Market Threat Assessment
Recent studies of senior managers have shown that being blindsided by a disruption is the largest unresolved concern in strategy development today.
That fear is too often real because disruption typically begins where it is least visible to management- on the fringes of the existing target markets. And, once the disruption “pirate ship” is sighted on the horizon, not only is it probably too late, but companies react poorly.
Some research of corporate responses to disruption has shown that most companies ignore the threat, fortify existing positions or attempt to buy innovation. The first choice is not an option for an ongoing business. Fortification through distribution changes, product model proliferation and discounting only buys some additional time while wasting resources. Once a disruption enters the market, there’s little time for organic innovation efforts so companies often make acquisitions attempting to buy innovation. Sadly, given the risk profile and limited experience in innovation, these are often sustaining innovations which are swept aside by the wave of disruption.
A very large example is when Microsoft fell behind in the mobile market in 2014 and purchased Nokia, a weak player in mobile phones to get access to this market. The joint project, the Lumina phone, failed to catch on and Microsoft’s share fell by 50%- fail. Cisco tried to catch up with the photography trend by acquiring Pure Digital, the maker of low cost Flip cameras. Unfortunately, shortly after the acquisition, the high-resolution sensors included in smartphones took photography to a new level. Bye, Flip! Trend monitoring would have predicted this natural evolution as a high risk threat.
To anticipate external changes, marketing departments have embraced big data as a powerful tool to help companies identify new markets and consumer preferences. These tools use the past to predict the short-term future which is reasonable in a steady market. The problem is that big data cannot anticipate dynamic disruption.
But, you and your staff can.
As a key input to your next strategy workshop, use trends! As a start, gather info from the people closest to your market and further using Porter’s five force model. See my articles on Scenarios to expand these trends to actionable goals.
What’s on your company’s radar today?
We are here to help as your coach on trends and innovation. We bring years of experience studying trends, organizations, and how to implement. We bring nimbleness to your strategy, and help you maximize your ability to execute.
Go the www.adamhartung.com and view the Assessment Page. Send me a reply to this email, or call me today, and let’s start talking about what trends will impact your organization and what you’ll need to do to pivot toward greater success.
Find Opportunities Out of the Box
If your company is like most businesses, your list of new product or service ideas looks like a sales wish list- new features at a lower cost. Marketing or product management may go a step further and group the ideas into product line extensions or possibly entries into new market segments. Unfortunately, while generating revenue in the short run, this process leaves the company vulnerable to competition and missing opportunities in the long run.
Well, you are not alone. Since about 2012, the pace of innovation has slowed even in the popular market of social media. According to KeyMedia, “What was once a world of diversity and originality has slowly started to look like a bad case of déjà vu… (as platforms are) becoming more similar to each other…”
Most companies devote resources to a quadrant on the innovation matrix known as “sustaining innovation.” They improve existing products sold to existing customers. It’s low risk, true, but it’s also low return. Why do companies follow this death spiral? It’s because “innovation” has gotten a bad reputation.
According to Inc. magazine, “…many (business) people have come to equate the idea of innovation with disruptive innovation. But the fact is that for most businesses, placing big bets on high-risk ideas is not only unfeasible, it’s unwise.”
The Ansoff matrix of new and existing markets and products is usually interpreted as 4 quadrants. It is much more than that: it is a continuum between sustaining and disruptive innovation. .
Adam Hartung often tells clients, “Get out of the box, then think!” This applies directly to the Ansoff model. Once a company sees the matrix, not as fixed “boxes” but as a spectrum of opportunities, markets are viewed not as filled with risk, but filled with opportunities!
Consider Ricoh’s new “clickable paper” that combines the print channel, with an app and that integrates to social media or a website. Not disruptive in the classical sense, but an adjacent product and adjacent market segment that makes print relevant to tech savvy consumers. Or Dr. Dre’s Beats headphones that combine pre-equalized sound with noise cancellation and style- a clever and highly successful blend of existing technologies, vigorously marketed.
Uncovering these market opportunities that can deliver improved returns at a manageable risk for the firm. New products will also generate an increasing percentage of revenue leading to continued growth. Companies that master this process have a long range radar to identify potential opportunities in a process called, “continuous innovation”.
What’s on your company’s radar today?
We are here to help as your coach on trends and innovation. We bring years of experience studying trends, organizations, and how to implement. We bring nimbleness to your strategy, and help you maximize your ability to execute.
Go the website and view the Assessment Page. Send me a reply to this email, or call me today, and let’s start talking about what trends will impact your organization and what you’ll need to do to pivot toward greater success.
