Strategy: How to outcompete the competition, finding sustainable competitive advantage

Sustainable Competitive Advantage 

Few companies can lay claim to that holy grail market position for any length of time, here are some that come immediately to mind: Ferrari, Rolls Royce Engines, Hoover, Apple’s Iphone and Ipod, Boeing, Walkman, Sky, Microsoft Windows, are all good examples of companies who have achieved, or are holding it today. Sustainable competitive advantage is the ability to create and sustain a position within a market which provides a competitive place for that brand.

The competitive advantage most companies strategically aim for is to own the space of early adopter within the an adoption curve. That position, where brands are seen as premium players, producing innovative new products and services and able to command and earn premium prices for those products. By finding that competitive position, and often helping creating the market structure, a brand takes ownership of that the competitive position and often drives the development and evolution of the market. A company can choose to operate anywhere within a market and make it competitive if they build their business model to a defined market position.

Making it Sustainable

Making a competitive position sustainable requires a brand to develop its ability to sustain its position over the long term. That sounds easy in theory, but in reality is hard. Short-term attitudes in growth and profit can easily distract a leadership teams focus. Failing to invest in sustaining their brand’s market position, or stakeholder demands for profit taking are two of the most common pulls that destabilise a brands’ established market position.

The challenge for any leadership team with their business is to be able to see the market position they want and then to take hold and hold onto that market position. Sustainable competitive advantage, the holy grail of a successful business is not easy to find, straight forward to own or simple to sustain, and that’s why it is every leaders, holy grail.

How to outcompete the competition 

In mature (and often saturated) markets developing a unique strategic position can give a business sustainable competitive advantage. A sustainable competitive advantage in any market is the holy grail for business owners. To be somewhere that your competitors aren’t, and to have something that cannot be taken away, is what every business leader wants to achieve in setting up in business, and  dreams of achieving. It is one clear defining way of out competing the competition is to develop a sustainable competitive advantage in a market

Dyson

To be recognised as the market maker, such as Hoover, whose name is synonymous with vacuum cleaners, gave the Hoover brand unbelievable control of the market for most of the 20th century.  Hoover, the brand leader owned the global market, with an unparalleled history, and complete market dominance.

So what changed? A loss of focus and desire to continue to own the market coupled with the airplane ticket fiasco which opened the door to new competitors and to one man in particular James Dyson  who grabbed the opportunity to replace Hoovers’ once held position in the market launching his own Dyson brand through technology shift of his cyclone bag less vacuum.

His passion, created from vacuuming at home and becoming frustrated, seeing the cyclone idea at a sawmill which then took 15 years, 5,127 prototypes to turn into a winning product, which today benefits upon 60% recommendation purchases and has allowed Dyson to spin his cyclone technology into air dryers and washing machines.

Features of Strategic Competitive Advantage

What are the key features of sustainable competitive advantage for any company in their market, well here are the most commonly found top five:-

  • Charge a premium for its services; even low cost suppliers out price other low cost suppliers.
  • Lead the market through innovation; will get to market new ideas quicker or in a more dominant way to shift the market to your agenda.
  • Controls the key channels to market; from buying decision processes to pricing structures.
  • Owns the pace of change within the market; from technology development and consumer mind set, being the pace setter in the market.
  • Control of buyer activity; the significant majority of the Share Of Buy (SOB) and Share Of Space (SOS) decsions through its dominance.

Sustainable competitive advantage is an extremely difficult goal. Most successful brands only ever achieve their pinnacle manage to reach a challenger market position, one that challenges existing perceptions within a market.

Creating dominant sustainability requires leadership with a clear vision of where the company is going and where the market opportunity exists. It takes leadership with passion dedication and drive for a brand to succeed in moving form a challenger brand to one which can dominate and sustain that domination of its market such as Dyson to succeed. For men like James Dyson the advantage was that he was in the right place at the right time, with the right product that enabled a technological shift in the market with his bag less vacuum.

