Strategy: out compete the competition

Sustainable Competitive Advantage 

Few companies can lay claim to that holy grail 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.


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


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.

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.

A good business starts with the end in mind.

Here’s a simple question to any business owner, why are you in business? The flippant answer I often hear is to make money.  An honest, if not inspiring answer, but there is a fundamental flaw in that statement which many business owners fails to comprehend. They start a business, typically through experience in, or a passion for the field or because they have seen an opportunity to make money, but fail to achieve that ultimate goal because they fail to plan their end game, their exit strategy.

If you can’t get out making the money you intended to when you sell up then why did you set up the business in the first place? You have a great idea, you work on it, and spend your energy (and life) building it until it becomes you. It succeeds and you enjoy the lifestyle it brings then the challenge of maximising that income to free yourself up and retire or dd something else with your success.  That final stage often becomes impossible because you are the business and it is you, its lifeblood, main cheerleader and driving engine.

This typical scenario of being a business owner, is driven by the passion to run the business day-to-day overshadowing the failure to plan your exit strategy from the start. That is building a business with a clear objective to enable the owner to get out and maximising your income from what you have achieved. Nearly all business owners focus on building a successful business, not on making sure they maximise their returns from the successful ownership of the business.

The real payback from all that hard work in creating and setting up a business for an entrepreneur is the final payback, it is in the shareholder value being realised by a sale of that business. Few owners think about realising their shareholder value, being more interested in the Profit and Loss than the Balance Sheet when making key decisions about the business. That approach is effectively summarised in the phrase; the turnover is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is king, a great motto in the running of any business, but it does not hold true in achieving exit strategy success as a business owner.

Achieving shareholder success is the only motto to follow if you want to have a saleable asset, then owners need to focus of developing an exit strategy which achieve their personal goals.  While profit and cash rule the day, building a valuable asset requires building shareholder value, through building sustainable long-term profitability

Success in business requires owners to build a business which you own but are not concreted into the foundations of its success. Building a forward strategy for your business is a vital first step in building your exit strategy, it is the old adage that you need to work on it not in it which underpins all successful entrepreneurs.

Short-term profitability is always an important goal, but long-term share value is a strategic consideration which owners need to consider in building the value of their business. If you would like to discuss this article further or further information about our services in working with business owners in achieving  successful exit strategies then contact us at or see our contact page for further options.

Like to learn more about leading a business then click here to buy the book with all the tools you need to become a better leader: Strategy The Leader’s Role by Richard Gourlay



The power of WHY to consumers

 Will they BUY? 

In the old days people used to buy what companies did, what they made, where they sold it and bought what they promoted.  That was the age of big marketing and sales budgets, when big adverts worked, by driving demand through pushing products down channels, offering promotion and celebrity endorsement to generate business.

The age of the Unique Selling Proposition ‘we are special because….. so you will buy’! It was the 1980 and 1990’s so the world did as it was told: “we make what you want because we tell you want you want because we know about your needs”.  This relied upon trust in a brand by the public, which in a pre-internet world gave the control of information to the brands.

Trust, the intangible combination of character and competence which all successful brands must develop and sustain is mad cup of a whole series of elements itemised below.  The importance of ethics in today’s business are essential characteristics which purchasers expect their brand to portray in all their activities. That makes it a key priority for leaders’ to focus on within their role.


Honest is essential

Then ethics came into play, as the age of information came into play in the early years of the new millennium. As the internet began its infancy, the power of globalisation was laid bare by the internet. People asked more about how companies did things? Where were products sourced and how became important. Why were the premium footballs, such as those which David Beckham kicked, being made by blind children in India for a few rupees. Why were the clothes models wore being made in sweat shops where workers earned less than for a dollar a day?

The internet changed how the media could communicate, explaining how household names operated and could afford those huge marketing budgets. This forced companies to change their practises (and their internal policies) by educating and fighting back against the likes of Naomi Wolfs’ No Logo expose for example.  The brands who recognised that they could no longer hide their activities became more open and honest and developed trust, while those which did not, suffered public shaming and demise.

How business operated mattered, and so in response companies upped their awareness of their social impact and visibility through corporate social responsibility. How people did things mattered not just when the likes of Bhopal and Exxon Valdez disasters struck, but in everyday life.

Fair-trade has become a household name in consumer goods, with high street stores vying for credibility of having an ethical policy, supporting local goods and having transparent policies of how they operate. This gives more confidence but leaves companies open to further scrutiny and often to unsatisfactory answers to vital key questions, not at least within developing countries, who are now the fastest growing emerging markets for many brands.

Ethically; should I buy from you?

The biggest question which consumers and business now asks people is why businesses are doing these things.  Everyone has become so empowered with information sources that people want to buy the WHY, not the what. Buyers want to understand the ethics of the company and importantly the people behind the decisions it takes. Customers want to know that these decisions accurately reflect the real cultural and values that company has, not just the marketing hype, which the brand portrays. Today this is the real power of the internet.

What’s the real purpose of the company, who and what is driving it and what does it really believe in and stand for. No longer is a small donation to a local charity enough to say it supports the community, customers want to know how much, who gets involved, is it company wide and deep or just a year-end tax saving. In today’s world the importance of ethics in today’s business cannot be understated for leaders to focus upon in their role.

Ethical Values Being Lived

In fact the world has changed completely, confidence comes not from what you say but why you are saying it. The educated and informed world means that it’s not just politicians who have seen their reputation tarnished but any business in any sector who does not explain it why factor.

It snot just whistle blowers who expose mal-practice in today’s world, everyone is communicating through so many channels, from traditional word of mouth, through social media and beyond into a connected world, where reputations must be transparent. As everyone’s voice matters, being ethically transparent, open and honest is now essential if a brand is to be trusted.

Winning customers is no longer all leaders have to focus on. Finding talented staff, channels partners and customers is now a multifaceted challenge for leaders to deal with. Ethical short-cuts damage brands reputation and those damaging allegations now stick, and become magnified to stakeholders as statements are now online, like a bad trip advisor review, it never goes. A tarnished reputation is exactly that.

No matter what sector you are in, understanding the still emerging power of the internet in sustaining your reputation is essential and never more so than in explaining why you are in business and why you matter. The importance of ethics in today’s business has never been so important to establish and maintain.

Like to learn more, then contact us at Cowden Consulting or see our website or social media channels for more about Cowden Consulting:-

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Our services: business planning, strategic planning, business development, strategic marketing, Return on Investment, director development, director mentoring.

Cowden Consulting works with business leaders throughout the UK to improve their business.

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….

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