Lady Gaga, dead sharks and the case for constant reinvention

Redefine and reinvent. Now.

There’s a quote about romantic relationships from "Annie Hall" that rings true for many businesses and their customers today: "A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark."

Bottom line, if you aren’t moving forward and reinventing, you’ve got a dead shark on your hands.

The natural tendency is to think of reinvention as fixing something that’s broken. Why would you invest time and money to reinvent something that is popular and making money otherwise?

Truth is, you shouldn’t view it as a fix, but rather, a progression. The longer you wait to reinvent something, the lower your chances become of pulling it off. Why? Because small issues become big issues and once a company runs up against a major stall in its growth, it has less than a 10 percent chance of ever fully recovering.

It’s also important to note that reinvention itself has many faces. It could be about opening up a new revenue stream, as Apple did last month by re-positioning itself as a service company.

It could be a way of realigning with today’s societal values, as Barbie (finally) did by including different ethnicities and body types.

It could represent a tangible customer experience shift, like Domino’s introducing the ability to track pizza and create delivery spots.

Or be a way of future-proofing the brand; Gucci going fur-free has more to do with a new generation of luxury consumer than it does with animal rights.

Or take The Mirror, which is reimagining exercise by understanding that time, not motivation, is the biggest barrier to overcome.

One brand that has managed to achieve all of the above is the forever shape-shifting Lady Gaga. From eccentric pop artist with a meat mask to Academy Award-winning actress, she has turned creative reinvention into an art form, never waiting for irrelevance to strike before making her next move. Her reinventions may appear to be based on a whim, but they strategically tap into each of the areas outlined above to create future value for herself and her fans.

We can’t all be Lady Gaga, but here are a few things to  keep in mind when reinventing your brand:

Don’t put off the inevitable
Don’t delay until you have the full picture. Get started with what you know. If you suspect that sustainability is going to change your category, start looking into new supply chain logistics now. Action creates action.

Put yourselves in your customers’ shoes
"How can I give my current and future customers the ability to do what they can’t do but would want to -- if they knew it was possible?’ Rather than seeking to preserve, protect and defend your proven business model, attempt to disprove it and think beyond what you currently have.

Look in the margins
The best new thinking rarely comes from the mainstream.  It’s why design trends are more likely to come from New Zealand, Denmark or Korea than the US. Look to the margins for inspiration, buck convention and ask yourself, "What is the current way of thinking regarding any subject in my industry?" Then actively think differently to see new opportunities.

Redefine and reinvent
Look at what you possess with fresh eyes. Identify the equity that exists within your product or service and translate it into something new and fresh. Thicker Fuller Hair had lost its relevance to aging men with pattern baldness but show me a woman with thin or thinning hair who didn’t crave her hair to be thicker and fuller. Hence, the brand retaining the name but reinventing everything else as it re-positioned itself for women.

Bottom line, reinvention is not a moment in time; it’s every moment in time. In the end, everyone gets disrupted except for those that have the foresight to see it coming, which means that if you make (or plan to make) your millions by selling stuff to people, you either need to be the perfect combination of clairvoyant and R&D genius, or you need to get really good at reinventing your business. Better get started.

Matt Kandela is CEO of NY-based design agency, Dear Future.

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