Moving the goal posts

When we enter a space with the goal posts already in place, the incumbent enterprises appear to be winning big time. There's no obvious way to beat them at their game. They not only play by the rules, but define the game to be played. They seem to have all the advantages while us new entrants are undeniably shortchanged, inferior and late to the party. They work their deal for a staggering number of customers who appear to be smitten with the way business gets done. The goal posts are set in cement and all the movement in the space goes for that goal.

Upon closer examination, these incumbents and their hordes of followers are in some kind of trouble. Their game cannot go on like this. It's coming time for a reversal where it's exposed how the incumbents are shortchanging their followers, inferior to some of the new entrants and missing out on the next party. The trouble they gotten themselves into may show up as:

  1. passing on soaring costs while delivering less value for the money spent (think higher ed tuition & fees, cable TV rates)
  2. shooting their own messengers who bring news of customers' rampant dissatisfaction and unmet needs (think Wall Street financiers, losing politicians)
  3. forcing customers to buy into feature creep and excessive sophistication (think software developers, conventional auto model years)
  4. making customers jump through more hoops and endure increasing inconvenience (think cell phone contracts, health insurance paperwork)
  5. punishing the customers as if they are the real enemies (think credit card penalties, medical testing requirements)
  6. misrepresenting their offer and exaggerating their value (think for-profit colleges, loan sharks)
  7. exploiting a captive market and price-gouging their customers (think college textbooks, academic journal subscriptions)

When we recognize any of these kinds of trouble, it's time to celebrate their goal posts being set in cement. There will be no end to incumbents playing their game to the bitter end. Meanwhile, new goal posts can be located where it makes no sense to them and poses no threat to them. They won't get it until it's too late. The trouble they're in will keep them distracted and devoted to trying to overcome their setbacks.

As new entrants, we're free to move the goal posts. We can out-maneuver the incumbents' persistence, like dolphins encircling a shark. Their troubles become our opportunities to do a better job of providing value at a fair price with added convenience, more responsiveness and greater understanding of customers' concerns. The opportunities appear so obvious to us, we wonder why the incumbents don't get it. However, if they got it, they would not have those troubles in the first place and their game could go on indefinitely. They're the ones bringing an end to their control of the space. Their troubled incumbency invites new players to change the game and throw the next party.

CC Photo by lopolis

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