Since 2012, I’ve been a huge fan of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google. And they have dramatically outperformed the market. In the last few weeks their values have fallen dramatically, and I’ve heard grumblings that these are no longer the stocks to own.
I virulently disagree. Great companies are where you should invest. If you don’t think these are great companies, you would be right to sell them (such as GE, Sears, and many others.) But despite complaints about privacy, usage rates, nefarious users, and other attacks on technology, the reality is that we love the convenience these companies gave us. We may not think things are perfect, but we are a lot happier than we used to be, and we are pretty happy with how these companies respond to product concerns.
- These companies are still global leaders in some of the biggest and most powerful trends everywhere
- The shift to e-commerce from traditional retail continues unabated
- The movement to mobile devices continues
- Using the cloud to replace device storage and network storage will not slow
- Entertainment continues to move to streaming from TV and other sources
- Ad growth remains firmly on the internet and mobile devices
- Platform usage (such as social networks) keeps growing as more uses are developed
These mega-trends are the foundation of the FAANG companies. These companies became great by understanding these trends, then developing products for these trends that have attracted billions of customers. Their revenue growth continues, just as their product development continues. And their profits keep growing as well. Nobody ever saved their way to prosperity. To increase value you must increase profitable revenues. And that capability has not left these companies.
Some of these company’s leaders have recently been called to Washington to testify. Will they be attacked, split up, further regulated? Will the government kill the golden goose? Given that the US House of Representatives has not firmly moved to the Democrats, I see almost no sign of that happening. Democrats like happy constituents, and given how happy consumers are with these companies the Democrats are very unlikely to intervene. There has long been a deep friendship, built on significant campaign financing and lobbyist involvement, between these companies and Democrats. The change in government almost insures that the actions in Washington will prove to just be a lot of short-term heat, with little change in the overall lighting.
I don’t know when these stocks will reach a short-term bottom. Just like nobody can predict market highs, it is impossible to predict lows. But the one thing I feel very strongly about is that in a year these companies will be worth more than they are valued today.
For insight into my strong favorability for these companies, take a look at the infographic I’ve provided regarding Facebook. Despite the Facebook stock ups-and-downs, this infographic explains why long-term it has been very smart to buy Facebook. Despite how people have “felt” about the company, it is a GREAT company built on powerful trends. To understand even better, buy the ebook “Facebook, The Making of a Great Company” on Amazon for 99 cents.
It was August 15, 2017 when I wrote the column “A Bitcoin Is Worth $4,000 – Why You Probably Should Not Own One.” At the time Bitcoin’s value had increased in value by 750% in just one year, and some investors were becoming very excited about Bitcoins. Journal articles were nearly all bullish, with some big Bitcoin owners projecting they would increase in value to over $250,000 each – or possibly into the millions!
But I was far more pragmatic. I pointed out that Bitcoins had no inherent value – unlike a Picasso painting, for example. There will be no more original Picasso’s, and no more signed Picasso prints. The supply is completely known, and the price is determined by what people will pay for the artistic history of them. But anybody can make a Bitcoin. And even though there was some theoretical limit of 21 million, why anybody would want to own these non-physical data bits was unclear. Were people going to say “come, look at this hard drive. It contains 400,000 Bitcoins. Isn’t it cool?” Bitcoins were a lot more like Pokemon cards. There are a LOT of them, more coming all the time, and their value was only to people who wanted to play the Bitcoin game.
And I had a very low opinion of the necessity of Bitcoins as a currency. Everyone is pretty happy to use dollars, yen, euros, etc. And if you fear inflation there is an open market to exchange any currency for any other, so you can quickly keep your savings in the currency of your choice. The only valuable use of Bitcoins was as a currency for illegal activity you don’t want traced – such as sex trafficking, drug trafficking or gun running. While the outlaws in those occupations my enjoy a non-government currency, those folks are relatively few and far between, and the need for such currency is therefore pretty weak. Not to mention illegal.
It was pretty clear that Bitcoin was a fad. Like the famous Dutch Tulip Bulb fad that drove the price of a Tulip bulb higher than a house. While a fad the value went up, but because there was no inherent value to the bulb greater than a flower, it’s value was sure to collapse. And the same would happen to Bitcoins. To a long-term trend watcher, and person skilled at understanding trends for planning, Bitcoin had all the signs of a fad.
I remember this well because when I published this column in Forbes there was a Bitcoin editor that went ballistic. This person had no background in economics, banking, currency, stock markets, or art; the editor was a journalist who had decided Bitcoin was “the next big thing.” Bitcoin was going to overtake traditional currencies, and save the world from central banks dead-set on destroying free trade and economic growth.
