This month’s Harvard Business review cover story, Strategy for Turbulent Times, explains how the pace of competitive change has reached an “inflection point.” Up until now the business world has been obsessed with the notion of building a sustainable competitive advantage — it is the idea at the core of strategy textbooks, of Warren Buffett’s investment strategy, and the successes many 20th century companies. But we are now living in a time where competitive advantage often evaporates in less than a year. As the article proclaims: “Sustainable competitive advantage is now the exception, not the rule. Transient advantage is the new normal.”
I was thinking about this article last Thursday when Instagram released a new update that now supports 15-second video sharing, a direct assault on Vine, Twitter’s app which came out just six months ago, and defined six-second video as a new content format. By Sunday there was already blood in the water.
Vine had dropped from No.2 to No.7 on the U.S. iPhone download chart of free apps in the wake of the new Instagram video update. Sunday was the first day since March 27th that Vine did not place in the top-5 most popular American iPhone apps. In another stronghold, Mexico, Vine dropped from No.3 to No.10 in three days. In its biggest European market, the United Kingdom, Vine dropped from No.5 to No.12. Globally, Vine placed in the top-10 iPhone downloads in 11 countries on Sunday. Down sharply from 34 countries last Thursday, and 29 countries just two weeks ago.
It all sort of begs the question: If Twitter had gone in with the assumption that Instagram would replicate this concept at the first opportunity, how would they have made Vine differently?
Would they have integrated the Vine functionality into the Twitter mobile experience directly rather than try to establish a new, external platform around a single utility? That, after all, is what Instagram did. Admittedly the jumble of video and photo content in the same feed is a bit foreign right now, but we acclimated to images and video in our Twitter feeds, and we’ll get accustomed to this all too quickly, too.
Twitter released a new product that introduced a novel content format disconnected from the mothership. Instagram said, thanks for doing the market testing for us, we’ll take it from here, and wove Insta-video into what they are as an app now.
It was either Benjamin Franklin or Winston Churchill who remarked in a prior century, “Plan to fail and fail to plan.” In the 21st century, the truism is now more accurately something like “Fail to plan to fail, and fail to plan….AND plan to fail.”
What would you do differently today, if you knew your competitive advantage wouldn’t last tomorrow?