How To Disrupt A Legacy Industry

Disrupting industries that are young, such as marketing, software or project management, is not terribly difficult—not enough time has passed for them to get set in their ways. Legacy industries, or those that are more than a few generations old—especially if mistakes are costly—are much more impenetrable. Manufacturing, construction, medicine and law are all great examples of industries that are as easily disrupted like an unfortified wall. 

Don’t lose hope yet—just like that brick wall encased in cement, given the right tools, it too can be demolished and replaced with glass and polished steel. Learning the right way to approach a legacy industry takes finesse and strategy, as well as a long hard look at how others did it before you in parallel situations.

A great brand to take a note from is Currency. As an equipment financing company destined to lead their industry, they needed to target businesses with a significant physical presence, such as construction companies, medical professionals and warehouses. Many of their potential clients had little or no experience working with tech companies, and were initially very distrusting. However, by learning to speak their language, address their needs head on and win their trust, Currency was able to grow from a small financial tech—fintech—startup into an industry leader.

Here are the key takeaways from Currency’s growth that will poise you to come in like a wrecking ball and rebuild those legacy industries you’re hoping to disrupt.

Address a Major Need

Everyone knows that the key to a successful business is solving a problem. However, with legacy industries, that problem has to be a bit more formidable than with easier audiences, such as consumer or media. If you’re just solving a small problem, you’ll find resistance from those who are comfortable with the solution they have, and view it as “good enough.”

When Currency founder Charles Anderson originally became interested in equipment financing, it was 2008. The Recession had just hit, and banks were no longer giving out loans at the same frequency they used to. Anderson saw companies going under because they were having so much trouble financing the equipment they needed—equipment that would have allowed them to thrive.

By addressing this issue, Anderson was able to get his foot in the door. He formed relationships directly with companies that were struggling to purchase equipment, and the sellers that wanted to provide that equipment to them.

Target Professionals Who Feel Ignored

Great, you have a problem you can fix, and it’s a big one! But first, you have to be able to tell those involved about your solution. This can be a bit tricky in cliquey industry cultures, and it’s easy to get discouraged when, after reaching out several times, you still haven’t forged a relationship.

The key here is to target those employees who feel they aren’t being listened to, and who are looking for a big idea to prove themselves in their field. If you guessed that they’re likely a bit lower in the food chain, you’re right. In the case of Currency, millennials were the key. As the newest members, millennials were still within a few promotions of entry level, and raring for a reason to be taken more seriously. Anderson provided that reason by telling them first about his great solution to their company-wide problem.

While millennials are no longer the new kid in the office for the most part, Gen Z is just getting started. Learn all you can about this strikingly unique generation—they are, after all, the first generation to have no concept of what life was like without the internet—and provide them the opportunity to wow their boss.

Stay Flexible When It Comes to Choosing an Audience

Sometimes you’ll guess wrong when it comes to who your audience is. This is especially true of solutions for legacy industries. Keep your mind open, and talk to anyone who listens – remember, if you talk to the industry leaders, smaller companies will listen, but if you start a trend within the smaller companies, the larger brands will take note. If you’re looking for a true trump card, appeal to your client’s customers. There is no brand with a future that doesn’t listen to those who give them money.

Currency has found this to be the case throughout their evolution, with their marketing and business development working with the full spectrum of listeners, from client to consumers. By capturing the imagination and hope of whoever was interested, they convinced an entire industry to adopt a new way of doing business.

Whatever your approach to disrupting legacy industries, know it can be done. There is no field that would not benefit from change, just as there is no wall that will stand forever without maintenance.

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