The Perils of Stagnancy, the Power of Iteration

“We consider Borders to be in the very elite group of high-quality retailers,” said Linda Farquhar, a securities analyst for Alex Brown in New York.

That was in 1998.

Thirteen years later, having filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy late last month, Borders now finds itself teetering on the edge of extinction. Once a proud and vital brand, the company has become a cautionary tale, a reminder of the perils of stagnancy and business as usual.

It’s a harsh reality. No company wants the cautionary tale label, but in an entrepreneurial era of high-velocity media and marketing innovation, the sluggish company that fails to adapt is just dawdling towards irrelevancy.

Fast-moving businesses fueled with vision and purpose simply aren’t wired to slow down as they iterate, nor are they much inclined to notice anything not moving at their same speed. Slow movers beware: you are at extremely high risk for becoming road kill on the side of the Autobahn—a rigid reminder for everyone that follows about the unforgiving realities of the road.

The Borders Example

Though it had been expected, the Borders news generated an enormous amount of discussion about the disruption currently reshaping the bookselling and publishing industries with the advent of ebooks and the growth of reading’s digital age. It’s a dynamic, exciting time for many, but disruption isn’t good for everyone. Where there are winners, there are also losers.

I should point out that I worked at Borders for many years, and was a passionate advocate for the brand’s digital potential in new media areas, most especially in the form of online video entertainment and distribution (see We created a robust online video presence, but we fell too far behind in other competitive segments and the business suffered, leading to cuts and layoffs across the company. There are many reasons for this, but the general theme is that Borders failed to evolve its business model and capitalize on new business and marketing channels. Therefore, at a time when most companies were growing their e-commerce and social media departments, Borders was forced to outsource, cut back, or eliminate portions of theirs. The slide was underway.

But the Borders story is not just a story of publishing and bookselling. This is a warning signal for all brands in all industries about the need – more like the absolute requirement – to fight stagnancy and business as usual.

Is your brand positioned to evolve, adapt and keep the cautionary tale tag at bay?

The Excuses for Stagnancy

“It’s too expensive.”

“We’re not a video kind of company.”

“Online video and social media are just passing trends”

“We’re doing fine without it. “

“There ‘s no ROI.”

These are the excuses I hear most often about holding off, cutting back, or turning away from online video. I think we’ve established that online video is not too expensive, and with very little exception, every company can be a video kind of company.  And, as this article will discuss, online video is here to stay and you can do even better with it. The ROI question requires a more nuanced examination. Without absolute metrics and data to point to, it’s all too easy to turn your back on new technology initiatives.

I recognize the need to identify success metrics for online video, and certainly your online video strategy should establish clear benchmarks for success, including quality of engagement, video shares, website traffic and yes, overall sales gains.

But beware of applying old-world ROI thinking to new media initiatives such as online video. In many ways, applying ROI to your video and social media strategies is like applying ROI to your telephone. This is how people communicate today.

Is your brand moving quickly enough into the new media universe in front of us?

Online Video: the Most Powerful Medium in the World

Social media, and in particular online video, is quickly becoming the most powerful communication medium in the world, whether for commerce, entertainment, or news and education. In the words of TED Curator Chris Anderson, “what Gutenberg did for the written word, online video can now do for face-to-face communication.”

In a particularly relevant TED Talk from last summer, Anderson discussed the unbridled power of online video and its massive growth trajectory:

“Cisco estimates that within 4 years, more than 90 percent of the web’s data will be video. Video is high-bandwidth for a reason. Video packs a huge amount of data, and our brains are uniquely wired to decode it.”

“There’s a lot more being transferred than just words. It’s in that nonverbal portion that there’s some serious magic. Somewhere hidden in the physical gestures, the vocal cadence, the facial expressions, the eye contact…the sense of how the audience are reacting, there are hundreds of subconscious clues that go to how well you will understand and whether you are inspired…Incredibly, all of this can be communicated on just a few square inches of a screen.”

Online video is one of the keys — perhaps the most important key – to connecting with your audience in a way that fully capitalizes on the nonverbal magic Anderson describes. Video is quickly becoming the primary currency of social media interaction and will be increasingly critical to all efforts at maintaining a trustworthy relationship with your audience.

So one last time: Is your brand adapting to this fundamental shift in communication? Or are you in danger of becoming a cautionary tale?

Rich Fahle is the founder of Astral Road Brand Media, a brand platform marketing agency for authors, artists and content creators of all types. He is the former Vice President of Content, Digital Outreach and Entertainment for Borders. Follow on Twittter @richfahle. More info at