In 1980 Michael Porter transformed the marketing world with his text on Competitive Strategy. It remains a brilliant work in its simplicity, a fundamental approach to analyzing the competitive landscape. Porter’s five forces brought clarity to a topic muddied by countless unproven approaches.
But there’s even a simpler approach: Three words that inspire even the smallest competitor to dream big.
Be big somewhere.
If you can’t compete with the big boys in their space, make a smaller space. Control the scope of your solution to one only your brand can satisfy. Of course it has to be realistic and meaningful to customers. But by the fundamental laws of mass merchandising, customization of solutions will almost always be rewarded with greater target attention and higher profit margins.
Many marketers mistake market opportunity for market size. But consider this: Would you rather own a 1% share of a market that’s 1 million strong or a 30% share of a market that’s a tenth that size…with higher profit margins?
I know. It’s against a marketer’s very nature to think small, but as a strategic consideration, it can be the best fuel your small or middle-market brand can get. And with all you’ll learn at a lower risk inherent in a more tightly defined market, you’ll be far more efficient at expanding to larger ponds later. This kind of long run approach drives long-term brand profitability.
If you can’t be a big fish in a big pond, shrink the pond.
You can’t put a whale into a fish bowl. But it doesn’t take a huge fish to rule there. So here are a few tips to shrink your way to success.
FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS.
First focus on your customers.
Draw careful distinctions between what customers think they WANT and what your expertise tells you they truly NEED to satisfy that want. For example, people have long searched for their favorite radio station that plays the kind of music they are in the mood for, when they are in the mood. What they really needed was a way to access a personally customizable music playlist without buying all the recordings. Enter Pandora. People couldn’t “want” it because they didn’t know the technology existed. The magic lies in the way you analyze and interpret a customer stated want.
Next focus on your offer.
Second, focus your offer and positioning so tightly that the offer itself actually defines a segment, albeit smaller. Competitors tend to disappear when your brand appears to be the only one that can satisfy a very specific set of needs. This strategy done right can make your brand appear as prominent as the giants, to those who matter.
Then focus on your motives.
Be authentic. If your brand is truly customer focused in the most authentic way, you have no competition in the traditional sense. In its place, you have a commitment to serve your customers in a way they cannot be served elsewhere. That demands being constantly connected to your customers as well as non-customers. Anticipating their needs. Developing solutions based on your thought leadership around the application of new technologies, techniques, and trends.
And don’t forget about alignment. Aligning your business goals with those of your customers and your employees makes for a self-perpetuating success. Be sure to conduct a strategic alignment exercise at least once a year to be sure your brand is keeping up with changes in technology, regulation, competition, and other market forces.
A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on “Why Strategy and Execution Unravels…” squarely nails a sore spot many of us feel acutely but are too proud to admit: “…no Gantt chart survives contact with reality.”
Even with adequate communication, strategic misalignment can occur. The best way to get every employee on the same page is with learning by doing.
As hard as leaders try, it’s rare that downstream execution efforts precisely reflect initial scheduling and strategic intent. And it’s not just misalignment of the ranks that’s to blame. After all, most organizations spend a lot of time and money communicating strategic plans – even to the point of asking downstream stakeholders if they are clear on strategic priorities … “Yes” is an easy box to check.
For researchers, it’s easier to quantify closed-ended (yes/no) questions than ‘dig for the gold’ in open-ended survey responses. So it’s no surprise that in a recent study among thousands of managers who check the “Yes, I’m clear” box, only 55% of them surveyed in a recent study could name even ONE of their company’s top strategic priorities (Sull, Sull & Homkes). Maybe there should have been a selection for “Yes, I think I kinda understand our top priorities but can’t articulate them.”
The above-mentioned HBR article, “Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to do About It” (March 2015) is based on a survey administered to 7,600 managers in 262 countries across 300 industries. It lists five of the most pervasive myths surrounding the gaps between strategy and execution, which account for unsatisfactory business results.
