Cautionary Tales: Why Some Companies Don’t Survive Market Shifts

Market conditions are always changing and throughout history, businesses have had to face disruption. Some were able to meet the challenge, survive, and occasionally, thrive. Others were not as fortunate.  

Remember Blockbuster, the company that dominated video rentals through the 1990s and early 2000s? A few years later, in 2010, Blockbuster Corporate was filing for bankruptcy, and today, only one store—affectionately known as The Last Blockbuster—remains. What happened? In hindsight, it’s clear that Blockbuster focused too heavily on its brick-and-mortar locations, neglecting the video-on-demand business that was disrupting the sector in the late 1990s. Remarkably, Blockbuster even turned down an offer to buy the movie-streaming pioneer Netflix back then. Instead, Netflix went on to become Blockbuster’s largest competitor, leveraging the digital age and essentially re-inventing the way consumers could watch movies in their homes. By the time Blockbuster tried to catch up, it was too late—Netflix was well on its way to building the popular streaming service that now has more than 182 million paid subscriptions worldwide.

Like Blockbuster, Atari was once an industry leader, with innovative arcade games that topped the electronic entertainment sector throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. Atari was not able to maintain its competitive edge, however, and despite setting a record for the fastest growth in US history, by the time the video game crash of 1983 struck, the company was in financial turmoil. Competitors continued to gain market share, and Atari was not able to recapture its audience. Now, the company is venturing into the hotel industry.

What could have these iconic brands done differently when faced with market disruption?

The answer to that question is complex and stands in sharp contrast to other brands that have endured, even in extremely challenging times. Netflix, Philips, Apple, and many more have proven that it is possible to remain relevant despite market shifts. They were able to confront disruption head on, re-group, and ultimately, thrive. 

Today especially, it’s essential to look back through history and think about how different companies have handled change. On the one hand, there are cautionary tales about brands that have failed; on the other, there are success stories that can instruct and inspire. It is worthwhile to reflect on these examples and consider how the lessons learned can be applied to the current business environment.

What are the best moves you can make to attain sustainable competitive advantage in a rapidly changing environment? Find out by downloading our eBook Embracing Change: How Businesses Thrive in Disruptive TimesYou can also learn more about navigating uncertain times on the Adapting to Change resource hub.


Adapting to Change
Rekha Thomas
Rekha Thomas
Senior Director, Content Strategy
Rekha Thomas is the Head of Content Strategy at Seismic.