The key is to ask the right questions and see things in a new light.


January 31, 2018

4 Min Read
Digital Transformation

Like a lot of young entrepreneurs getting started in technology, Nick Black grew frustrated with traditional ways of marketing a startup company.

The founder and CEO of America’s IT Doctors based in Atlanta, Black attended a lot of community gatherings and passed out a lot of business cards when he started his company. He knocked on doors and even persuaded some of his clients to tell their friends about his capabilities. But Black knew these methods were inefficient at best, and not scalable in the least.

That’s when Black asked himself a profound question: What if building a new digital-services business didn’t have to rely on traditional marketing techniques? What if, instead, it prioritized the tools of LinkedIn, Facebook, Google search and other marketing services, and then applied them to its business, bypassing a lot of the other methods that fail to deliver?

The moment proved to be a turning point for Black’s company. After spending two years learning digital marketing and applying it to help grow America’s IT Doctors, Black, pictured below, then launched a digital marketing company of his own, creating an entirely new stream of revenue. The new company, which provides digital marketing audits, Facebook marketing assistance and help with email campaigns, is called, “The Digital Donkey.” Its tagline gets right to the point: “We help your ass grow!”


Nick Black

Nick Black

More than clever, Black’s ability to see a thorny business challenge in a new light is something the best brains in business believe is critical for thriving in the era of digital transformation. Writing in the McKinsey Quarterly, authors Marc de Jong and Menno van Dijk examine the ways that disruptive companies upend the status quo. More often than not, they reframe beliefs.

“Every industry is built around long-standing, often implicit, beliefs about how to make money. In retail, for example, it’s believed that purchasing power and format determine the bottom line. In telecommunications, customer retention and average revenue per user are seen as fundamental. Success in pharmaceuticals is believed to depend on the time needed to obtain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Assets and regulations define returns in oil and gas. In the media industry, hits drive profitability. And so on,” they write.

These ideals are often considered sacrosanct until something better comes along, they add. One example of a company that saw things in a new light is an organization whose business literally is illumination — Philips Lighting.

A mere few years ago, Philips stood on a burning platform in the form of a once-in-a-generation technological revolution. Rather than fumble the transition from incandescent lighting to light emitting diode (LED) illumination, it transitioned successfully.

Think about it: If you’re like most, chances are you’ve already begun replacing most of the incandescent lightbulbs in your home and workspace with new energy efficient LED lightbulbs. As you did, I am betting that you did something that you ordinarily wouldn’t do: You switched brands. Instead of the GE or Sylvania bulbs that you relied on for years, you probably switched to new ones from CREE and Philips Lighting, which was spun out of Philips in 2014.

At the time, you were probably more enamored with the technological revolution underway than the business one. But the latter turns out to be nearly as big. One hundred and twenty-five-year-old-plus companies normally don’t innovate the way that Philips did. But because it was able to see its business challenge as a market opportunity, it created a new way forward.

While the move hasn’t fully restored Philips to its one-time glory, switching business models and technologies has put the lighting company on a path toward sustainable success. Consider this from its most recent quarterly report, released in October 2017: “For the first time in our transformation, the growth of LED and connected lighting systems and services more than offset the decline of our conventional business,” said CEO Eric Rondolat. “At the same time, we continued to improve our profitability, with LED and connected lighting systems and services being substantial contributors. This demonstrates the successful execution of our strategy as we remain on track to reach our outlook for 2017.”

Like America’s IT Doctors, Philips was able to turn a long-held belief system – i.e. that lighting was a low-margin, consumable products, replacement business – on its head in order to gain a new perspective.

After trying to persuade vacuum companies to abandon their business models, which relied on selling cheap machines once and replacement bags many times over, James Dyson then launched his own vacuum-cleaner company. At the time, his products cost roughly four-times more than the best-selling vacuums of the day. Market insiders thought he was nuts.

Today, those former insiders are out of jobs, Dyson is a billionaire and the business of air flow has never been the same.

So, what about your company? Can it turn today’s current challenges into new business models, market deliverables and customer experiences?

How you answer may very well determine your company’s destiny.

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