James Thompson
Dec 18, 2017

What if your industry simply ceased to exist?

Marketing and communications isn't the only industry changing at a neck-breaking pace. You can't fight the disruption that's underway, and James Thompson argues that you shouldn't.

What if your industry simply ceased to exist?

Imagine if you woke up one day to find that your industry no longer existed. That nothing you did was useful anymore.

In business jargon terms, 'disrupt' has become the new 'pivot'. (In 2017, if you weren't saying either of these words with a visionary gleam in your eye in the first few minutes of a meeting, people would begin to wonder why they had invited you.)

But with good reason. The Dollar Shave Club case is well known, taking the legs out of a lot of Gillette’s comfortable business via web-enabled convenience and quality and a simple, new habit. More is on its way.

Car manufacturers will find driverless vehicles taking over their market—presumably performance will become a less significant selling point, design principles will turn on their head and competitors will come from a completely new field.

Or take nicotine. Companies have the technology now to deliver this in much less harmful ways. Will there even be a cigarette business in 10 years? And will the system that delivers nicotine be able to deliver other “benefits”, such as flavour, mood alteration or even pharmacological effects? That would be something of a disruption.

And as North America steadily legalises marijuana and its component chemicals for recreational as well as medicinal use, what about the future of alcohol or certain leisure activities? (By the way, it is said that in US states where marijuana has been legalised, police are now kept busy by increased cases of people driving too slowly.)

The internet is the third wave of technology to have disrupted the business and communications worlds. The printing press helped disseminate information at an unprecedented scale, the Spinning Jenny and industrial revolution changed the nature of work and society for over 200 years, and our own revolution is only just starting.

It's going to take some very special thinking for threatened industries to survive, especially if you throw in the fact that short-term stock-market pressures are not helping companies think ahead and invest heavily in alternative futures. Some very big names are going to feel the heat.

Of course the world of marketing communications is no exception. But to look at this industry in isolation is to miss the point. Everything is changing, and it is only going to change faster. A wise new year resolution would be to ride the change and not fight it.

James Thompson is chief marketing and innovation officer for Diageo North America. 


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