Moving from a largely tangible analog business (in-person networking, location-based learning and a printed directory) to more intangible digital business (e-learning, online networking, and discussion groups) is tough. Many organizations have not weathered the shift from analog to digital. Just a quick look at the music industry or newspaper industry shows us how difficult the digital revolution has been on some businesses. Even giant corporations with tons of resources at their disposal have not succeeded. Kodak, Borders and Smith Corona are great examples.
Those of us in the association industry know this all to well. The transition from analog to digital has been a challenge and sometimes even downright painful. While it is tough and painful, it is not impossible.
IBM is another example from the corporate sector that proved you can withstand huge changes and even come out on top. When was the last time someone referred to them as International Business Machines? Maybe during 1911 around the time of their founding? IBM has had to reinvent themselves many times over. The thing that saved them was their dedication to their customers.
IBM company values (2003): “Dedication to every client’s success”, “Innovation that matters—for our company and for the world”, “Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships”.
Because of the focus on their customer’s needs they were able to reinvent themselves from a hardware company to a consultancy. Imagine in the span of a few decades IBM has gone from a product company (computers) to a service company (IT consulting). That’s like telling Ford Motor Company that they can’t manufacture cars and trucks anymore and instead build a nationwide business for vehicle maintenance and service.
The only way IBM survived such a fundamental shift in their business was to not be in love with their products and instead be in love with their customers. They survived with customer-focus at the core of what they believe. Because they stayed customer-focused they stayed relevant.