January 13, 2013

Seeing The Future

I am a HUGE Green Bay Packers fan.  Hard not to be, when you grow up forty minutes from Lambeau Field.  So naturally, last night was pretty disappointing (click here to see how disappointing it was).

In 2010, the team won the Super Bowl.  In 2011, the team utilized a style of offense that spread the ball across the field to a myriad of outstanding receivers, leading to a 15-1 record tarnished by a home loss in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

For awhile, late 2009 to mid-2011, the offense appeared innovative and magical ... a hybrid of the West Coast offense that Bill Walsh created and some of the spread concepts that you see in college football, mixed wonderfully by a good coaching staff led by Mike McCarthy.  So, win or lose, you had a certain feeling ... a feeling that your team was innovative, on the cutting edge.  Other teams had to respond to this style of offense.  They had to innovate to compete.

Last night, I felt like my team was on the receiving end of innovation.  A quarterback running for 183 yards?  Unheard of.

Did you see the offense that San Francisco ran?  Some call it a "read option" ... the quarterback reads the defense, then hands off to the running back, runs himself, or drops back to pass.  This causes confusion among the defense, they don't know what to defend ... an outside linebacker can collapse in on a running back, only to leave gaping holes that the quarterback can exploit by running outside of the pocket.

San Francisco runs elements of this offense with Colin Kaepernick.  Seattle runs elements of this offense with Russell Wilson.  Washington runs elements of this offense with Robert Griffin III.  Carolina runs elements of this offense with Cam Newton.

In other words, we're seeing the future ... this is a fairly recent trend in pro football, though the concepts have been used effectively in college football for a long time.

When you see the future, you have three choices.
  1. Take your system, double down, and improve it to combat the innovation you see.
  2. Convert your system to the new system (i.e. copy).
  3. Create a new system.
This brings me to your business.  If you're a cataloger, you're largely being told to convert your system (catalogs in mailboxes) to an omnichannel system (do everything).  By and large, catalogers are not doing this ... catalogers are doubling down ... sure, there's paid search and email and e-commerce and a mobile website, but those are all there to support the catalog.  Catalogers, simply put, have doubled down.

If you're going to convert your system, you better have the personnel to convert it.  You can't take Tom Brady and expect him to run the offense that Russell Wilson runs.  This is a problem faced by catalog brands.  Pundits hound catalogers, demanding that they run a "social / mobile / local" marketing system.  Catalogers, however, do not have the personnel (i.e. customers) to run a "social / local / mobile" system.  If catalogers try it, it won't work ... sure, there will be 50,000 new customers who embrace it, but there will be 500,000 customers who will stop shopping ... your 63 year old rural Vermont customer doesn't want to check in via Foresquare!

Out there in marketing land, startups are doing two things.
  1. Converting to the new system ... copying what others are doing, digitally.
  2. Creating a new system.
In catalog world, we're pretty much doubling down on our system.

Any of the three strategies can work.

But as a marketer, you have to be able to see the future.  Last night, when I watched my beloved Packers get mauled by San Francisco, I could see the future ... it was an offensive system that utilized an athletic quarterback in innovative ways.  My team, and my quarterback, are not wired to run the new system.  They have to double down, or they have to create a new system.

Are you seeing the future?  What do you see?  How will you respond?

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