Whether you're a marketer or not, I hope you consider marketing to be one of the most important concepts in your business. Why? Because marketing is the business discipline most concerned with your most important business asset: customers. No customer, no business.
Peter Drucker said it better than I can:
"The marketing concept is a philosophy. It makes the customer and the satisfaction of his or her needs the focal point of all business activities. It is driven by senior managers, passionate about delighting their customers. Marketing is not only much broader than selling; it is not a specialized activity at all. It encompasses the entire business. It is the whole business seen from the point of view of the final result, that is, from the customer's point of view. Concern and responsibility for marketing must therefore permeate all areas of the enterprise."
In this (approximately monthly) newsletter, I'd like to take the opportunity to promote the marketing discipline. Whether you're a career marketer or not I hope you'll find these small tidbits useful as little reminders for yourself or your colleagues. As much as possible I'll try to keep it practical and real and brief. I'll also try to keep it reasonably topical and not too intellectual. I hope you'll contact me if you'd like to discuss the topics further.
Two Competitive Strategies
Recently I completed a project for a medium sized public company. Their business is growing well, they've got some great brands and an exciting culture. Their difficulty was agreeing where they should focus their energies and resources so they asked me to help them develop a roadmap for growth over the next four to five years. It was an interesting project because the market they are in is dominated by big mainstream brands and it is difficult for them to compete on price. Someone, I think it was Michael Porter but I may be wrong, said there are really only two competitive strategies.
The first is price and the second is differentiation. It is of course a gross over-simplification but the point is well made. It is one that we, as a very small and remote country competing in a large and competitive world, need to understand. In order to compete on price you must either have the lowest cost model for production and distribution or you need to be prepared to accept minimal margins or even losses. If you don't have the lowest cost model, you better find some other basis to compete i.e. differentiation.
In the commodities business, having the lowest cost model is a distinct advantage. But even then, differentiation strategies can help. Commodities suppliers have differentiated themselves on service, product features, packaging, delivery, speed, additives, additional products and services, guarantees, customised production run and run size, finished and near-finished product, vertical integration, billing procedures etc. In New Zealand we've struggled to get past commodities supply into competitively differentiated finished product. The handful of companies who have achieved this deserve to be recognized, applauded and studied. The current government has acknowledged this. I watch that space with interest.
Getting back to my client, our project involved agreeing a growth strategy for the business which included:
1. An over-arching differentiation (as opposed to low cost) strategy and
2. The individual opportunities to be considered.
A tool we used which I refined in my fast food days was the long list / short list concept. I'd like to recommend this approach to you. Here's how it works.
1. Inside your business encourage people to generate ideas.
2. Every idea goes on the long list no matter what.
3. Develop a set of criteria for evaluating ideas. Every idea passes through the same filtering screen and there needs to be a forum in which this happens and everyone in the company understands this.
4. Every idea that gets through the screen goes on the short list.
5. Those ideas that don't get through the screen can be held over and placed in the 'maybe later' group and re-posted on the long list.
6. The short list is actively managed and projects are assigned for evaluation, feasibility, action etc and are reviewed formally every month by the Leaders of the business.
The beauty of this quite simple mechanism ensures that the organization is regularly generating differentiating ideas and good ideas do actually get actioned. It also ensures that the whole business is engaged. I encourage you to try it if you don't already have something similar and are looking to create more differentiation and thus competitive opportunities.
Over Easter I caught the commercial free / promo saturated airing of Billy Elliott, a movie I first saw some years ago. I really enjoyed it and it got me thinking about the messages contained in it. It also got me thinking about those messages from the perspective of a marketer. All the great brands have a message!
In case you haven't seen it, Billy is a boy growing up in northern England during a miners' strike. His family and community are struggling against looming poverty and all the associated ills of violence, alcoholism, depression etc. Billy discovers a love for dance. Ballay! That's ballet to you and me. Despite great resistance from his father and brother, Billy sticks to his guns and eventually triumphs. It is a great story and one that has been told many times. The story of pursuing a dream and overcoming adversity. A lot like the dream that many entrepreneurs have. Or the dream of a brand manager. Or a CEO.
Each component of Billy Elliott represents some greater theme. The miners' strike represents adversity and the seemingly insurmountable odds that life throws at you. Dad represents broken dreams and shattered illusions. The brother, angry idealism. The grandmother, faded dreams and opportunities past. The dance teacher, hope, inspiration, a guiding hand. Billy's cross-dressing friend, the courage to be different despite overwhelming odds, And Billy, determination, innocence and belief in a dream or vision. Like all good stories, determination triumphs over adversity and Billy comes to live his dream and dances in the Royal Ballet. Or is that ballay! And all put to a great Marc Bolan soundtrack.
What can we take from Billy Elliott?
1.If you or your brand have a shot at achieving a goal, take it. In fact, be sure to have a goal and make it a worthy one, something you can really get your teeth into.
2. Sometimes people will challenge you, obstruct you and generally try to deflect you from your goal. That's their way of testing your resolve. Work with them. Show them you are sincere and you may be surprised. They may become your biggest advocates and supporters in the long run.
3. Keep it simple. Be very specific about what you want to achieve. Communicate that to the people who can help you. Then every day do something that adds momentum and takes you one step closer.
4. Dance Billy Dance!
Easter Bunnies, Chocolate Eggs, Christianity and those Awful Retail Ads.
I'm not a practising Christian. Like most of us I only have a fleeting association with Church: weddings, funerals and the odd baptism. But I do acknowledge that a man once walked this Earth promoting a message of tolerance and goodwill to all men. And that his ideas have been a guiding light during times of great darkness and ignorance over the ages. And I do acknowledge that we live in a society founded on Christian principles. Not to the exclusion of any other beliefs by the way.
So what has happened to Easter lately? Why is it that the very reason for this holiday is so obviously overlooked? Are we happy that our children are growing up ignorant of the Easter story and the educational and useful messages contained therein? Are we happy as retailers, marketers, broadcasters, advertisers and business-people that one of the fundamental concepts of western society is being exploited as a purely commercial and leisure enterprise? Would our brothers and sisters in the many other world religions and belief systems be so accepting of this exploitation of their religious festivals? Are we as participants in this society risking the family jewels for the sake of a quick buck?
And on behalf of the viewing public…could we please, please, please have a little more creativity and less shouting in our Easter ads in future. Unless you want me to hit the mute or channel button on my remote and skip your ads altogether!