Honestly, I never understood the argument. Baseless, and senseless. Bitcoin was a fad, I said clearly, and no investor should be buying them – especially small investors. And it was a fools folly to spend money becoming a Bitcoin miner. Simply invest somewhere else where trends supported growth.
But the editorial staff at Forbes landed on me like a herd of elephants coming down the Himalayas. Apparently Forbes was buying into the Bitcoin craze, and they didn’t want anyone writing bad things about Bitcoin. I pointed out that in 9 years my predictions about the future of Netflix, Amazon, Tesla – and GE, Sears, and Windows 8 and 10 – had all turned out to be accurate.
I tended to be very early with my predictions, and quite contrarian, but within 2 years I was proven right. I knew the difference between a trend and a fad, and it was important to help readers understand the difference. Bitcoins had no inherent value, and they were/are not an investment vehicle.
In the end the rancor about my Bitcoin prediction, and my unwillingness to reverse my position, caused a break between myself and Forbes. Even as Bitcoins soared in value to $19,000 by December, 2017 I held firm to the position that no sound, long-term investor should touch them. If Forbes couldn’t understand my surety, then it was their problem.
This week Bitcoins traded for $4,400. Where they traded on August 20, 2017 just as my prediction went public. Bitcoins were/are a fad. Now, there are a slew of authors writing about the lack of any reason for Bitcoins to exist. Almost all are predicting the value will continue eroding, as more and more people see there was never any value in them to begin with. Many predict this will not end until Bitcoins are worth nothing, or possibly a few cents, and all the Bitcoin miners disappear.
The important lesson is that it is not impossible to know the difference between a trend and a fad. Trends are based upon behaviors that have a basis in gain. We trended away from physical stores and toward e-commerce because the latter was more convenient, and sometimes cheaper. We trended away from PC’s with hard drives and toward mobile devices connected to the cloud because they made our lives more convenient, and often cheaper. We are watching more entertainment via on-line downloads, and less on television, because it is more convenient, and often better. These are trends. They are observable, measurable and good trends generate a better outcome for people, while bad trends are due to consumer movement toward new solutions.
When you work a job all week trying to get more done better, faster, cheaper you may not have time to study trends. When you see something new it can seem hard to know whether it is a fad, or trend. Or if a trend, how fast it will “take hold” and alter behavior. That is understandable.
And that’s where people like me make a difference. I focus on trends. Demographics, regulations, technology – all kinds of trends. I watch them, measure them, and project outcomes for the trend, and those who adopt the trend. I build scenarios that stretch out the trend, and look for when more people are following a trend than doing things the “old way.” And because I do that all day, every day, for 20 years it is possible to forecast with high accuracy what the future will look like.
Almost always it takes a bit longer than I think, but likewise it almost always takes a lot less time than almost everyone else thinks. I didn’t think it would take 5 quarters for Bitcoins to peak and then fall back to $4,400. But most people were projecting the value of Bitcoins would go up for YEARS. They couldn’t visualize the peak. Even though it happened just 4 months after I said “don’t buy Bitcoins.” Only a very, very lucky trader would have bought in August, and sold in December. For true investors, this was a roller coaster ride with an unhappy ending.
I don’t meet many company executives that do future scenario planning. They are too busy running their business to do trend analysis, projections and make long-term forecasts. But that doesn’t mean these things aren’t important. It just means you need to look for outsiders, who specialize in trend analysis and long-term scenario planning, to help you guide your business in the right direction. Because you’d much rather be Microsoft, shifting from PC’s to cloud and holding onto your value, than GE or Sears. You need a partner to help you forecast – and grow.
As all readers know, I am a fan of owning Facebook’s stock. For years I have pointed out that Facebook has been incredibly innovative at bringing people together. First, it was Facebook.com, but then leadership added WhatsApp and Messenger to expand the ability to communicate, and after that, Instagram which augmented communications via pictures and video. These capabilities, largely asynchronous, have expanded how easily we can communicate with friends, colleagues and business connections. It is this capability that made Facebook a success, because it brought people to the platforms – and as the audience grew advertising dollars grew as well.
