Why Adaptation May Not Be the Right Strategy

 “You Can’t Manage Change…You Can Only Get Ahead Of It.”

Peter Drucker


Joe Weigel

Joe Weigel

Last year, for the first time in the history of the annual Best Global Brands report, it was reported that Coca-Cola was no longer the most valuable brand in the universe.Interbrand, a leading brand consulting agency, stated there was a new #1 brand: Apple. Following Apple on the list was Google with Coke finishing in the third position.

This year, for the first time in the history of North America, cremation is expected to overtake burial as the preferred means of disposition. What happened and how can we learn from Coke’s strategic “misdirection”?

Apple’s meteoric rise in value is due in part to the way it has continually reinvented itself. It has designed a seamless, multi-channel experience for consumers and has stayed consumer-centric in everything it does. Apple is able to determine what consumers want next and then deliver on it. Brands like Apple (and Google as well) are changing our behavior; how we buy, how we communicate with each other, even whether we speak to each other.

Now, to their credit, Coke has adopted these new consumer trends in communication. For instance, Coke has 92 million Facebook “Likes” compared to Apple’s 11 million and Google’s 19 million. But the important point here is that while Coke has embraced these technologies, Apple (and for that matter, Google) have had a hand in creating these emerging social media technologies. Not to mention, Coke has done little to move beyond marketing carbonated soft drinks – a category that’s been “attacked” by bottled water, energy drinks and specialty coffees.

Here’s the lesson:

Coke adapted while Apple and Google created. Coke responded to change (many would say appropriately). Apple and Google got ahead of it.

Yeah, but funerals and death are different.

Are they? Thirty years ago, everyone (consumer and practitioner alike) knew what to do when a death occurred. There were only two decisions: which funeral home and what merchandise. Today, no one knows (including the practitioner). Thirty years ago, we let change happen to us and the results are there for all to see. Today, we have a BLANK SLATE. WOW! We have a historic opportunity to SHAPE consumer expectations – to get ahead of change.

What about the economy? Well, gee. As the price of personal computers plummeted, Apple continued to introduce “pricey” options. Seems like those darn counter – intuitives are always winning. Remember this:

 “Price is only ever an issue in the absence of value”

So – as it relates to funeral service, do you cling to your old business model since that’s the way you’ve always “done it”? Do you define yourself simply as a means for families to dispose of a body at the time of death?

Are you merely embracing innovations once others have created them? I certainly hope not! I hope your service goes being this functional need and creates value for families. But just how do you define yourself? Exactly what business are you in? Is your company one that has created new trends and now values innovation?

Alan Creedy loves to talk about how the Blue Ocean strategy applies to every business including funeral service. As he likes to say, the funeral profession has become so competitive that it seems we’re all part of a shark feeding frenzy – making the ocean red with blood as everyone competes for the same families with the same offerings – many times on the basis of price. What is needed is to find a blue ocean, where conventional wisdom and status quo is leapfrogged by zeroing in on what families truly value rather than just doing what everyone else has done in the past and is doing now.

Funeral directors love to benchmark themselves against other funeral homes. Personally, I am beginning to wonder about the wisdom of benchmarking against just another sinking ship. Kind of like the captain of the Titanic saying: “We may be going down but we aren’t going down as fast as that ship over there.”

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to benchmark ourselves against something vital and growing; I would suggest looking to Apple and Google. It’s not that Coke has lost value – according to the Interbrand study, it increased its value 2% over the previous year. But Apple jumped 28% and Google skyrocketed 34%.

Don’t get me wrong, Coke is still a great brand and strong company (as are many companies in funeral service), but many long successful companies have lost some of their iconic stature. I have no doubt Coke will continue to grow value, albeit slowly, in the coming years. But in the final analysis, to continue to build a truly great brand, companies and firms must be externally focused on the consumer and anticipating their wants and needs. And perhaps set out for a blue ocean.

A ship may be safe in port. But ships were made to sail the high seas. Is your company ready to set sail for the wide open spaces in the blue ocean or will you continue to feed in the red ocean with everyone else?