Understanding disruptive influences: When sector expertise is a hindrance not a help

The benefits of industry knowledge…

The value of experience and expertise in the client’s industry seems unarguable. For clients, it is reassuring that an agency understands the brand, product or service, competitive context and consumers. It means less effort in getting the agency up-to-speed, and more confidence they will do a good job and survive exposure to senior stakeholders.

Industry expertise is particularly important for clients in ‘technical’ sectors – such as financial services, healthcare, automotive, technology – market nuances, jargon, fast-moving innovation and regulation all mean that at least basic understanding of the dynamics and specifics of the sector seem like table stakes.  And even in that most accessible of sectors – FMCG – an awareness of the realities of retail is required to avoid an ivory tower approach to brand marketing.

… and the benefits of being an outsider

However, sector immersion can also be counter-productive.  Increasingly, the most fundamental changes to many industries come from outside.  Technology, climate change, new political realities: these are the currents which are driving most disruption in, for example financial services, automotive or healthcare sectors.

  • When your car brand is under attack from a competitor that has a heritage in internet search and an electric-first mindset, do you need a petrol-head automotive researcher who knows car clinics inside out?
  • When your high street bank is threatened with new entrants – encouraged by PSD2 Open Banking regulations – whose instincts are to build mobile-first interfaces that will be social in nature, and where making profits is a distant objective and not a near term reality, do you turn to a suited financial researcher who has spent their professional life navigating the niceties of FCA compliance, APR rates and mortgage proposition testing?
  • When your R&D investment and treatments are threatened by predictive diagnostics and app experiences from digital start-ups, do you turn to a life-long health specialist that has spent their career understanding how best to communicate new benefits to doctors?

Disruptive times call for supra-sector skillsets. Solutions can come from anywhere and unlocking opportunity often comes from expertise beyond your own sector. While we cannot ignore the commercial realities of our clients’ businesses today, it is our job to help them put their heads above the parapet and think bigger about the changing world beyond, with all its threats and opportunities.

If your business challenges look like they need approaching from a new direction, we’d love to talk.

Identifying experts is just one challenge, deploying them effectively is another matter… Further reading from Jonathan