(Watch my 2 minute video on Facebook the Innovation Engine)
Now, Facebook has launched “Portal.” It’s a piece of hardware, similar to a tablet in size. It has a speaker and a microphone, like a smart speaker on steroids, or like an enhanced tablet designed for communicating. Built on Android, it supports a plethora of apps, and it integrates with Alexa so you can not only talk to up to 7 people at the same time, but you can all listen to music via Spotify or Pandora, etc., and you can use it to make purchases on Amazon.com
At first you’d probably say this doesn’t sound very exciting. After all, aren’t we awash in hardware from smart phones to tablets to laptops to smart speakers and connected home devices? Why would we want another piece of hardware, when we already have so many that do so many different things? And didn’t Amazon infamously try to launch a enhanced smartphone (Fire Phone) and enhanced tablet (Fire Tablet) targeted at shopping, only to fail miserably? You could say Portal is likely to follow Fire into the tech archives.
And, on top of this, aren’t people paranoid about Facebook and privacy? After Cambridge Analytica manipulated Facebook data in the last election, and then the recent breach which could have revealed information on 50 million users, aren’t people going to quit using Facebook products?
There really isn’t much data to indicate people care about these breaches, or possibly illegal uses of data. Almost everyone now realizes that whatever they post on any Facebook platform, the information is public. And the reality is that by putting their information out there it actually makes users’ lives easier. Users get connections they want, information they want, and products they want that much faster, and easier. These platforms make their lives more convenient, and billions of people have no problem exchanging somewhat personal information for the convenience it provides. The more Facebook knows about them, the easier their lives are, and the richer their network communications.
That is why I’m optimistic that Portal will have an audience. Facebook Messenger has 400 million users. Those users generated 17 billion messages in 2017. Now, imagine if those users could use Portal to make those messages clearer, more powerful. And, as of June, 2018 Instagram has 1 billion monthly active users. If you have Portal it makes Instagram connecting much easier and more interesting.
Portal doesn’t have to replace an existing smartphone or tablet. It merely has to help the people who use Facebook platforms have a deeper, more powerful connection with those in their network. If it does that, there is an enormous installed base of users who could find Portal helpful, in many ways. More helpful than a stand-alone, limited use Echo (or Dot) speaker, for example, which have sold over 47 million units so far.
Facebook is good at understanding its value proposition which is connecting people in powerful ways. Facebook has shelved products that didn’t augment this value proposition – like a generalized smart phone. But Portal has the ability to further enhance user experiences, and that gives it a decent chance of being successful. And when Facebook adds its Oculus technology to Portal, allowing for 3D communications, Portal could become a one-of-a-kind product for communicating with your network.
For a look back at Facebook’s history, and my forecasts for the company, read my new ebook, “Facebook – The Making of a Great Company.” (At Amazon.com for just 99 cents!) It will help you take a longer look at Facebook’s leadership, and give you a different view on Facebook’s future than the current negative press is providing. With the stock $70 off its high, and trading at the same price it was a year ago, you just might think this is a buying opportunity.
On July 26, 2018 Facebook set a record for the most value lost in one day by a single company. An astonishing $119B of market value was destroyed as the shares sank more than $40. For many investors, it was the sky falling.
As most of you know, I’ve followed Facebook closely since it went public in 2012. And, I’ve long been an admirer. I said buy it at the IPO, and I’m saying buy it now. Click on the title of any of the posts to read the full content.
To summarize, Facebook may be under attack, but it is barely wounded. And it is not in the throes of demise. The long-term trends all favor the social media’s ongoing growth, and higher values in the future. Below I’ll offer some of my previous blogs that are well worth revisiting amidst the current Facebook angst.
FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) investing is still the best bet in the market. They have outperformed for years, and will continue to do so. Why? Because they are growing revenues and profits faster than any other major companies in the market. And “Growth is Good” (paraphrasing Gordon Gekko.) If you have any doubts about the importance of growth, go talk to Immelt of GE or Lampert of Sears.
Don’t forget, for years now Facebook is more than Facebook.com. It’s smart acquisition programs have dramatically increased the platform’s reach with video, messaging, texting and eventually peer-to-peer video. Facebook’s leadership has built a very adaptable company, able to change the product to meet growing user (and customer) needs.
Facebook is on a path toward significant communication domination. Facebook today is sort of the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and about 90% of the rest of the nation’s newspapers all in one. Nobody is close to challenging Facebook’s leadership in news distribution, and all news is increasingly going on-line.
For all these reasons, you really do want to own Facebook. Especially at this valuation. It’s getting a chance to buy Facebook at its value when the year started, and Facebook is that much bigger, stronger, and adapted to changing privacy regulations that were still a mystery back then.
Oh, one last thing (paraphrasing Steve Jobs.) Facebook actually isn’t the biggest one day drop in stock valuation, despite what you’ve read.
