BLUR: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy—A Book Review

02.01.02
By Deborah McMurray
Published in Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing

"Value what’s moving, not what’s standing still. Anything standing still is a liability that’s using your money unproductively, whether it is a piece of inventory, a nonproductive employee, or a pot of gold under your bed. Motion makes them productive, so you’ve got to know how to measure, manage, and value Speed more than quantity. How fast does your inventory of ideas turn over? How do you know?"

This is number 48 out of 50 ways to BLUR your business. The bestseller by Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer tells us that "blur" isn’t bad; it’s desired. When the rules are blurred, it means we have an opportunity to redefine our businesses and our lives. The point is not trying to eliminate the blur (because it’s impossible) – rather, move through it – harness and leverage it "so you can enter the world of BLUR, move to its cadence and once again see the world clearly." And certainly not as you’ve seen it before. And, that, too, is a good thing.

The Reality is Continual Motion, a BLURstorm.

The book focuses on the trinity of connectivity, speed and intangibles. "Connectivity is putting everybody and everything online in one way or another and has led to the ‘death of distance’, a shrinking of space." Instantaneous communication and computing ability is shrinking time and focusing us on speed. Product lifecycles have been changed from years to months or weeks. And, the importance of tangible mass (things, bricks, mortar and inventory) is being replaced by intangible value – like service and information. "Intangibles are at work in the form of innovation, brands, trust, and relationships." All this is putting the world off-balance. But, for the law firms that can think and move at the speed of BLUR, there is enormous opportunity.

What does it mean for service providers? It means that traditional products and services offered by law firms can’t be delivered the same way and can’t cost-effectively be produced and reproduced as they have in the past. New talent costs too much to attract and retain, plus law firms are top-heavy with high cost thinkers who still think the old way. Often these conventional thinkers are also managing the law firms.

According to Davis and Meyer, a successful business today is neither at rest nor in focus at any given moment. "The beginning, middle, and end of a product line -- (and I’ll add service offering and client relationship) – are dissolving into each other as the orderly and familiar step-by-step progression of research, design, production, distribution, payment, and consumption disappear." Annual model changes have now blurred into continuous upgrades. They tell us that "built to last means built to change. Like Grandfather’s rocking chair, all the pieces may have been replaced over the years, but the intangible – the concept of Grandfather’s chair – persists."

BLUR wasn’t Written to Identify Problems and Solve them for you.

This is the key to this book. The authors say, "That’s fixing yesterday’s concerns, which would only be investing in your weaknesses." (Wouldn’t you love to hire these guys to do strategic planning for your law firm?) They give readers a refocused camera lens, so we can view things differently – to see how the confluence of connectivity, speed and intangibles alters our experiences and our lives. All this applies to your law firm and the economy as a whole.

No Product without Service. No Service without Product.

"The difference between products and services blurs to the point that the distinction is a trap. Winners provide an offer that is both product and service simultaneously." Some law firms are productizing their services or have created separate revenue-generating products, but most with this approach still think of products and services as two distinct offerings. They conceive of them and price them separately, market them differently and sometimes assume there are two different buyers – one who wants the one-size-fits-all commodity and the other who is more discriminating and wants the specialized, individual service.

How do huge corporations and major product developers do it? How do they BLUR this line? The book cites this example:

"Imagine driving down the road in your Mercedes when you hear a faint noise. Is it pinging? Is it knocking? (Is it the belt of your raincoat caught in the door?) What are the chances it will do it again if you take it into the shop? Don’t worry. Mercedes is testing a new system that will connect the car’s software via the Internet to a customer assistance center. This will enable them to diagnose problems while a car is still on the road – and sometimes even download the repair."

So, are the manufacturer and seller of a Mercedes product or service companies? How can law firms learn to be both fish and fowl? Bundling is a step in the blurred direction, but you need more than that. You can’t just throw a product and service together, price them and assume the marketplace will realize value. "The real value comes when these things are blended so that they can’t be separated – and can’t exist independently of each other." Like the Mercedes example. (I’d say that the real value comes when the buyer doesn’t want to separate the product and service.)

Emotional Exchanges.

Since law firms are finally discovering the value of branding, I thought I’d include a brief discussion of what Davis and Meyer call the "emotional value that goes back and forth among providers and consumers of goods and services." They use the example of Harley-Davidson. When you hear the word, "biker" do you think Honda? Of course not! – you think of a Harley hog. When customers buy a Harley, "they’re getting much more than a motorcycle; they’re buying into a lifestyle, an attitude, an image."

Talk about branding. Many law firms think that branding is just about advertising. We know differently--law firms have to reinforce their brand by engaging clients on other levels in a "true give-and-take of emotional value." We know that that’s what leads to repeat purchases and referrals to friends and colleagues.

Be Big and Small.

Traditional wisdom says that big law firms (like any big organization) are too slow to adapt. They are bureaucratic and unable to change. So, is small better because small companies and firms are quicker, more agile and faster to change? Blurred organizations are both big and small at the same time. "In a BLUR world, you have to be both sizes." Firms need to be big enough to handle large-scale investments, with plenty of scope to handle the variety their clients need. However, they have to be nimble – unified around a purpose, and able to pay attention to the individual needs of important relationships.

This is where mass customization comes in. Ernst & Young’s Center for Business Knowledge is a good professional services example of this. The huge firm has built an infrastructure to capture mass information, while the firm enables each client team to use this information and adapt entrepreneurially to the specific needs of its clients.

Know your Audience. Churn your Offer.

Many firms call their technology practice groups, well, just that. If I am a new media start-up, does a law firm technology practice group brochure jazz me? How successful is this firm at convincing me that they can help me take my .com company to the next level? Not very.

What does churn your offer mean? It means that firms should repackage and recombine their offerings so they continue to be fresh – but more importantly, so the firm continues to study and test its marketplace. What do your audiences want today? Even if you have a failure, your firm learns and improves its package the next time. And, the value received from the firm’s successes will far exceed losses incurred by offerings that didn’t make it.

Go beyond the BLUR. Get >CLARITY. In Palm Springs.

Davis and Meyer tell us: Pay attention. Attention is the next scarce resource. "We live in a world of information glut. Start paying attention to how to get people’s attention and keep it." In Palm Springs, you’ll have the chance to get your colleagues’ attention, learn how to get your firm’s attention and teach your firm leadership how to get and keep their clients’ attention.

"We must all keep moving, creating a community of BLUR. Come join the dance." (In Palm Springs.)

Deborah McMurray is a strategic marketing consultant to the legal industry. She can be reached at 214.351.9690 or mcmurray@contentpilot.net.

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