Be audacious for competitive advantage
Snapshot : Being competitive can be seen as both aspirational and something to be avoided. But when you need to find a competitive advantage in business, being audacious is a big part of what puts you ahead of the pack. We look back to the POISE – Profitable, Offensive, Integrated, Strategic and Executed (excellently) – way of working that was a popular competitive marketing approach back in the 1980s and 1990s and share some thoughts on what is still valid for businesses operating today. How competitively ready is your business?
In a recent post on brand essence, we gave an example of one of our favourite brand essences that used the word “audacious”. It’s a great word to build your brand around. Doesn’t it sound appealing and aspirational? Wouldn’t you like to be more audacious?
Or, maybe that’s not your thing so much? You see that word, and think it sounds a little arrogant? A little bit scary? Too much about risk-taking. Not enough about stability and certainty. Not enough about looking after your fellow human beings.
We sympathise with both points of view. BUT, if we were to put these two viewpoints in competition against each other, we know who would win. When it comes to competitive situations, we’re always on the side of the audacious.
When you think about the people who are the most successful in any walk of life where you have to be competitive – business, sport, gambling, gaming – it’s those people who were audacious, who were bold, who took risks that tended to be the winners.
Ali or Schumacher?
When the brand identity was created on this particular brand, the team working on it were worried that some people would link it to arrogance. That they would link it to what they perceived as the ‘bad’ side of bring competitive. They used the example of two big well-known and very competitive sports personalities at that time to bring it to life. Muhammed Ali and Michael Schumacher.
What they wanted to convey through being audacious was more the style of Muhammed Ali.
No longer fighting at that time, and sadly no longer with us, but Ali was an undoubted winner. But the way he won, he did so with warmth, confidence and charm. Watch some of his old interviews. Talk to anyone who is a boxing fan. He was cocky and daring but always positive and charismatic. His audience speak of him with awe, reverence and adoration.
Contrast that with Michael Schumacher. Also undoubtedly a winner, and for other sad reasons, no longer in the public eye. But did he bring warmth, confidence and charm when he was winning? Or was he perceived as more cold, ruthless and relentlessly efficient in the way he went about winning?
Do people these days speak of him with awe, reverence and adoration? Sympathy, maybe, but those other things, definitely not.
What both of these giants of the sporting world shared was a competitiveness and a burning desire to be the best. But the way they approached being competitive, led to very different perceptions and outcomes.
And this thought prompted us to think about how to be competitive in the business world. Where should audacity fit in your search to finding a competitive advantage?
Competitive advantage in business
Let’s face it, the vast majority of people aren’t audacious.
In most businesses of any size, there are systems, processes and protocols to stop people being audacious. Decisions by committee. Multiple approval levels. Endless requests for data, analysis and testing before any decision gets made.
And often that decision is an mash-up of different views that ends up coming across as a compromise. A half-way house. A safe choice to not rock the boat too much.
With some extra reflection time as businesses bunker down for the great COVID-19 Pause game of 2020, we flicked back over some of classic marketing texts and articles, and noticed most of our books on competitive advantage weren’t all that recent. And a quick Google search confirmed, that most links to competitive advantage don’t link to anything very new. Has looking for competitive advantage gone out of fashion?
At best, we see businesses who might spend a day ‘wargaming’ when looking at competitors. They role play putting themselves in the shoes of their competitors and trying to work out what strategy they would do. And then reviewing their own strategy against that for how to make it better. It’s not a bad exercise to do, but it’s pretty rare that much changes or sticks from those types of sessions. You might end up with a SWOT analysis that drops into a presentation but it rarely changes the overall direction of a brand.
While most of the links point to Porter’s 1985 Competiitive Advantage, it’s quite an academic view of the world.
Our much preferred text on competitive advantage from the time was Offensive Marketing* by Hugh Davidson.
It’s pretty dated in places now in terms of the brands and companies cited as best practice. Our edition was written in the days when Sainsbury was the #1 UK grocery retailer ahead of Tesco for example. But the underlying model or approach to successful marketing has we believe stood the test of time pretty well, and that’s the POISE model.
The POISE model
Davidson cites five factors that define competitively successful marketing – led businesses, and he coins these into the word POISE – Profitable, Offensive, Integrated, Strategic and Execute (excellently).
We’re not going to regurgitate the contents of the book, but we do think it’s worth looking each of those terms for how they impact on competitive advantage if applied to your business today.
Whatever your view of marketing – as a function, as a philosophy, as a target to take the piss out of – it’s primary role is about maximising the value of the interactions between a business and it’s target audience. And that value comes out in being profitable.
And really, there are only three ways to maximise that value for the business.
- You get more consumers to buy your product or service. (which will increase your absolute profit).
- Or you get the consumers who buy your product or service to pay more for it (which will increase your percentage profit).
- Or, you work to cut cost out of the product or service without reducing the price the consumer pays for it.
To anyone who is a smart business leader, these three goals seem simple and obvious.
And yet, many marketers and lots of advertising and social media posts from so-called marketing experts who don’t seem to get this basic principle. Marketers who complain about their budgets being cut when they haven’t built a business case to justify the investment. Adverts that claim to boost search rankings and website traffic without talking about what impact that’s going to have on actual value generation.