Stocks are priced in dollars, and dollars are subject to inflation. So we should look at historical drops in inflation adjusted dollars. Even though inflation has been mostly below 3% since the 1990s, from 2000 to today the dollar has inflated by 46%. So inflation-adjusted, the biggest one day value destruction actually belongs to Intel, which lost $131B in September, 2000. And Microsoft is only slightly in third place, having lost $117B in April, 2000. So keep this in mind when you think about the long-term opportunity for Facebook.
Now Published! “Facebook- The Making of a Great Company” ebook by Adam Hartung.
USA health care is ridiculously expensive. It’s good, but no statistics show that US healthcare is better than any other developed country. Nor any better than accredited facilities in large, developing countries. Look at these comparisons according to Medicaltourism.com:
Procedure USA cost India cost in accredited facility
Heart Bypass $123,000 $7,900
Heart Valve Replacement $170,000 $10,450
Hip Replacement $40,364 $7,200
Knee Replacement $35,000 $6,600
Spinal Fusion $110,000 $10,300
Hysterectomy $15,400 $3,200
Cornea Replacement $17,500 $2,800
Over 1/3 of Americans live with the myth that if they need medical care, somehow it will magically happen at no cost. The Affordable Care Act tried to fix that myth by making everyone buy health insurance. But Congress removed that government mandate. So most Americans that don’t have company-sponsored health insurance don’t buy insurance. Their primary source of health insurance is hope. When illness or accident happens these folks end up with extra-ordinary debt. And they can’t eliminate this debt because health care debt doesn’t go away in bankruptcy. So every year more and more people learn that an unexpected health incident means they will spend the rest of their lives paying for medical services that were 10x or 100x what they expected.
This is a trend that will not end soon. Costs keep going up. The political sides are too divided on what to do. And health insurance companies spend literally billions annually to make sure insurance for all (referred to as Medicare for all) never becomes reality.
This trend means there is opportunity. And that has become medical tourism. Literally, flying to foreign countries for medical procedures.
You may say “not me.” But if you have no money in the bank, and you let your health insurance lapse when you lost your last corporate job ended and you entered the gig economy, you could face a very tough situation. The same one almost all farmers face, and most small business owners, since their insurance is unaffordable. And most 1099 contract employees. When you have an unexpected heart attack at age 41 you wake up to hear a hospital admin say “you are alive, but you need surgery. If you want to live, we can do a heart bypass. Just sign this document and you’ll wake up somewhere north of $123,000 in debt.” Which means you’ll lose your house, for sure. Your kids won’t go to college. And you’ll never again buy a new car.
Or you blow out a hip, or knee,playing that Sunday basketball pick-up game – or golf. You’re 50-55, so too young for Medicare. But you lost health insurance years ago. Or you have a minimalistic plan which will cover a fraction of the cost. Finding the cost is $35,000 to $40,000 (or more likely $60,000 at a for-profit US hospital) are you really able to afford this? Or will you spend your life using crutches, or in a wheelchair? Or start an on–line begging campaign from your friends to cover the cost?
Suddenly, being a medical tourist doesn’t sound so unlikely. Saving $30,000 to $100,000 could determine your financial future. This trend was pretty clear back in 2010 when I pointed out that US medical tourists grew from 700,000 in 2007 to 1.2 million in just 3 years. The trend was actually obvious in 2005, when most people laughed at the idea of medical tourism – because they refused to look at the demographic and cost trends.
That’s why medical tourism is already a $20B business. And growing at 18% annually. Some analysts estimate the global market at almost $80B. Demographics are all in favor of future growth. The developed world population is aging. Health care costs are going up. Government ability to pay is going down. Insurers are charging outrageous rates. Fewer people are buying health care, and even fewer are buying “gold plated plans” that match the average plan in 1990. And American health care policies, in particular, keep driving up costs. It is EASY to see that as people can’t afford care at home, so they WILL be making more trips overseas.
There are already companies making the plunge. Some are matching services between patients and medical facilities. Some are building certified medical facilities in places like India, Singapore, Brazil, Malaysia, Thailand, Costa Rica and Mexico. The opportunities are as big as the health industry.
And this trend affects every business. Are you still stuck in the status quo thinking of extremely expensive insurance for employees, or none? Medical tourism offers a plethora of other opportunities. You can offer a bare-bones domestic plan, with augmented insurance to be a medical tourist. Or even a company sponsored plan, with the opportunity for employees to build a health-care bank, and a relationship with a medical tourism company to help employees find providers offshore. And gig-economy employees can drop the idea of domestic coverage (other than bare bones) for a mixed program including offshore insurance.
