Sam Palmisano was CEO of IBM from 2002 - 2011. He had a saying: "Nothing is inevitable," which meant that "whatever business you're in--it doesn't matter--it's going to commoditize over time. It's going to devalue. You've got to keep moving it to a higher value."
Mr. Palmisano's words are wise. Businesses must continually evolve to be relevant. But in the press it's an all too common narrative to simply label shrinking industries as dying industries, and leave it at that.
Perhaps a more helpful and honest view is to recognize a universal change in consumerism; from consolidated loyalty around products and services to an expansive sharing of competing brands.
Take a look at the milk industry. Last month there was national news about further milk declines. And it's true, of course, that per capita milk consumption has declined significantly over decades.
But one might be surprised to learn that despite all of the news and noise that "no one drinks milk anymore" it remains the 4th most consumed beverage per capita in America, right above coffee and just below beer.
Milk drinking used to be huge, today it's only big. (Imagine the media angle if milk was just invented and that it rose to its current level of 20.4 gallons in per capita consumption every year... larger than coffee, tea and sports drinks.)
We drink a lot of milk. We also drink an increasing amount of other things.
Milk isn't alone.
Network TV has seen some declines this fall. Shows are down, but "down" means that Nashville still premiered with 9 million viewers.
We watch network TV, but we also watch YouTube. We buy at the store, but we also buy online. "Also" could actually be one of the most important but often ignored words in media and marketing.
"Also" certainly makes consumers happy. When a Windows Phone pulls in Gmail, loads up Facebook and integrates Flickr (owned by Yahoo!) in a matter of seemless seconds, we are pleased.
Would marketing programs change if organizations looked at their planning through the lens that their customer will be shared with their competitor? Would CRM plans that embrace this reality offer different programs to customers?
"The task for marketing isn’t to preserve devoted and undying loyalty. Defections and flings are already a predictable and inevitable part of people’s relationships with brands. The point is to ensure that having had from time to time a bit of action on the side, people come back to your brand."
Consumers share brands. We're not monogamous. And in that environment it's the huge industries and companies that are at risk of entering a transition downward--not necessarily toward extinction, just a smaller size. Which will, most likely, still be big.