Execution equals alignment
Execution means sticking to the plan
Communication equals understanding
A performance culture drives execution
Execution should be driven from the top down
The article is a great read and lands on a premise espoused in my book, “Getting There from Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution:” Though many organizations are expert at communicating strategic objectives to stakeholders, communication is not enough.
Understanding Strategic Intent v “Flawless Execution”
Memorizing a few bullet points won’t assure flawless execution. In fact, “flawless execution” itself promotes a perspective that undermines its own intent by implying lack of flexibility. It doesn’t account for changes in the environment and the myriad variables often visible only to the eyes and ears of those downstream. When a football receiver finds himself in possession of the ball and he’s suddenly staring down a wall of defense that looks decidedly different than in the planned play, he makes a decision to run out of bounds instead of toward the goal line. Though he did not execute “flawlessly” according to the plan, the result outweighed the risks, and still racked up yardage—the strategic priority. To stick with the original plan may have meant being tackled, injured, or risk a fumble and turnover. It was a judgement call by a receiver downfield who had perspective no other player or coach could have. In the same way, delegating downstream decision-making for strategic execution can distribute responsibilities among stakeholders. This unburdens leaders from the consequences of blind spots often encountered when “puppeteering” from above.
Confirming downstream stakeholders truly understand the intent of strategic priorities empowers them to be insightful and flexible about how they execute (within limits). Instead of pushing alignment downward, an organization can actually align culture upward to meet strategic intent. This can be accomplished by taking action to:
Educate about the meaning behind the strategic priorities, what it means to each stakeholder in their functional role
Develop behaviors that contribute to implementation of strategic priorities at various functional levels
Establish channels to push insights upstream quickly
Allow for flexibility in both strategy and execution while in-play—as long as they are deliberate and coordinated
Ideally strategic priorities are expressed in terms of how they benefit customers directly or how they benefit the organization so it can better serve its customers. Through this lens, execution may not look exactly like what the strategic architects envisioned, but it can be even more effective.
More than just communicating, truly educating and training all levels of stakeholders about their active roles in supporting strategic priorities is essential to bridge strategy and execution. Allowing for flexibility in strategy can take advantage of downstream perspective as well as help master the art of agility. Donald Sull (senior lecturer at MIT Sloan) coined the “strategy loop” concept, which allows for reshaping strategy, potentially in mid-play, to account for changes in any number of variables. Given our modern era ability to garner real-time feedback, it’s more important than ever before to ride the reshaping waves of change toward executional success.
Aligning More than Minds, but Also Behaviors
To do is to learn. People can learn how to directly contribute to strategic priorities faster if they are shown direct links between their daily jobs and the priorities. This can be accomplished by providing downstream stakeholders with concrete, measurable examples of things they can do every day in the course of their functional roles to address specific strategic priorities. Ideally, these tasks should be framed in a customer focus. With this in place, organizations can harness untapped power for execution. This strategy can empower every soul in the organization to put their shoulder to the same wheel—all in the name of the customer. As personal relevance to strategic priorities increases with stakeholders, so does distributed power for execution.
Though the idea seems “V8-simple,” in practice it can be a significant undertaking. This kind of change proposition requires a deliberate commitment of resources and a permanent shift in culture.
The best way to begin is to focus on confirming your downstream stakeholders (those in your critical path for execution) truly understand the strategic intent, how they can actively participate in achieving it, and what it means to them in their role.
What are the ingredients of powerful RAPPORT? How can you harness the force that projects charisma, persuasion, negotiating power, and credibility to all the stakeholders who affect your work life? Not only your boss. Not just your team. But people within every function of your organization and all your brands’ stakeholders, including customers.
To take it even further, RAPPORT can be scaled to unite brands and their customers, employees and employers; all to achieve real business results.
Believe it or not, this kind of power can be acquired by following only seven down-to-earth steps called The RAPPORT Process™.
(R) Research — Know your stakeholders
(A) Analysis — Determine not just what they want, but what they need to do to get what they want (your strategy). Pick your battles by focusing on needs that your solutions can best facilitate, and the segments that value them most.