Learn More about Strategy

If you want to develop your company’s position then there needs to be a vision for it, where it is going and why. If your look for some advice on developing your company, its marketing, its sustainable competitive advantage then contact us at Cowden Consulting to see how we can assist you, or read more about us in this blog or at Cowden Consulting.


Strategy The Leader's Role By Richard Gourlay

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values in business matter to customers and employees

Values matter in BUSINESS more than ever as Ikea have found out

In today’s information driven world, how you do business matters as much as the business you do as Ikea the iconic Swedish furniture retailer has just found out. Its green credentials have been dealt a massive blow, as it failure to support sustainability in its products leaves customers questioning its real values as a business.

Ikea only 16% sustainable wood 

Ikea’s failure to achieve its own most modest target of 30% of its wood products to be from certified sustainable wood, will damage it its credibility heavily with its key audiences. The fact that it only hit 16%, has a massive blow on the values it professes as promoting sustainably sourced materials and to its environmental positioning, compared with Homebase (78%) and B&Q (77%), which won the best green award 2010.

The excuse given in its defensive press statement is that it has sacrificed the values of sustainability for rapid growth and protecting its profitability (£2.3billion), but short term greed like this can cost dearly on both growth and profitability over the long term.

Ikea’s staff not telling the truth 

This corporate failure was made worse by staff telling customers in store that its products are from sustainable sources, when they are from illegal logging in places such as Russia. This insatiable drive for growth, which so often undermines trusted names, may damage the Swedish brand’s position as the leader in the flat pack market significantly, as it will now undergo microscopic environmental and customer scrutiny.

Ikea’s soft “long term” aspirational statements on their website with links to the Rainforest Alliance are unlikely to be seen as enough in the modern world where green wash marketing such as this are quickly exposed and penalised. When the spotlight of the green world is turned on, it is difficult to hide in the shade.

The World Bank suddenly in the late 1980’s promoted its ‘green credentials’ by promoting itself as having employed ‘an environmentalist’, to offset its image of chopping down forests for cash crops. This green wash story was quickly exposed when it was pointed out the World Bank employed some 5,000 economists, what difference would/could one environmentalist make?

Values matter in business for leadership

Values must be transparent

The way you provide your product or service and to whom, says more about you than how much business you do. Being big in a highly segmented world is no longer the determination of success. How you do your business now determines your current credibility and future success. Credibility is as much about your values in becoming successful as about the success you have. Mohamed Al-Fayed for example, despite buying Harrods, never shook off questions about his background.

Your values as an organisation as demonstrated by everyone inside your organisation matter to both existing and potential customers in choosing to do business with you. People have choices and they can now exercise them more freely than ever before, and that means customers can access information instantly to make choices that are more informed. Ikea’s staff misinforming undercover Times reporters about their sustainable and certified sourced products at a number of shops are one symptom of Ikea’s rapid growth boardroom culture.

Values Must Live the Moment 

Almost everything in life is in real time and instantly communicated to circles of influence and beyond. A restaurant having  bad night can have a poor reputation before the starter has even been cleared away as customers post live feed back to sites such as Qype or Trip Advisor . Therefore, before the waiter, maitre d’ or chef knows what’s happening the world outside already does by Twitter and Facebook and are cancelling their reservations in their droves.

Why clean lavatories matter?

The old adage that if you want to know how clean the restaurant kitchen is, inspect the lavatories, because they tell you how the restaurant values cleanliness, is a great example of modern customer awareness. Do you live your values or just post them on your website? Is the question customers want to know in establishing and experiencing trust with you and your brand.

Rail companies learning fast

The recent story of the man on the train talking too loudly causing enraged customers to Tweet  complaints about his behaviour which was picked up by a duty manager hundreds of miles away who then contacted staff on the train to track down the loud caller and asked him to quieten down.

This story is very much testimony to the growing demands of customer expectations, immediate online response, not waiting for passing train staff to react. This story is part of the reputation shift that train companies are actively pursuing.

Values are in the detail

Values matter, they define the real differences between companies. How British Airways treats its customers through the values it embeds in its entire organisation is what makes it different to other premium airlines and distinguishes it from them, and from the bucket providers such as Ryanair.

