Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Stubbornly staying the course...

...Was one of Carroll's and Mui's seven ways to fail big. We can apply this to the example we brought up in class about Borders booksellers. Their bankruptcy can be largely attributed to the fact that they "stubbornly stayed on course" and did not establish a presence on the internet or invest in e-readers. Their counterparts Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble saw the trend and caught on quickly with the Kindle and Nook, respectively. Eventually, Borders entered the game with the Kobo eReader but apparently was too late.

In reading the articles this week, I understand and appreciate the frameworks and the questions we should ask ourselves in order to craft and implement an effective strategy. But I still scratch my head and think, "How do you know sometimes?" There are technologies and ideas out there where I say to myself, "That won't work! It will never catch on." But then it becomes popular and what I previously used or thought becomes obsolete. Let's say you do all the research, you follow the guidelines in the readings, but things don't turn out as expected. How do you know when to stop? When do you consider your strategy a failure? Maybe the problem is simply there's just not enough effort spent on educating and informing consumers that they ultimately fail to recognize that your product or service is fulfilling a need they never thought they had. Some quick examples I can think of off the top of my head are Apple's iPod and MacBook Air. The iPod was not popular at first; critics claimed it would fail. It was introduced in 2001, but sales didn't take off till 2004. The MacBook Air was introduced in 2008 but fell off the radar and is back on with its redesign in 2010. In my opinion, the MacBook Air is more relevant now because it is an alternative to Netbooks, which weren't as well known back then in 2008.

Anyway, I digress :). Going back to the example of Borders, I don't necessarily agree with their strategy of stubbornly staying on course for some time and then ultimately entering the digital media arena with Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This reminds me of the example in the "Seven Ways to Fail Big" article about Ames Department Stores competing with Walmart and ultimately failing. They didn't necessarily have to compete with Walmart, they could have differentiated themselves. Given the fact that Borders hesitated in seeing the potential of digital media, Borders should have rethought their strategy on who to serve and perhaps find a blue ocean.

I admit, I did not like the idea of the Kindle or e-Books at first. I don't mind it now - I have a few free books on my iPod Touch for starters. But I still prefer having a book in my hand, physically flipping the pages, highlighting passages, making dogears, etc. And I'm sure there are many people out there like me. In a Wall Street Journal article on the Borders bankruptcy, it cites a customer who still prefers actual books.

"I know that there is a lot of buying online, but I like crawling through the stacks and holding a book in my hands."

So, perhaps Borders could have avoided bankruptcy if it observed the trends earlier on and determine whether they want to (1) compete with Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble in digital media or (2) focus on serving the market of people who prefer those book stacks and an actual book in their hands. I would have been interested to see how strategy #2 worked out if Borders were still in the game.

Resources:

Chapter 11 for Borders, New Chapter for Books (Wall Street Journal)
Amazon Kindle | Barnes & Noble Nook | Kobo eReader | MacBook Air | Apple iPod | Netbook

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