During a recent business meeting with some close colleagues, someone asked me a tough question: “What is your company doing today that will ensure it is still operating in 15 years?” My answer was lengthy and tangent-filled, but the short answer was that our core market is changing rapidly—more so than at any time in our company’s 35-year history—and that we must be prepared to adapt, welcome risk, and most important, anticipate the demands of our future customers. While that may sound rather simplistic on the surface, the reasoning goes deeper and applies to many industries—probably even yours. Let me explain.
Our company specializes in taking large amounts of content centered on business and professional skills and condensing it down into manageable bites people can easily retain. Historically, we have done this through business book summaries, short booklets, and more recently through short videos and webinars. For years our tag line was “Read Less. Learn More,” and we continue to deliver on that implied value proposition. However, times are changing.
Our company was built on “flat content,” meaning text content either in newsletter format or on a computer screen, and this format continues to be the most popular way our customers consume our product. But that is slowly changing. More and more customers are utilizing our audio and video formats each quarter, and our age demographics are starting to trend down for the first time since our initial customer survey in 2000. For a business owner, this trend is good news.
My intuition tells me that Generation Y (also called Millennials) and future generations are going to source and consume self-help content very differently than today’s professionals. Generation Y has become accustomed to answering questions and problems within seconds thanks to their proficiencies with mobile devices and the Internet. What is the capital of Greenland? I would hate to be in the globe business, because a Galaxy S4 or iPhone will have the answer (Nuuk) within 10 seconds.
When this generation has a problem, they turn to technology to solve, or help them solve, the issue. And this problem-solving methodology will carry with them as they enter and advance in the workforce. They will want a clear, direct answer as fast as they can get one. They are not going to go to the local bookstore to buy a Microsoft Excel for Dummies book to learn how to utilize Pivot Tables in Excel or sit through a two-day Excel course at the local Hilton. They will pick up their internet-connected device of choice and google “how to do pivot tables” and will have thousands and thousands of results at their fingertips. Some of these results will be of low quality, but a surprising number will be of high-quality and relevance. That Millennial just saved herself, at the bare minimum, the price of a book by watching a 30-minute IT video on YouTube … for free.
Fast, relevant, accessible, multimedia-based, and free (or at a very low cost of say $0.99) is how Generation Y is shaping the market. These market drivers are a far cry from our Company’s founding in 1978, where quality, timely delivery, and rarity were driving the purchasing decisions for our products. Therefore, while we execute to meet our short term objectives, we must also consistently look to the future and set our sails on long term success, even if some of those ideals contradict our short term objectives.
It is easy to get bogged down in the daily grind, so we leaders need to climb into the bosun’s chair and head up the mast to see if we can anticipate our future customers’ needs. It can be refreshing, scary, depressing, and energizing all at the same time, but the perspective is necessary to ensure future success.
Focusing on our future customers will help us meet their demands when they enter the market, while adding some assurance that we will have a thriving business in 15 years. The writing is on the wall and we must begin to adapt our existing products for the Generation Y’s while creating new products to meet their future demands. I am sure that when my daughter enters the workforce and needs to learn how to “lead a team,” she will be turning to her tablet or phone for a 10 minute video.
Need to learn how to replace your hot water heater? YouTube will get you there fast.
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