However, as everyone de-layers in response to changing business models, cost and modernisation requirements, values can be lost in the rush to modernise and compete in new ways. BA’s changes to its premium dinner menu, introducing exotic main courses such as crocodile and ostrich sounded good but simultaneously cutting the After Eights, so there was not to go around 1st class passengers was a classic example of getting its values wrong in its customer’s eyes.

Values Must Involve Everyone

If you value your customers then remember everyone needs to smile in their role, if you believe in providing excellent customer service then don’t cut your front of house staff numbers.

Too many companies’ ideas of communicating values are to place a statement on a website, brochure, at reception and on the induction training programme. How many companies look at the strategic advantage of values and embed it into people’s roles, asking staff to define their role by those values by redefining their role to live those values?  How many companies review those values as outcomes in winning and retaining customers?

 

Values as seen by Customers and Employees

Customers, potential and existing, are drowning in choice what makes you stand out to them is the values you own and can demonstrate. Statements on walls and websites always sound good, (possibly, because they are written by marketing people who do not work there) but unless the company lives them then they do more damage than good. Over promising and under delivering is a growing experience for everyone today.

Whether it is a London hotel, stating it’s exclusiveness, as evidenced by its 5 star, pretty pictures on the website of its presidential suite and over the top statements such as “sumptuous 5 star accommodation” the jaw dropping price tag. When you turn up and find a broom cupboard with not enough space to turn around in let alone swing a cat, and you are one of 500+ rooms filled with bus loads of tourist on a package holiday then company values are under pressure.

The same is equally true for staff, why should people stay loyal to you if you don’t live those values and enshrine them in every one of your people. Do they live it or lip service it?

New company’s leadership must create true values 

New companies have the unbridled opportunity to define their values from the start. By building them into their business model throughout the entire process from the beginning, providing value and clarity with every new role and new person, they can use their values to maximum leverage for attracting their chosen customers and staff.

So Googles’ “DO NO HARM” value won many plaudits, breaking down the concern about the is was then rightly questioned by their policy in China of being seen to be supporting censorship (try typing Tienanmen Square Massacre into Google in China it never happened!). Now there is a good argument that rightly says any Google is better than no Google, but the contradiction against their stated values upset many Google Supporters elsewhere in the world.

Your values should come from within. What do you stand for? What does your company do? How should everyone do it? What does excellence look like? Some classic questions to understand the values you offer. I often ask people to think of an animal or car which best describes there organisation

Keeping Values Alive       

Established companies inherit values, often without realising they have them in place, “its how we do it around here” type phrases are often values hidden inside everyday activity. Keeping values alive is often hard in rapidly changing under-pressure environments. Changes in leadership, particularly when cross industry leadership is introduced or when new pressures are introduced from changing ownership for example often end up throwing out the hidden value of a brand in the race to achieve short-term results.

Everyone entering a company, particularly top executives, must understand the core heritage values any organisation has, how they are owned and expressed. The best way to achieve that is for new people to present those values back under peer group review and add to them with the changes they intend to introduce. New products/services need to incorporate core values and learn to demonstrate them in new ways as new channels of communication are opened up.

Values check list 

  1. Are your values visual to your team and customers? 
  2. Does everyone know your core values, have you checked?
  3. Can all your people translate them into their daily role?
  4. Do people see the company values in other people’s roles within the organisation?
  5. Do customers comment on those values in their dealings with your company in formal and informal feedback channels? 

If you can only answer confidently to only points one and two then you are not living your values as a business. If you cannot hand on heart even answer those two them its probably time to look at your values in a lot more detail. Spend time to think through what you and your business stands for and get in touch if you need any assistance in creating values which matter to you.

Leadership Strategy

Learn more about strategy and leadership and how as a leader to create your strategy, with all the steps to build your own strategy, click here to buy the book now:-

Strategy The Leader's Role By Richard Gourlay
Strategy: The Leader’s Role by Richard Gourlay, a book fo how you can create your business strategy, with all the tools a business leader needs to build their business strategy.

