Digital disruption: A small step for consumers, a giant leap for brands

The world is being digitally disrupted -- not by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, but by consumers. We reach into our pockets knowing that there is a device in there that has the power to fetch us the information we need, the experience we fancy, or the connection we long for. That's why I say that digital disruption is a small step for consumers. Their world is already digitally disrupted. Or one could say "digitally enabled," to phrase it from their perspective, because all they see is opportunity and benefits when they look at the world through their digital-colored glasses. There might be apps they haven't heard of and benefits they don't yet know to seek, but each benefit they might want is just a click or swipe away. And if it's not available today, then it will be soon.

Somebody out there is building it, working feverishly to repurpose available technologies or pioneer new innovations to add that extra benefit that will capture the imagination of the consumer. Somebody out there has chosen to be a digital disruptor, to toss aside traditional approaches to building companies and products, and to instead target the consumer with a straightforward, low-cost way to do something that matters to them.

That's your new competitive environment. Even if you and your direct competitors have not disrupted yourselves yet, chances are good that a startup, an indirect competitor, or even Google is offering the thing you should be offering if you were willing to digitally disrupt yourself. Don't believe me? Just search a nearby app store for the keywords that matter to you. You'll find more people trying to hone in on your territory than you previously realized.

The answer is not to run from them, sue them, or cross your fingers and hope they fail, but to join them. Embrace the disruptor's mindset, and adopt the practices and processes that make disruption possible. It's a company-wide step. It's a big step, even a giant leap, but it's one you have to make.

What does it mean to a brand? A brand's image and perception no longer depends on your slick TV spots or print campaigns, not even on your web marketing or SEO efforts, but instead on your direct relationship with your customer -- a relationship you can't begin to build if you aren't willing to disrupt yourself. "What have you done for me lately?" is the question you have to assume your customer is asking. If you have no answer -- if you don't build a measurable way to show that you've done something for your customer recently -- your brand, no matter how beautifully imagined, will slip into irrelevance. Think Nike with Nike Fuel, picture L'Oreal with an Xbox app, and then ask yourself a question. "What does my digital customer relationship look like?" In order to be a relevant brand to a digitally disrupted consumer, you will need one. And fast.

It's a giant leap, but it's one of the most important jumps you'll ever make.

James McQuivey, Ph.D., is a VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research and the author of the book "Digital Disruption."

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