Business Darwinism: Survival of the fittest

Posted on May 2, 2013 by Xenia Kingsley

Business evolution

At Man Bites Dog, part of our ‘London Career, Brighton Lifestyle’ is due to our prime office location. Not only is The Dog House just a stone’s throw from the sea but we’re also wandering distance from the centre of town and historic North Laines.

Two-streets over from The Dog House in Middle Street is The Hippodrome, which was built shortly before the turn of the 20th Century. In its heyday it was an important Brighton venue, hosting wartime variety shows and, later, acts like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. However, after failed attempts to reinvent itself as a bingo hall in the early noughties, The Hippodrome closed down and today looks like any other dilapidated, boarded up building – covered with graffiti, security signs and evidence of a few generations of pigeons.

The local press recently confirmed rumours that the building is going to be converted into a cinema, which got me thinking about regeneration, adaptation and survival in business. At the peak of its success, the venue kept its finger on the pulse of society, adapting to and preempting the needs of customers. When it stopped doing this, the consequences were all too apparent.

We can draw strong parallels here with recent examples of high street giants that have failed to change with the times. Businesses absolutely must recognise and respond to the evolving needs of customers or face the music.

Even at Man Bites Dog, our traditional ‘B2B PR’ remit has evolved over the eight years since we were founded to include SEO, marketing communications and branding – to name a few.


Famous Failures

You don’t have to look far for examples of brands that have been overtaken by changing consumer demand.

Woolworths, for example, fell down because of its ‘everything under one roof’ approach. Failure to specialise in any one-product category meant that other retailers were able to undercut by leveraging economy of scale and supplier relationships. With neither a price advantage nor a product specialism, customers turned elsewhere.

More brands still have disappeared from the high street due to their inability to adapt to changing customer needs. From digital music downloads to online retailing and social media, technology has driven many of these changes. Other evolving societal norms, such as attitudes towards food and the ethical impact of products, have also played a role in the demise of slow moving retailers.


Survival Tactics

Many well known companies have identified and acted upon evolving customer desires and expectations with great success – Hunter Wellington Boots, a functional work-wear brand that tapped into premium fashion, for example. But how were they able to recognise and react to this shift?

First and foremost, successful brands listen to their customers. This is your most valuable source of information, so be sure to foster strong relationships, which will help you to identify needs and concerns before it’s too late.

Put yourself in their shoes; read the news and monitor your industry using free web tools. Make sure you understand the forces shaping your industry, whether this is technology, environmental issues, or a bigger societal shift.

It’s also useful to keep a weather eye on your competitors and what they are up to – but remember, what they’re doing may not be right for you or your customers. Trust your instincts.

Ultimately, you shouldn’t shy away from change. Adaptation and innovation are the keys to survival – but it’s important to understand that this won’t always be easy.

Things aren’t guaranteed to go smoothly and at some point you might find yourself with an empty bingo hall on your hands. But, true innovators learn from their mistakes, improving products and services incrementally according to the needs of the market. It takes an experimental mindset and obsession with success to not only survive but thrive.


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