Do you have a vision or are you just a dreamer?

No matter how big or small your business is without a clear vision of where you are going owners and directors often fall into the classic trap of just managing from day-to-day. A business needs great leadership, and for that they need to create a clear business vision, which will make and deliver longterm leadership success.

Envisioning the Future

Leadership is about investing time, envisioning the future and effort to see into the future and imagine how things could be, is as important for success as having real passion for the business and the determination to create something new. These three personal qualities of leaders are vital for successful companies and a vision statement, sometimes called “a picture of your company in the future”, but it’s so much more than that.

Vision Statement

Your vision statement is your inspiration, the framework for all your strategic planning. A vision statement may apply to an entire company or to a single division within that company.

The vision statement answers the question, “Where do we want to go?” What you are doing when creating a vision statement is articulating your dreams and hopes for your business. It reminds you of what you are trying to build. A vision statement is for you and the other members of your company, not just for your customers or clients.

Visionary goals should be longer term and more challenging than strategic goals. Collins and Porras describe these lofty objectives as “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals.” These goals should be challenging enough so that people nearly gasp when they learn of them and realize the effort that will be required to reach them.

Most visionary goals fall into one of the following five categories:

  1. Targeted – quantitative or qualitative goals such as Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
  2. Common enemy – focused on overtaking a specific firm, becoming the number one in that sector, such as Amazon: “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
  3. Role model – to become like another in a different industry or market, the mirror role, Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice) “Right from the beginning, I said I wanted to be more famous than Persil Automatic”.
  4. Internal transformation – creating internal vision, GE set the goal of “Becoming number one or number two in every market it serves”

While visionary goals may require significant stretching to achieve, many visionary companies have succeeded in reaching them. Once such a goal is achieved, it needs to be replaced; otherwise, it is unlikely that the organization will continue to be successful. The second most dangerous place for a company is to have achieved its only goal, the most dangerous place is never to have had one.

Creating Your Business Vision

Simple steps to creating your vision, ask some simple questions:

  • What will our business look like in 3 to 5 years from now?
  • What new things do we intend to pursue and how?
  • What future customer needs do we want to satisfy?

Write the answers down and focus on developing them into a coherent, motivational and purposeful message which can connect with everyone.

Then Question:

  • Does our vision statement provide a powerful picture of what our business will look like in 3 to 5 years from now?
  • Is your vision statement a picture of your company’s future, which everyone can interpret into their role?
  • Does it clarify the business activities to pursue, the desired market position and capabilities you will need

If your statement answers these questions then you have a vision worth owning and sharing. A vision must be motivational to everyone inside an organisation.

The classic apocryphal story to demonstrate the effectiveness of great visions is about the time President Kennedy visited NASA. During one trip he came across a cleaner sweeping the warehouse floor, and asked him what his job at NASA was. The cleaner replied “My Job is to put a man on the moon, Sir.”

Now I don’t know if the story is true, but it’s inspiring. In a facility full of high-powered individuals and great minds, even the cleaner was completely on board with the strategy. While you may not be planning to put a person on the moon, we can learn a lot from the story. It may sound ridiculous, but every business needs to be a little like NASA.

Great visions can create an unstoppable company

 

Every organisation needs to have a clear vision, owned by everyone inside and outside it. An owned and shared vision creates and sustains great morale and internal strength for companies, which can become a powerful and unstoppable force in any market no matter how competitive.

At Cowden Consulting we focus on ensuring companies can successfully compete in their chosen or desired market.

Like to learn more then get in touch with at Cowden Consulting.

 

Strategy the leader's role book by Richard Gourlay

Successful Leaders Plan Their Business

Business planning often gets a bad press, yet those who do sit down and plan their business are so much more focused, confident, and successful than those who float along with the economic tide. Successful leaders plan their business, so they can focus on leading their team to deliver that plan.

Over the past ten years as a strategic planner we’ve worked with hundreds of business owners and seen how those that create a plan and implement it, do so much better then those owners who try aimlessly lead their business on a wing, a prayer or a dream. successful leader’s plan their business, so that everyone knows where they are going what their role is in achieving that success.