(P) Positioning — Develop a way to deliver your strategy that addresses your stakeholders’ perceived wants. Begin with their objective and work backwards to your own. Focus on the single facet of your stakeholders’ want that you can “own.” Let them discover all the other great benefits later. Be big somewhere, rather than small everywhere.
(P) Planning — Once you know what your stakeholders want and what they need to do to get it, you need a detailed approach. Formalize the events, costs, benefits, and sequence in a plan.
(O) Operation — Execute your plan…roll it out…take action
(R) Results — Measure your outcomes and progress toward your goals
(T) Translation — How can you do this better next time?
Imagine everyone in your organization—from the stockroom to the boardroom—using this process to deal with every kind of issue from improving shipping efficiencies to launching new brands. Minds aligned. Conflicts averted. Cultures united. Commerce accelerated. Efficiencies unlocked. Common process means common language and focus. And that means a better rapport, which opens a whole new universe of benefits—all from operational alignment through The RAPPORT Process.
Much like the Quality movement in decades past, the RAPPORT revolution can help businesses achieve greater customer satisfaction, increase revenues and margins, and improve operational efficiencies. GroPartners is launching a multi-year trial of our trademarked RAPPORT Process for organizations that believe alignment sets into motion a chain of heightened customer and employee satisfaction, which leads to enhanced revenues and margins. Our aim is to build a case of solid metrics on actual organizational implementation.
Contact us if you’d like to participate in our trial. This process might be a way for you (and your fellow employees and your customers) to get everything you want at work this year, and beyond.
You can read more about the RAPPORT Process in my new book, “Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution” available on Amazon http://amzn.to/1yK9DTG or digital version on Apple iBooks.
Many organizations are very good at developing brand and marketing strategies that have the potential to produce excellent business results. But often these strategies become diluted or even derailed due to misaligned execution. Other organizations are experts at flawless execution of strategies that may not align with actual customer behaviors and organizational goals. The reality is that it takes both to succeed. And that requires a holistic approach, connecting internal and external components to create a symbiotic brand.
When marketers fail, it is generally tied to their inability to connect strategy with in-market execution. My new book, “Getting There from Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution,” takes on the task of not only outlining how critical it is to bridge this gap but also identifying the rewards on the other side: operational excellence and in-market impact. It is an excellent reference for perspective and processes that help bridge expectations, experiences, and behaviors among all brand stakeholders at every touchpoint.
Visit http://amzn.to/1yK9DTG to download a copy. Whatever your goals, it will help you get there from here by giving you tools and processes to effectively bridge strategy and execution for better business results.
Getting There from Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution
Page 15: The power of the bridge between strategy and execution
Page 59: The RAPPORT Process; a master process and language that helps align every level of your organization
Page 125: How to conduct an effective Strategic Summit
Page 42: How to know a good vision statement when you see one
Page 116: How to build a metrics bridge dashboard
Page 17: The true relationship of brand and marketing
Page 21: Harnessing the relationship between business, brand, and innovation
Page 34: Finding strategic alignment control points
Page 53: How to be sure you’re selecting the right opportunities
Page 56: When estimating can be better than counting
A creatively relevant story about people’s lives can lead to stronger brand relationships…even in B2B.
Over the past decade, content marketing has become the staple best practice for strengthening brand relationships. Blogs (like this one), white paper marketing, book authorship, branded documentaries, and one of the most intriguing and creative forms—branded webisodes—provide today’s marketer with an expanded palette of options to deepen and broaden customer relationships. The use of Webisodes—part of a trend called branded entertainment—is growing because marketers are compelled to find new methods to reach consumers in an era when traditional media are losing personal engagement time to the Internet. Webisode formats can range from a previews/trailers; a promotional series, part of a collection of shorts, or conversely, segments of a long form piece such as a TV series.
In any of the above formats, effective webisodes:
Use entertainment and video storytelling to engage stakeholders
Television and movies taught us that visual storytelling is the “killer app” for engagement. Done well, ironic humor and humanitarian appeal are especially effective approaches.
