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. Sustaining a desirable market position provides long-term competitive posiitoning for that brand.

The competitive advantage most companies strategically aim for is to own the space of early adopter within 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. That premium position, finding, and holding the early adopter position in any market is seen as the optimum competitive advantage position within any market.

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 Vacuum Cleaners

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. The brand name itself became synonymous with the product category, everyone hoovered their house with a Hoover.

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. Today this winning product benefits upon 60% recommendation purchases and has allowed Dyson to spin his cyclone technology into hair and air dryers as well as 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 the challenger market position, one that challenges existing perceptions within a market. Developing a sustainable competitive advantage requires an organisation to constantly challenge not only the competition but also itself, to sustain its desirable position within its market.

Creating dominant sustainability requires the leadership to create 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 from a challenger brand to one which can dominate and sustain that domination of its market such as Dyson. For men like James Dyson the advantage was that he was in the right place at the right time, with the right product.  That has enabled a technological shift in the market with his bag less vacuum and a move to smaller cable-less products dominate the innovator position within the market.

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

Click here to connect back to my blog.