Fashion is important in most businesses because it's easier to network with other organisations, attract talent and extract market beating margins if you’re seen as fashionable. However, there's always a balance between setting the trend and following a well-trodden path.
A slightly self-obsessed mate recently coined this phrase (and atrocious pun) of 'being scene but not herd'. While he would deny it, he spent too much time trying to set the scene, being part of leading trends and shaping what's ‘in’. This means he was never too far ahead to be considered weird, but was never accused of being a follower or part of the herd.
For an individual this is rather a dubious obsession, which my friend thankfully pulled off with disarming charm. But for many businesses it's an important line to tread because it’s vital to be seen as shaping the world – especially when responding to the opportunities and challenges of a digital world.
While citing Apple is a rather obvious example, their recent earnings figures show what can be achieved when you are viewed as defining the scene and not just being part of the herd. Other companies sell more phones but none come near to making as much money from them. It was the same with MP3 players and tablets – Apple didn't even have to be the first, but they were seen as the most desirable.
Across different sectors we can see some parallels.
In the UK’s financial services sector, First Direct led the way on telephone and internet banking but the field is still open for who redefines banking in a digital world. The organisation that does this will be the one that can capture the public's imagination about how a bank does more than just enable digital transactions. For instance, who can combine the knowledge and data captured through banking transactions with understanding of customers' real financial needs to create a new wave of financial services? This change will make managing our lives easier and help us get more from the resources we have.
In the travel market, TripAdvisor has changed the way we explore, gain inspiration, review and selects travel options, and Airbnb has altered the possibilities for where we stay. However, no one has changed the whole end-to-end experience yet. The field is still open for a business to redefine the scene and enable us to get an experience that is tailored to our individual needs and get more value from our business or leisure travel. (Check out PA’s rich picture on digitising the customer experience).
As my mate discovered, it's a fine line between ground-breaking and weird – conceptually, the gap between Tesla and the Sinclair C5* is quite small. However, for those prepared to stick their neck out, to reimagine the future and set the scene there are rich seams of value to be mined from even the most mature markets.
(*if you are under 45, Google it and decide whether this was skirting on brilliance or just a little bit barmy)