Fighting the health cost trend in the USA is foolish. Doing nothing hurts your competitiveness. Given the opportunities in medical tourism, are you thinking about how to build on this trend as a new business? Or a way to offer more to full time and 1099 contractors?
The last few quarters sales growth has not been as good for Apple as it once was. The iPhone X didn’t sell as fast as they hoped, and while the Apple Watch outsells the entire Swiss watch industry it does not generate the volumes of an iPhone. And other new products like Apple Pay and iBeacon just have not taken off.
Amidst this slowness, the big winner has been “Apple Services” revenue. This is largely sales of music, videos and apps from iTunes and the App store. In Q2, 2018 revenues reached $9.2B, 15% of total revenues and second only to iPhone sales. Although Apple does not have a majority of smartphone users, the user base it has spends a lot of money on things for Apple devices. A lot of money.
In a bit of “get them the razor so they will buy the razor blades” CEO Tim Cook’s Apple is increasingly relying upon farming the “installed base” of users to drive additional revenues. Leveraging the “installed base” of users is now THE primary theme for growing Apple sales. And even old-tech guys like Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway love it, as they gobble up Apple shares. As do many analysts, and investors. Apple has paid out over $100B to developers for its services, and generated over $40B in revenues for itself – and with such a large base willing to buy things developers are likely to keep providing more products and working to grow sales.
But the risks here should not be taken lightly. At one time Apple’s Macintosh was the #1 selling PC. But it was “closed” and required users buy their applications from Apple. Microsoft offered its “open architecture” and suddenly lots of new applications were available for PCs, which were also cheaper than Macs. Over a few years that “installed base” strategy backfired for Apple as PC sales exploded and Mac sales shrank until it became a niche product with under 10% market share.
Today, Android phones are the #1 smartphone market share platform, and Android devices (like the PC) are much cheaper. Even cheaper are Chinese made products. Although there are problems, the risk exists that someday apps, etc for Android and/or other platforms could become more standard and the larger Android base could “flip” the market.
The history of companies relying on an installed base to grow their company has not gone well. Going back 30 years, AM Multigraphics an ABDick sold small printing presses to schools, government agencies and businesses. After the equipment sale these companies made most of their growth on the printing supplies these presses used. But competitors whacked away at those sales, and eventually new technologies displaced the small presses. The installed base shrank, and both companies disappeared.
Xerox would literally give companies a copier if they would just pay a “per click” charge for service on the machine, and use Xerox toner. Xerox grew like the proverbial weed. Their service and toner revenue built the company. But then people started using much cheaper copiers they could buy, and supply with cheaper consumables. And desktop publishing solutions caused copier use to decline. So much for Xerox growth – and the company rapidly lost relevance. Now Xerox is on the verge of disappearing into Fuji.
HP loved to sell customers cheap ink-jet printer so they bought the ink. But now images are mostly transferred as .jpg, .png or .pdf files and not printed at all. The installed base of HP printers drove growth, until the need for any printing started disappearing.
The point? It is very risky to rely on your installed platform base for your growth. Why? Because competitors with cheaper platforms can come along and offer cheaper consumables, making your expensive platform hard to keep forefront in the market. That’s the classic “innovator’s dilemma” – someone comes along with a less-good solution but it’s cheaper and people say “that’s good enough” thus switching to the cheaper platform. This leaves the innovator stuck trying to defend their expensive platform and aftermarket sales as the market switches to ever better, cheaper solutions.
It’s great that Apple is milking its installed base. That’s smart. But it is not a viable long-term strategy. That base will, someday, be overtaken by a competitor or a new technology. Like, maybe, smart speakers. They are becoming ubiquitous. Yes, today Siri is the #1 voice assistant. But as Echo and Google speaker sales proliferate, can they do to smartphones what smartphones did to PCs? What if one of these companies cooperates with Microsoft to incorporate Cortana, and link everything on the network into the Windows infrastructure? If these scenarios prevail, Apple could/will be in big trouble.
I pointed out in October, 2016 that Apple hit a Growth Stall. When that happens, maintaining 2% growth long-term happens only 7% of the time. I warned investors to be wary of Apple. Why? Because a Growth Stall is an early indicator of an innovation gap developing between the company’s products and emerging products. In this case, it could be a gap between ever enhanced (beyond user needs) mobile devices and really cheap voice activated assistant devices in homes, cars, offices, everywhere. Apple can milk that installed base for a goodly while, but eventually it needs “the next big thing” if it is going to continue being a long-term winner.
