Yesterday’s New York Times has an excellent article on the travails of the usually sure-footed Disney company in the Internet and mobile space. Reporter Brooks Barnes details the entertainment behemoth’s missteps as it tries to find some traction for Disney.com’s third redo in the last five years.
The article shows that even a company known for innovation and driving consumer trends like Disney, is having difficulty competing in the hyperbolic and constantly evolving digital world. As Barnes aptly puts it, Disney is an aircraft carrier trying to compete in an ocean full of speedboats. So if Disney, a company overstocked with creative talent and with a bevy of Silicon Valley highfliers serving as board members and advisors is having difficulty, what does that mean for mere mortal companies and their executives? This is particularly critical at a time when brand equity and reputation are tied ever closer to your digital strategy and online attributes. And it is only going to get more so.
The first lesson is you can no longer play by the old rules or procedures. Flexibility and speed trumps bureaucracies and approval process layers. Companies that take months or more to launch/update are being lapped by more nimble competitors that are already on digital/social media 3.0 by the time they are introducing digital/social media 1.5. Technology and customer needs/tastes are often changing too quickly, so a company must keep up or risk impacting everything from sales, to recruitment to share price. Smart is still paramount but it has to be done at warp speed and thinking two steps beyond not only matters but is a differentiator.
It is also important that companies focus on distinct audiences rather than a one-size-fits-all digital strategy. As the NYT article points out, Disney’s issues also stemmed from trying to cater to the divergent interests of Disney Channel watchers, theme park attendees, movie goers and gamers seemingly with one approach to online content.
Lastly, it is critical to keep your eyes and ears open in the breakneck digital world. This goes beyond just active listening and keeping abreast of your key constituencies on social media. It means actively investigating and searching for what is new and what is hot across the digital spectrum in your industry and others. This may mean you need to pivot quickly to a new approach, a new focus or a new technology but that is the reality that Disney found out and the lesson that any company should heed.