What To Do When You’ve Been Disrupted

What do you do when you’ve been disrupted? Say, by the iOS 14 update? First: don’t panic. Second: get in the right headspace by reading this.

There was a lot of talk on Twitter this week about the impact of Apple’s iOS 14 update on Facebook ad performance.

Facebook has become a key customer acquisition channel for many small brands and retailers. In fact, for some businesses it is the only channel that can scale consistently.

But after iOS 14, that changed for most advertisers on the Facebook platform. Costs increased across the board. Tried and true creative and targeting strategies stopped working. And attribution data–once Facebook’s major competitive advantage–became wildly inconsistent.

For some brands this was catastrophic. It became impossible to sell profitably on the platform. Plans had been made for holiday 2021 and beyond that now seemed impossible to execute. Welcome to the world of disruption.

Before I talk about tactical moves you can take to counteract the damage done by iOS 14 (that will be next week’s post), I need to talk about mindset. Believe it or not, disruption like this is has happened before, and I’ve had a front row seat. So I can tell you from experience: tactics don’t matter if you approach disruption with the wrong frame of mind.

Where Does Disruption Come From?

Want to learn more about what to do when you’ve been disrupted? Let me take you back to the mid-2010’s, when “traditional” brands found their eCommerce growth disrupted by similar forces to those upending the DTC world today.

In the “noughties” internet adoption, and especially mobile internet adoption, was on the rise. People who had never used a computer before were now making this technology a part of their lives. So if you had a well-known physical retail business, you could throw up a website and the traffic would come pouring in.

Even better: few people understood how to effectively monetize the internet. So low cost web traffic was easy to find because its value was poorly understood. All you needed to do to grow sales 20-30% per year was set up a website, do some simple SEO optimization and run some branded search ads.

Of course, most of this growth was due to cannibalization of the physical retail business. But few understood that at the time.

This environment created its own set of “best practices”, subject matter experts, and adjacent businesses. And then, around 2014-2016, the music stopped. An increasing number of businesses were selling online as technological barriers to entry decreased. The players in the online space–namely Facebook and Google, but also bloggers and influencers–became more savvy.

Costs and competition increased every year. Brands who ran the old playbook saw sales plateau and margins decline.

So where does disruption come from? Businesses are disrupted because the macro assumptions they operate on change slowly, then suddenly. Traditional brands were built on the assumption low-cost traffic and awareness. DTC brands today are also built on the assumption of relatively low-cost traffic. But this time it’s coming from Facebook instead of a physical retail footprint.

How To Survive & Thrive After Being Disrupted

So what can you do if you’ve been hit hard by iOS 14? More important than any tactical playbook is what you shouldn’t do: namely, panic. Here are some steps you can take to maintain the right mindset as you work through your next steps.

Acknowledge That Things Have Changed

One of our worst tendencies as marketers and business owners emerges in times of crisis. When our tried and true “best practices” stop working, we decide to do them harder. Subconsciously, we know that the environment has changed. But the idea of stepping outside our comfort zone is too terrifying to act upon.

Before you take any action, let go of the past. Acknowledge that your business may look completely different in six months. You may no longer run Facebook ads. Services handled in house may transition to agencies, or vice versa. But most importantly, you will still be standing.

Be A Leader

Disruption has upended your life and your business. This is undoubtedly a stressful and emotional time. But that doesn’t mean you get to take out those feelings on the people who work with you, be they FTEs, contractors or vendors.

A lot of what you are experiencing in the immediate term is outside of your control. It isn’t fair to dump on your team for what is, essentially, your own failure to prepare for change. It is unreasonable to expect every business owner to predict the future and act on it with 100% accuracy. But it is doubly unreasonable to expect those who work for you to snap their fingers and solve the problem overnight.

As the leader, you get held to the highest standard. If you can’t handle that, don’t lead.

Stop The Bleeding

Look at your main problem area (in this case, Facebook Ads) with new eyes to determine if any near term performance improvement is possible. Try things that seemed too far-fetched to work in the past and re-run failed experiments. Talk to others in the same position, even those outside your industry.

Then examine your business’ cost structure and determine what can be cut with little impact to overall operations. And if you’re in any long term contracts (like software contracts) see if you can negotiate your way out of them. If you’re honest about the situation, people will be more flexible than you anticipate.

Invest In Long Term Solutions

Think about potential long term solutions holistically. Work to understand the macro factors that landed you in the current situation. Analyze your own business model. And then think about how you want the business to look financially in 6-12 months, and how to get there.

This might require a completely new approach to areas outside of marketing. Maybe you need to rethink your supply chain. Maybe you need to change up your product assortment. Maybe you need to investigate new distribution channels.

It’s helpful to have additional perspectives here. If you want to learn more about a completely new subject matter area, an hour-long paid call with a consultant could save you thousands of hours and millions of dollars.

Above all: don’t be averse to ideas that are not your own. What got you here won’t get you through this. To survive disruption, you need to be smart and flexible.

You can find part two (the tactical advice for surviving iOS 14) here.