Emotionalize the brand
Emotion adds dimension more powerful and motivating than even logic to any relationship.
Relate to issues first
Focusing on issues or cause (social, life stage, cultural, moral, political, or other lightning rods) tap into people’s mind at a visceral level in contrast to sales approaches that trigger emotional barriers.
Promote buying v selling
When people “buy in” to a cause or an issue, selling isn’t needed to make a transaction.
As my mom used to say, “Everything’s different but nothing has changed.” Blogs are really just reincarnations of the company newsletter with one big difference: WordPress and other digital blogging tools make it easier for anyone with a computer to be a publisher. White papers are still one of the best tools for thought leadership positioning. The difference here is digital creation and access. And webisodes are very much like early radio and TV serials, sponsored, owned, and produced by advertisers and their agencies instead of by producers and networks. The difference is the medium: broadcast versus the internet, the latter providing some game-changing advantages.
Media trending toward web video
It’s no longer news that web video is taking a bite out of TV viewership. Nielsen’s (television audience research) most recent study indicates that viewing by 18-24-year-olds dropped by a little more than 4-and-a-half hours per week. http://bit.ly/1p7nVvc That’s equivalent to roughly 40 minutes per day.
At the same time, YouTube now reports that:
YouTube reaches more US adults ages 18-34 than any single cable network
More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month
Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube—that’s almost an hour for every person on Earth
100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute
YouTube is localized in 61 countries and across 61 languages
My purpose in citing these stats isn’t to diminish TV advertising. It’s still the 800-pound gorilla to beat. But rather, my point is to emphasize that webisode marketing done right—with focused objectives, cogent strategies, and the right metrics attached—can now create a serious competitive advantage with clear ROI. For many brands that either can’t afford TV time or don’t fit into the TV advertising model (such as B2B), webisodes can present a green field of opportunity.
Can webisodes deliver real business results?
Many media historians portray our current period as the “post-broadcast era,” implying that audiences are sharing more of their video consumption with the web and media other than broadcast. Not to say that web entertainment will replace broadcast or cable TV. That would be like doomsters of the 1940’s and ‘50s who presaged TV replacing radio. And though it probably won’t displace TV, web video does contribute to an ever-fragmenting, increasingly complex media landscape in which consumers have so much choice that traditional media-driven marketing it is neither practical nor effective. That’s why content-driven marketing provides a sorely needed solution. It creates valuable, targeted content to repurpose in as many media as possible.
On the flip side, in order to get views, web video needs to be supported with targeted search marketing, SEO techniques, social media, and traditional promotion. This support allows audiences to discover what’s important to them, in a compelling format, on demand—when they have a specific heightened need or interest. Webisodes fit this solution profile like a glove, versus dubiously relevant promotional content force fed as an inline component of entertainment programming (aka TV).
On October 6, 2006, rapper Sean Combs (aka P. Diddy) debuted DiddyTV, sponsored by Burger King. Today, YouTube shows the first webisode garnering more than 993,000 views and 70,000 subscribers while building a social web brand community for a cultural niche. Not bad for an inexpensive webisode series. However, if you look deeper into the comments and thumbs down click counts, you might see a balanced story.
The following year, Mini Cooper launched Starsky & Hutch/Dukes of Hazzard webisode spoof “Hammer & Coop.” The effort, which centered around a six-episode web series, generated 1.5 million views and consumer interest that eventually translated into 800 vehicle sales (at least that’s the official report). But Mini didn’t just entertain visitors, it also presented a Mini web configuration tool to bring visitors closer to buying. The official report is: “Three hundred seven thousand unique visitors went directly to Hammerandcoop.com and spent an average of six minutes viewing the videos. Another 722,000 connected there through miniusa.com. Of the 722,000, 355,000 of them configured a Mini (by model, engine and extras); 22,000 people saved their configurations; and 2,400 of those sent them to dealers. Min reports that data represented about a 33% conversion rate that translated to about 800 vehicle sales.” http://adage.com/article/madisonvine-case-study/initial-results-mini-s-hammer-coop-effort/116193/
While I see a couple holes in the metrics strategy (from what I can tell, the 307,000 hammerandcoop.com visitors weren’t directly connected to configuring a car or the resulting sales funnel), this early example of webisode infotainment broke new ground for the medium. Bottom line: Mini Cooper sales were down 4% Q1 2007 YOY. However, US Mini Cooper annual sales hit their highest historic point to date in 2008, at 54,077 units. http://www.goodcarbadcar.net/2011/01/mini-cooper-sales-figures.html It gives pause for thought.