On Monday, Harley Davidson, America’s leading manufacturer of motorcycles, announced it was going to open a plant in Europe.
Ostensibly this is to counter tariffs the EU will be imposing on its products if imported from the USA. President Trump reacted vociferously on Tuesday, threatening much bigger taxes on Harley if it brings to the USA any parts or motorcycles from its offshore plants in Brazil, Australia, India or Thailand. He also intimated that Harley Davidson was likely to collapse.
Lots of heat, not much light. The issues for Harley Davidson are far worse than an EU tariff.
Harley Davidson has about 1/3 of the US motorcycle market. But in “heavy motorcycles,” those big bikes that are heavier and generally considered for longer riding, Harley has half the market. Which sounds great, until you realize that until the 1970s, Harley had 100% of that market. Ever since then, Harley has been losing share – to imports and to its domestic competitor Polaris.
It was 2006 when I first wrote about Harley Davidson’s big demographic problem. Basically, its customers were all aging. Younger people were buying other motorcycles, so the “core” Harley customer was getting older every year. From mid-30s in the 1980s, by the year 2000 the average buyer was well into their mid-40s. In 2007, I pointed out that Harley had made a stab at changing this dynamic by introducing a new motorcycle with an engine made by Porsche, and a far more modern design (the V-Rod.) But Harley wasn’t committed to building a new customer base, so when dealers complained that the V-Rod “wasn’t really a Harley” the company backed off the marketing and went back to all its old ways of doing business.
Simultaneously, Harley Davidson motorcycle prices were rising faster than inflation, while Japanese manufacturers were not. Thus, as I also pointed out in 2007, it was struggling to maintain market share. Slower sales caused a lay-off that year, and despite the brand driving huge sales of after-market products like jackets and T-shirts, which had grown as big as bike sales, it was unclear how Harley would slow the aging of its customer base and find new, younger buyers. Harley simply eschewed the trend toward selling smaller, lighter, cheaper bikes that had more appeal to more people – and in more markets.
Globally, the situation is far more bleak than the USA. America has one of the lowest motorcycle ridership percentages on the globe. Americans love cars. But in more congested countries like across Europe or Japan and China, and in much poorer countries like India, Korea, and across South America motorcycles are more popular than automobiles. And in those countries Harley has done poorly. Because Harley doesn’t even have the smaller 100cc,200cc, 400cc and 600cc bikes that dominate the market. For example, in 2006 (I know, old, but best data I could find) Harley Davidson sold 349,200 bikes globally. Honda sold 10.3 million. Yamaha sold 4.4 million. Even Suzuki sold 3.1 million – or 10 times Harley’s production.
But, being as fair as possible, let’s focus on Europe – where the new Harley plant is to be built. And let’s look exclusively at “heavy motorcycles” (thus excluding the huge market in which Harley has no products.) In 2006, Harley was 6th in market share. BMW 16%, Honda 15%, Yamaha 15%, Suzuki 15%, Kawasaki 11% and Harley Davidson 9%. Wow, that is simply terrible.
Clearly, Harley has already become marginalized globally. Outside the USA, Harley isn’t even relevant. The Japanese and Germans have been much more successful everywhere outside the USA, and every one of those other markets is bigger than the USA. Harley was simply relying on its core product (big bikes) in its core market (USA) and seriously failing everywhere else.
Oh, but even that story isn’t as good as it sounds. Because in the USA sales of Harley motorcycles has been declining for a decade! Experts estimate that every year which passes, Harley’s customer base ages by 6 months. The average rider age is now well into their 50s. Since Q3, 2014 Harley’s sales growth has been negative! In Q2 and Q3 2017 sales declines were almost 10%/quarter!
As its customer demographic keeps working against it, new customers for big bikes are buying BMWs from Germany – and Victory and Indian motorcycles made by Polaris, out of Minnesota (Polaris discontinued the Victory brand end of 2017.) BMW sales have increased for 7 straight quarters, and their European sales are growing stronger than ever – directly in opposition to Harley’s sales problems. Every quarter Indian is growing at 16-20%, taking all of its sales out of Harley Davidson USA share.
Going back to my 2016 column, when I predicted Harley was in for a hard time. Shares hit an all-time high in 2006 of $75. They have never regained that valuation. They plummeted during the Great Recession, but bailout funds from Berkshire Hathaway and the US government saved Harley from bankruptcy. Shares made it back to $70 by 2014, but fell back to $40 by 2016. Now they are trading around $40. Simply put, as much as people love to talk about the Harley brand, the company is rapidly becoming irrelevant. It is losing share in all markets, and struggling to find new customers for a product that is out-of-date, and sells almost exclusively in one market. Its move to manufacture in Europe is primarily a Hail-Mary pass to find new sales, paid for by corporate tax cuts in the USA and tariff tax avoidance in Europe.