One of our favourite questions to ask when it comes to any marketing activity, whether that’s research, brand development, communication, digital marketing or even e-commerce, is
‘How will this activity make more money than it costs to do?’
You’d be amazed how difficult many people find that question to answer, but to us, it seems fundamental and basic.
Because, it’s the profit that’s needed to cover all those advertising costs, To pay the wages of the staff. And so, it you are not driving profitable growth, you’re not even playing the right game.
A deliberately double meaning word.
Meaning #1 is obviously to go on the attack and to not be passive or defensive. And of course, meaning #2 can be to cause offense. We actually quite like both meanings, but for the purposes of this post, we’re talking about meaning #1. Meaning #2 can fuck off for now.
In the book, offensive is defined as an attitude, structure and strategy that successful businesses put in place.
It’s about being a thought leader, about being proactive and setting the standard for others. rather than being a follower and playing catch-up. It sounds great. And yet, it’s the complete opposite of how most businesses operate. Particularly big businesses.
Big businesses like predictability. They like using their scale to keep things ticking over the same so that they can turn in predictable and safe performance numbers. They are full of critics and coasters and are responsible for much of the complacent and mediocre marketing that clogs up our screens, our billboards and our airwaves.
It’s why brands that play more as a challenger brand are much more interesting.
Brands who challenge existing category norms and shake things up. Those brands know what it takes to be audacious and competitive.
Look at some of the examples from the Challenger project initiative like Brewdog in the UK or Who gives a crap in Australia if you want inspiration on how to be more competitive in an audacious (Muhammed Ali) type of way.
Marketing is at the heart of our expertise at three-brains, but we go out of our way not to be ‘marketing wankers’. You know that type, right? The ones who think the rest of the business should bend to the will of the marketing team, and come across like spoiled children when they don’t get their way. Because, actually, people who are really good at marketing recognise the value that pulling together other functions in the business can add to the marketing effort.
In previous posts, and in articles, we’ve reiterated that a core job of a marketer is to get the rest of the business to buy into the purpose of marketing as a way of doing business. To do marketing in an integrated way.
Look at our guide on how to set up an online store for example.
Based on our experience of setting up successful D2C stores, marketing alone could not and cannot deliver this. Supply chain, IT, finance resources need to be engaged and their expertise pulled into the business case and plan. So, being able to integrate multiple functional expertise areas behind a common goal is also a key part of being competitive.
Well, here’s where the rubber really hits the road on being competitive. In our post on ‘beware the strategist’ we singled out those smug individuals who called themselves strategists as though only they can own the strategy. In fact, the more we think about it, maybe you should look those strategists out more. Not for advice, but for a way for you to get ahead.
There’s a great quote from the world of poker (also a great game for stretching your competitive muscles), that if you look around the table and don’t know who the weakest player is, it’s probably you.
And in the world of business, anyone who calls themselves out as a strategist is essentially putting an obvious target on themselves as someone who probably doesn’t actually know what they are doing.
And here’s the thing.
The most successful people we mentioned before. They were successful because they were strategic. Not because they called themselves strategic.
They gathered information about the situation. They thought ahead of the multiple scenarios that could happen and had plans in place for each eventuality. And they prepared and practiced and got themselves fit and ready so that when challenge time came along, they were able to play at the top of their game.
And of course, the final part of the puzzle is about playing the game itself. In the business world, that’s the execution and the activation.
It’s the actions and activity and implementation that actually makes the difference and puts you ahead of the competition.
But if you have your profit worked out, you have the right offensive attitude and you are set up to take an integrated and strategic approach, then the execution is actually the easiest part.
But we reckon, many businesses, jump too quickly to the execution. That’s why there are so many competitively weak businesses and average marketing campaigns out there. And it’s your opportunity to find your competitive advantage.
Find your competitive advantage
No matter what line of business you are in, you ALWAYS have competitors.
You absolutely need to build up your own audience understanding, brand positioning and marketing and e-commerce activation. But you should always have this question in the back of your mind.
Is what you are doing truly better than what the competitors are doing?
Because, if it isn’t, someone else will win, not you.
There’s an old Billy Connolly joke that we think brings our point to life.
An animal documentary maker and his camera-man are deep in the African jungle filming.
They spot a large male lion and pretty soon they realise the lion has picked up their scent and is slowly making his way towards them. The camera-man slowly takes his shoes off and reaches into his rucksack, to pull out a pair of Nike running shoes.
“What are you doing?” whispers the documentary maker “you’ll never outrun the lion even in those.”
To which the camera-man replies, “I don’t need to outrun the lion. I just need to out-run you.”
And there’s the point.
You never know for sure what’s out there in the big bad world or what’s coming. But you should know who you are playing against and who you need to outrun when you need to.
Look at the businesses that are the most successful these days.
From big tech giants like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix and Apple to challenger brands like the aforementioned Brewdog and Who gives a crap.
Is the way they do business profitable, offensive, integrated, strategic and executed excellently?
Of course it is. That’s whey they have such a strong competitive advantage.
Are you POISEd for competitive advantage?
So, our challenge to you.
Are you POISEd to be more competitive?
Because, that’s what we’d be working on right now if we were you. Because your competitors are likely digging around in that rucksack for the running shoes right now.
Get ready to run.
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