Business planning in business is an important part defining success

According the latest BERR report, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME’s) together accounted for 99.9 per cent of all enterprises, 59.8 per cent of private sector employment and 49.0 per cent of private sector turnover. SME’s really do matter to the British economy, and yet they receive little effective support from Government agencies despite being the backbone of the economy, employment, and innovation.

Why Business Leader’s Don’t Plan

“If you don’t make things happen, things will happen to you” Lanes Company

Having questioned business owners over the last decade the reasons why owners have not put a plan in place and executed it, the excuses range from not having the skills, make the time, or have the conviction of their thoughts. The number of owners  who know they should have a plan ‘we had one when we first started, but have not looked at it since’ is a common theme, as is being too busy fire fighting to realise that preventing fires starting is the best way to not have to fight them.

Do business owners not see the value in developing a plan for their business? On the other hand, is the classic perception for business owners that frenetically staying alive is seen as being successful? For many not knowing how to plan is one major reason why people haven’t and don’t plan their business. Where to start and how to know what they are trying to achieve immediately puts people off planning. Business planning is also often at fault, the most common reason people have a plan is to secure funding from banks, that’s when banks did fund business start-ups (now they just offer a high interest mortgage backed by the Government). Therefore, once people have received funding they no longer see the main advantages of planning (and the real advantages are not around money).

business planning for leaders to ensure success by Richard Gourlay
Business planning does not happen by accident

Business Planning Skills – Have some GOALS

“The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.” – Lee Iacocca

Planning takes time, resources, (grey stuff) not the executive trip to some exotic away weekend planning, but some time allocated to review where you are as a business, how your sector and industry are performing and what you want to achieve in the future. Whether it is looking at the next year or planning the next five years, everyone who owns or directs a business is responsible for setting its direction. However, just having a plan in your head, with the classic defence of ‘its flexible at the moment’ is either ducking the responsibility or deluding themselves.

The only way to have a plan rather than a dream is to have it written down, turned (if it is not already) into an action plan which is resourced and owned by someone to deliver. Only then do businesses go forward in a deliberate purposeful way. Only then do the right things happen because you made them happen and only then can everyone, employees, shareholders, customers, channel partners and even other halves, see your dream, share your dream, deliver your dream. That’s when planning works. It is a written document, which lives within your company, and it doesn’t matter if you are a one-man (woman) band or running a multi-national Plc.

What Business Planning Delivers

“In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.” – Robert Heinlein
focus in business for leaders to focus on
Things that matter are having a business plan that works for your business as a leader

Planning provides focus in strategic direction, its provides clarity of where the business is and where it is going as well as a vehicle for getting from where you are to where you want to be. Planning time provides time to reflect on personal and corporate goals, time to share and channel new ideas while reviewing existing activities.

Planning in a structured and open format develops clarity of purpose and a clear understanding of the organisational and individual skills people have and can use to leverage advantage. Bringing in outside views widens the planning horizon, which can drive businesses forward, which is why many successful businesses use non-executive directors or outside specialists to help drive their business forward. That is one reason why so many people volunteer to get support from people like the Dragons from Dragon’s Den, they are looking for expertise and advice which gives them confidence to go forward as much as the money.

British business owners need to plan, more often to keep being successful. Good planning creates and sees opportunities as owners and directors lift their heads up from the daily grindstone. How often should you plan? Well it all depends on the speed of your market’s evolution, but even stable and stagnant businesses should review their business every year, and not just a light dusting (add ten percent and change the year) but strategically review what and how well they are doing.

It is only by looking for fresh opportunities and how to take best advantage of them, by planning your business around those opportunities that companies successfully compete in today’s business environment.

Business Planning is not a four letter word

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage” Jack Welch

The old adage, compete or get beat, is more relevant today than it has ever been. The rise of the Internet means there are no secrets, competitive advantage lies with those who can see an opportunity and adapt fastest to take advantage of it. Those owners and directors who see and go for opportunities become the stronger ones, and that is where good strategic business planning provides it real advantage. That’s why successful leaders plan their business to achieve that success.