But it won’t likely matter. Like I said in 2006, Harley Davidson is a no-growth story, and that’s not a story where anyone should invest.
An American epoch has ended. General Electric was part of the first ever Dow Jones Index in 1896. When the Dow Jones Industrial Average was formed in 1907 GE was a participant. GE has been the only company to remain on the index. All other original companies long ago completely disappeared.
GE did so well because its leadership had been able to constantly change the company to keep it relevant, and growing. During the century prior to hiring Jeff Immelt as CEO GE went from light bulbs to generating electricity and making all kinds of electrical infrastructure equipment, electric locomotives, mainframe computers, medical equipment, computer services, financial services, entertainment…. The list is very long.
Although not all GE CEOs were great, the Board was able to place CEOs in office who could sense market shifts and make good decisions. GE leadership thoughtfully analyzed markets, and made investment decisions to sell businesses that were not growing. And they made investment decisions to invest in trends which created growth. One of the best of these was Jack Welch, who developed the nickname “Neutron Jack” for his willingness to jettison businesses that were not growing and leading their industry, while willingly investing in entirely new growth markets where trends showed high rates of return like financial services and entertainment – wildly “non-industrial” markets.
But CEO Immelt was completely tone-deaf to the outside world. He was wholly unable to understand how to lead a team that could make good investments. Instead under Immelt’s leadership GE over-invested in historical products where they were losing advantage but trying to “keep up.” Selling businesses that were growing but faced stiff competition, rather than investing in growth. And refusing to invest in new external growth opportunities that could keep revenues increasing – and drive a higher GE market capitalization.
All the way back in 2009 I pointed out that GE was in a Growth Stall, and had only a 7% chance of consistently growing at 2%. I warned investors. At the time I said GE had to go all-out on a growth strategy, or things would turn ugly. But a lot of investors, employees – and apparently the Board of Directors – were ready to blame the Growth Stall on the economy. And blame it on Welch, who had been gone for 8 years. And say GE was lucky Immelt saved the company from bankruptcy with a loan from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.
Say what? Saved the company? Why did Immelt, and the Board, let GE get into such terrible shape? It was time to replace the CEO, not double down on his failed strategy.
Six years ago, May, 2012, I published in Forbes “5 CEOs that Should Have Already Been Fired.” At the time I said Immelt was the 4th worst CEO in America. I cited the 2009 column, and pointed out things really weren’t any better in 2012 than in 2009. That column had well over 1million reads. There was no way GE’s board was not aware of the column, and the realization that Immelt was a horrible CEO.
The Board of #3 (Walmart) fired Mike Duke. And the Board of #1 (Microsoft) fired Steve Ballmer. There is no real board at #2 Sears (which will file bankruptcy soon enough) because the CEO is also the largest shareholder (via his hedge fund) and he controls all board decisions. He should have fired himself, but had too much ego. But the board of GE – well it did nothing. Even though GE almost went bankrupt under Immelt, and its value was being destroyed quarter after quarter it left him in place.
I revisited the performance of these five CEOs and their companies in August, 2014 and reminded hundreds of thousands of readers – which I’m sure included GE’s Board of Directors – that company revenues had declined every year since 2009. And this string of failures had caused the company’s value to decline by 2/3. Yet, the board did nothing to replace this horrific CEO.
By March, 2017 I was so exasperated I finally titled my column “GE Needs a New Strategy and a New CEO.” Again, I detailed all the things that went wrong. It took 7 more months before the Board pushed Immelt out. But the new CEO failed to offer a better strategy, continuing to promote the notion of selling businesses to raise cash to “fix” the broken businesses – without identifying any growth strategy at all.
The only thing that can “fix” GE – save it from being dismembered and sold off – is a growth strategy. I offered how the new CEO could undertake this effort in October, 2017. But the Board, still wholly incompetent, still isn’t listening. Nobody should be surprised that GE is now removed from the Dow, and the new CEO is clearly without a clue how to find a path back to relevancy.
Too bad for investors, employees, suppliers, customers and the communities where the GE businesses reside. This didn’t have to happen. But due to an incompetent Board of Directors, which did nothing to properly govern an incompetent CEO, it did. And there’s little doubt it won’t be long before GE meets the same end as DuPont.