Webisodes for B2B
What about for business to business brands? Blendtec makes blending technology for home, manufacturing, and foodservice. They launched their webisode series “Will it Blend” (www.willitblend.com) in 2007, featuring its founder, Tom Dickson, in a wacky role as a lab technician attempting to grind up everything from cubic zirconium “diamonds” to iPhones in Blendtec brand blenders. YouTube shows more than 6.7 million views on the “diamond blend” show including more than 16,000 likes and only 2013 thumbs down.
AnotherB2B example is an animated production by Lawson, a provider of software and service solutions in the manufacturing, distribution, maintenance and service sector industries. This webisode provides a good competitive positioning tool, effectively promoting Lawson’s “Simpler is Better” brand. It’s no slouch for such a nichey industrial target at more than 89,000 views. I’d like to see a metrics bridge that connects these views to results in a shift in positioning, revenues, and/or margins.
Business-to-business brands can use content marketing—including webisodes—to exploit market niches with a fresh approach to engaging their customers, limited only by imagination and, of course, budget. Unlike broadcast TV, web presence is free, so the only cost in getting a series on the web is production, which can be managed incrementally with theme, creative development, and production values, which new technology has made dramatically more efficient.
But wait. TV has built-in audiences (that’s what you pay the stations and networks for). With webisodes, you’ll have to generate the audiences yourself (you knew there had to be a catch). This “detail” has been the primary barrier in the success of many web videos.
What’s the right objective for webisodes?
Social media and advertising can get pretty expensive in the quest to promote your webisodes for customer acquisition. So why not start by using them to improve the lifetime value of your current customers? One excellent use for webisodes is cross selling lines to existing customers. Webisodes can provide context (relevant issues and situations that uncover real needs) in dramatic, comedic, or simply interesting ways (how to, etc.). This leads the customer to buy into a larger brand context and a larger solution set. With effective funneling surrounding the webisodes, it’s possible to tightly track ROI on existing or past customers.
A proven ROI formula?
Despite a few days of exhaustive research on the web, I haven’t been able to identify any recent B2B webisode examples. Maybe that’s because there’s not yet a tried and true formula that links webisodes to ROI. GroPartners is now engaged with one of our clients in an effort to do just that. We’ll keep you posted.
Meanwhile, if you have any additional information on webisodes that you’d like to share on my blogpost, please leave a comment (link top of page). I’d love to post it.
The gaps between strategy and execution are very real and at the heart of why so many business growth plans fail. Communication, alignment, staff attrition, “agendas,” and a hundred other factors contribute to breaches between strategic leadership and the ultimate actions of the tacticians who execute the plans.
A common challenge among organizations is how to identify these myriad gaps, define directives that fill them, and align leaders on making them happen…all while remaining aligned with the core purpose of the organization (aka brand vision). Addressing this challenge requires a business process that spans a 360-degree view of the organization and its environment on every front, including external forces such as suppliers, distributors and customers. This process can be the catalyst that brings the business model to life.
An ideal solution might be found in a well-defined, repeatable process that strives to make the lives of all the organization’s stakeholders better at once. By aligning common goals of all the organization’s stakeholders and corporate goals, core skills, talent, and assets, the process would guide operations to satisfy the ‘ultimate equation:’ Customer Expectations = Customer Experience. That means aligning employees, leaders, partners/distribution channels, operations, and others with customer goals in a holistic business process.