By orientating a company to where it can retain better, win new and develop existing customers companies that plan their success out compete in their sector, and equally importantly have everyone focused on where they are going. From the smallest to the biggest every business needs to have a plan that is written down, owned and guiding your business in the direction you want it to go.

Good Luck

Richard Gourlay

@richardgourlay

www.cowdenconsulting.com

strategy, leadership and vision in business by Steve Jobs

Values matter in BUSINESS more than ever

Values must be transparent

The way you provide your product or service and to whom, says more about you than how much business you do. Being big in a highly segmented world is no longer the determination of success. How you do your business now determines your current credibility and future success. Credibility is as much about your values in becoming successful as about the success you have. Mohamed Al-Fayed for example, despite buying Harrods, never shook off questions about his background.

Your values as an organisation as demonstrated by everyone inside your organisation matter to both existing and potential customers in choosing to do business with you. People have choices and they can now exercise them more freely than ever before, and that means customers can access information instantly to make choices that are more informed. Ikea’s staff misinforming undercover Times reporters about their sustainable and certified sourced products at a number of shops are one symptom of Ikea’s rapid growth boardroom culture.

Values Must Live the Moment

Almost everything in life is in real-time and instantly communicated to circles of influence and beyond. A restaurant having  bad night can have a poor reputation before the starter has even been cleared away as customers post live feed back to sites such as Qype or Trip Advisor . Therefore, before the waiter, maitre d’ or chef knows what’s happening the world outside already does by Twitter and Facebook and are cancelling their reservations in their droves.

Why clean lavatories matter?

The old adage that if you want to know how clean the restaurant kitchen is, inspect the lavatories, because they tell you how the restaurant values cleanliness, is a great example of modern customer awareness. Do you live your values or just post them on your website? Is the question customers want to know in establishing and experiencing trust with you and your brand.

Rail companies learning fast

The recent story of the man on the train talking too loudly causing enraged customers to Tweet  complaints about his behaviour which was picked up by a duty manager hundreds of miles away who then contacted staff on the train to track down the loud caller and asked him to quieted down.
This story is very much testimony to the growing demands of customer expectations, immediate online response, not waiting for passing train staff to react. This story is part of the reputation shift that train companies are actively pursuing.
The values that a business lives really matter to customers and to the brand reputation. Learn more about strategy and how to build yours in your business, click here or on the book below.
Strategy The Leader's Role By Richard Gourlay
Strategy: The Leader’s Role by Richard Gourlay
Taking strategic action to improve your business startup success

Where Does Tomorrows Growth Come From?

Where does tomorrows business growth come from explains why it is important for leadership to use business planning tools to effectively plan their growth.

Being successful in business is all about seeing the bigger picture and understanding future growth. For a business to grow and develop the leadership team must invest time in stepping back from the day-to-day operations of the business and focus on working on the business, click the slide presentation below to learn why….

Direction strategy and leadership

Strategic Planning Workshop

Successful business planning is about developing your strategic plan for your business based upon proven business development tools. The Strategic Planning Workshop pulls these together into a single process, which takes the guesswork out of your business success.Taking the guess work out of your business success is a step-by-step process which develops business owners skills to strategically plan their business to take advantage of emerging markets, emerging trends, develop and launch new products.Strategic planning also enables companies to make structurally improvements to their business to improve its profitability, reduce costs and enhance productivity.

Strategic planning workshop is a proven method of developing and implementing success see www.cowdenconsulting.com

Slideshare of Strategic Planning Workshop (click to open).

Leadership is all about VISION

Leadership IS all about Vision

Successful leadership is about vision, great leadership is about planning your business using business planning tools to match their ambitions to the opportunities in their market, using tried and tested planning tools.

Successful business owners step back to work on their business not in their business. Looking at where they are going and why. What are the opportunities within your market and sector over the next few years. Business Planning is a process of assessing options using tried and tested business planning tools, which provide robust and accurate options for business owners to grow their business successful.

Leadership is all about VISION from Richard Gourlay