have all of my data’ is unsettling, leaving people feeling powerless and hoping that nothing harmful will befall as a result. It is perhaps the greatest area of concern for our study respondents. Legal requirements are normally that the data owner has bottom line responsibility (read that the one who could be sued in a breach), so it behooves you as a data collector to integrate strict data management terms into your third party contracts.

But beyond that, it’s how the data is used and monetized – and we all know this is the holy grail of marketing – that respondents find troubling. One respondent noted that “3rd party access to my search history is completely inappropriate.” Another noted that “if you got my data from somewhere else, tell me where you got it from.” Some of the other concerns expressed included not allowing an individual’s identity or data given for one perceived purpose to be used by entities that have control over other parts of their lives – insurance, credit, employers, housing, civil litigation, healthcare providers, surveillance or profiling, divorce court, political parties, or the news media, except as allowed by law. Data collectors should therefore carefully consider legal requests vs. legal requirements.

One suggestion was to have and observe universal standards on collection and distribution of sensitive and potentially harmful medical and financial information. There are already laws about these domains, but data analytics can get pretty accurate at some of these situations using other non-regulated data.

But some respondents also took a Buyer Beware stance, saying that data voluntarily given and captured through public means is there for the taker, and consumers can always choose not to participate in a transaction. Better to educate people about what is being harvested about them and how it is used. Perhaps improving privacy policies would be a good start. But it can be challenging to get that message across when data is handed off to anonymous 3rd parties whose very existence or purposes are unknown to average people.

With the Internet of Things, this situation will grow exponentially, creating further issues of securing data at the points of collection, transfer and curation x 1000 – and the implications for Big Data crunching that will come from it. Bottom line – mind your partners. Privacy protections need to be contractually obligated with third parties, but prudence dictates you avoid sharing with those who perpetrate the creep factor, especially when contributions can be traced back to you.

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NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In the below post, Elizabeth Harr of member company Hinge explains how research is an essential element for tech firms in differentiating their brand.


Technology firms go to great lengths not to reinvent the wheel when developing new ideas. Staying on top of industry trends and tools keeps them from wasting time and money developing last year’s products or services. Tech firms live and die based on the quality of their research, of how in-tune they are with competitor’s capabilities. But even as technology providers differentiate their products and services, they often forget to differentiate themselves. And in the struggle to understand the competition lies the risk of blending in with the competition.

But if your firm is looking to grow, blending in is not the way to go. Our research shows a strong correlation between brand differentiation and growth. In fact, high growth firms are three times as likely to have a strong differentiator than firms with average growth.

So what makes a differentiator strong? Three things:

  1. It must be true. You can’t just make it up. Well, you could. But if you don’t practice what you preach—if you don’t deliver what you promise how you promise—you’re going to hurt your brand and your business.
  2. It must matter to your clients. More than just setting you apart, your differentiator must be important to your clients. You can boast having the best kickball team in the state, but if it’s not serving your clients’ interests, you can’t count on your differentiator gaining much traction.
  3. It must be supportable. So your differentiator is true and it matters to your customers, but you can’t prove it. That’s a problem. If it’s not quantifiable in some way, it can be difficult to communicate it to your clients. This is particularly tricky with “soft” differentiators like commitment to clients. A good rule of thumb is to avoid differentiators that everyone claims. Things like customers coming first or having the best team in the business are both hard to prove and everyone claims these. If everyone’s has (or at least claims) a particular focus, it can’t set you apart.

Discovering Your Differentiator

There are two ways to approach brand differentiation. You can uncover what you’re currently doing that sets you apart and play to that strength, or you can look for customer needs that are currently not addressed by the marketplace. Find out what your customers value and how you can rise to the occasion. Take a long hard look at the marketplace. Ask questions. Is there no one providing both of a couple of services that seem like a natural pairing? Is no one focused on a particular region, industry, or process?


Elizabeth Harr is a partner at Hinge, a marketing and branding firm for professional services. Elizabeth is an accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive with a background in strategic planning, brand building, and communications. She is the coauthor of Inside the Buyer’s Brain, How Buyers Buy: Technology Services Edition and Online Marketing for Professional Services: Technology Services Edition.

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