Business Lessons from Bono: Innovate, Embrace Change to Avoid Extinction

Andrew Stanten


Today, I witnessed the sad ending to a company that refused to adapt its business to the electronic era.

A family-run, 40-year-old, catalog maintenance supply company was hemorrhaging.

Once a highly success mail order business, it was caught in the wicked downward spiral of obsoleteness with an owner terrified of investment in technology. Survival was at stake as he clung to the ideal that his business could survive by sending out 200-page catalogs to a mailing list of tens of thousands.

The company viewed its website as a side interest. So, instead of investing in its online presence, the company invested more than $300,000 on catalog production and distribution.

The drain of money out the door in paper, postage and printing was crippling.

While the mail order business example is sad, don’t dismiss the story so quickly if you’re thinking, “Ah, that’s an old-school business model. That would never happen to me. My business is in the technology sector.”

It’s that way of thinking that makes you vulnerable to follow that very same path of extinction.

Innovative eXPERIENCE

Think Blackberry – once tech’s shining star and the pioneer of on-the-go connectivity.

In 2009, Blackberry sponsored the U2 360 Tour. In 2010, I wrote about how innovative the band continued to be, even three decades after their debut.

Today, U2 is once again in the midst of a massively lucrative and customer-satisfying tour, its iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour. This time, around, however, Blackberry is nowhere to be seen … and is, quite frankly, the punchline of too many business failure jokes.

In the half-decade that’s passed between the two tours, the music industry has changed at warp speed.

In 2009, Pandora had yet to get popular, Spotify didn’t exist, people (gasp!) still bought CDs at stores and bands could make money selling albums.

But U2 has gracefully kept pace with the changes and have innovated a few tricks of their own.

First, last fall, in preparation of announcing their i+e tour, they gave away their album. For free. Backed by a great PR push/partnership with Apple (not Blackberry! Who?), their new tracks gained popularity. An innovative move that had never before been seen in the industry.

Then, they literally turned the arena concert experience on its axis – with stages on both ends of the floor connected by a catwalk and an elevated cat walk stage, screened in by see-through netting that doubled as hi-def LED display and real-time broadcast. Everyone in the arena had an amazing seat and a great experience. U2 completely reinvented the experience, delivered a unique experience and provided exceptional value.

And if you don’t innovate … adapt.

So what does this have to do with B2B marketing? Everything. Businesses need to innovate or die.

I realize we can’t all be innovators – so at a minimum you need to embrace change in these key areas. If you don’t, odds are your competitors are innovating and adapting – and, sooner or later, they’re going to leap frog you.

1. Embrace mobile.

Pop quiz! What’s the one thing you are almost never more than arms’ reach from? If you said “My smartphone,” you earn an “A.” According to ComScore, mobile eclipsed desktop usage at some point in 2014. And, according to KPCB US and global Internet trends 2015 report, mobile digital media time in the US is now significantly higher at 51% compared to desktop at 42%. Think that’s going to reverse? Not a chance.

Yet day after day, I visit websites and receive emails that are not optimized for mobile. There is simply no excuse anymore. As a busy CEO, I steal a minute here and there, hitting a potential vendor’s video gallery on my tablet while waiting at the gate for my plane and sneak a peek at my email during a lull in my son’s baseball games. And I am not alone, for sure.

Despite the undisputable and unstoppable force that is mobile connectivity and changing expectations of prospects and customers, one CEO recently said to me, “I’m not ready to make the investment in mobile.” Crazy talk. It’s a much smaller investment than, say, shutting your doors.

So if your website and email marketing efforts are not yet mobile optimized, stop what you are doing. Literally. You are doing more harm than good. Start budgeting and planning now to make this an absolute priority for 2016.

2. Embrace the data revolution.

There is so much data out available – about prospects, customers, competition and markets – that it’s enough to make your head spin. Ignore it at your own peril.

Recently, I had a prospect say she’s never checked her company’s Google Analytics – didn’t even know how to login to the “Google site.” Yet she was dependent on leads through the website for a portion of new business development.

There are a lot of tutorials available through Google, on YouTube and through service providers. Start at ( or visit the Google Analytics You Tube channel.

Do yourself a favor and at least learn the basic so you can get a sense of how well your website is performing:

  • How many people are coming to your site over a given period?
  • When people come to your site, where are they coming from?
  • What are the top sites referring traffic to your site?
  • How long are visitors staying on your site?
  • Where do visitors jump off?

By knowing these basic statistics and trends, you can set benchmarks, have an “Ah-ha” moment or two and put a plan in action to improve upon them in the coming months. At a minimum, you’ll know whether your marketing manager or SEO firm is blowing smoke. You owe it to yourself and your business to do so.

3. Embrace new forms of advertising.

Not so long ago I had a chat with a managing partner at a professional services firm who was describing his long sales cycle. His number one competitor? Inertia – because changing providers was a pain. As a possible solution, I brought up retargeting.

Retargeting is the art/science whereby visitors to your site start to see ads for your business appear on other sites on the Internet.

I explained how this is a great way to stay in front of prospects. Nope, no way, no how, he huffed. Despite case study statistics of how cost efficient and effective a professionally developed retargeting effort can be, he wouldn’t have any of it because he thought it was creepy. Even though his competitors were already doing it.

Time to educate yourself about the upside of new advertising techniques – and check your ego at the door. Ultimately, it’s not really about what you think or feel, it’s about where your prospects are and how you attract them moving forward.

4. Embrace closed-loop digital marketing.

The term “marketing automation” is quite the buzz right now. But let’s be honest: it’s not automated – it’s semi-automated. It takes a lot of brainpower and elbow grease to make the automation machine crank. And more brain power to analyze the back end. The upside is more qualified prospects getting moved further down your conversion funnel in an efficient manner.

By “marketing automation” marketing professionals are talking about a certain trigger – like a prospect visiting your website or clicking on a banner ad – that causes a well-thought-through, logical series of events with some split logic that strategically and repeatedly drive qualified prospects back to your website – each time further and further down the conversion funnel.

This closed-loop marketing, as we like to call it, You can download our e-guide on it.

5. Embrace social media best practices.

By now, there are few of us in the business world that don’t at least have a LinkedIn profile. Most are using it to some degree. Many are doing it wrong.

One company I have been following puts together a quarterly magazine. In the month after it comes out, two to three time per week, the only thing the marketing director posts is to check out articles on how great they are. No doubt engagement stats – click-throughs off these posts – are abysmal.

Do yourself (and the rest of us!) a favor. Deploy an 80/20 rule in that 80% of what you push through social channels is helpful, informative and share worthy – and not a sales pitch for your product or service.

Andrew Stanten

Andrew Stanten co-founded Altitude Marketing in 2004. As CEO, he ensures the right people are on board, delivering world-class marketing services to Altitude’s global client base, and staying true to Altitude’s mission, vision and values.
Andrew possesses an innate ability to process, organize and summarize massive volumes of client and market information and turn it into actionable, strategic thinking. This enables Team Altitude to get smart about a company quickly—and develop winning, integrated approaches that vault clients into a position of prominence and strength.
Andrew graduated from Syracuse University and earned his MBA from Lehigh University.