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Be audacious for competitive advantage

Michael Schumacher racing suit hanging in a display cabinet

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Why read this? : We look at why you need to take risks to build your competitive advantage. Learn why being audacious helps you go on the offensive in marketing. Read this to learn the thinking you need to build your competitive advantage.

We recently shared one of our favourite brand essences which used the word “audacious”. It’s a great word to build a brand around. So engaging and aspirational. Who wouldn’t want to be more audacious?

Or, maybe that’s not your style? You think it sounds a little arrogant? A little scary? Too much risk, not enough certainty? Not really about looking after your fellow human beings.

We can see both points of view. But if these competed with each other, we know the audacious would almost always come out on top.

Think about the most successful people in any competitive walk of life – business, sport, gambling, gaming. It’s the bold ones who take risks who usually win, right?

Ali or Schumacher?

The team who worked on that brand identity worried some customers might link audacity to arrogance.

They worried it’d be linked to the perceived ‘bad’ side of competitiveness.

They used the examples of 2 well-known competitive sports personalities to show the difference between audacity and arrogance. 

On the good side of audacity, Muhammed Ali. And on the bad side, Michael Schumacher.

Michael Schumacher racing suit hanging in a display cabinet

Ali was no longer fighting at that time and sadly is now no longer with us. But he was an undoubted winner. And the way he won, was with warmth, confidence and charm. Watch his old interviews. Talk to boxing fans. He was cocky and daring, but always positive and charismatic. His fans speak of him with awe and reverence. They adored him.  

Contrast that with 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 his competitive approach?

Do people these days speak of him with awe, reverence and adoration? Sympathy, maybe. But those other things, definitely not.

What both these sporting giants shared was competitiveness. A burning desire to be the best. However, the way they approached being competitive led to very different outcomes.

This made us think about how to be competitive in the business world. Where does audacity fit when you’re trying to find a competitive advantage?

Neon sign saying "I am Bold"

Competitive advantage in business

Let’s face it, most people aren’t audacious. Most businesses 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.

(Check out our creative approvals and barriers to e-Commerce articles, for example). 

Man on apartment balcony holding hand in front of face to say stop

And often that decision is a mash-up of different views. A safe compromise and halfway house which doesn’t rock the boat too much. This makes it hard to be audacious in your marketing decision-making.

It makes your search for a competitive advantage harder. Because anyone can make a safe choice. But not every brand can make an audacious one.  

With some extra reflection time at the moment because of COVID-19, we did some research into competitive advantage. And what we found in books and online was that most competitive advantage coverage is surprisingly old. 

Has looking for competitive advantage gone out of fashion?

At best, some businesses spend a day ‘wargaming’,  looking at competitors. They role play putting themselves in their competitors’ shoes and try to work out their strategy. And then they review their own strategy against that to work out how to make it better.

It’s not a bad exercise to do.

But very little tends to change after those sessions. Nothing sticks. You might do a SWOT analysis you drop into a planning presentation. However, it rarely changes the overall direction of a brand.

Offensive marketing

Most of the links point to Porter’s generic strategies. (See our competitive strategy in e-Commerce article for more on this). 

Less well known, but one of our favourite books on competitive advantage is Offensive Marketing* by Hugh Davidson.

It’s now a bit dated. It was written when Sainsbury was the #1 UK grocery retailer ahead of Tesco, for example. But the underlying model for a competitive approach to marketing stands the test of time pretty well. It centres on the POISE model.

Relay sprinter holding a baton in his blocks about to start a sprint relay

The POISE model

Davidson defines 5 factors for competitively successful marketing-led businesses. He uses the acronym POISE for these. Profitable, Offensive, Integrated, Strategic and Execute (excellently).

There’s a lot of detail about each factor in the book. For this article, we only summarise the most useful points dealing with competitive advantage.

Profitable

Whatever your opinion of marketing, its main role is to maximise the value of interactions between a business and its target audience. That value is measured by profitability.

There are 3 main ways to increase profitability :-

  • More customers buy your brand. (which increases your absolute profit).
  • Customers who buy your brand pay more for it. (increases your percentage profit).
  • You cut costs out of the brand without cutting price, but retain volume sales.
Glass jar knocked over on floor with coins spilled out onto the floor

These seem simple and obvious, don’t they?

Yet so many social media posts from so-called marketing experts don’t seem to get this basic principle. And so many conversations with marketers where it’s clear they don’t understand how the profit and loss works.  

Marketers who complain about budgets being cut, but who couldn’t tell you the sales and profit impact of their advertising campaigns. Adverts which claim to boost search rankings and website traffic without talking about what that means to your P&L. 

Take any marketing activity – research, communications or digital, for example. There’s always a cost. So, you have to work out what you’ll get in return for that. It has to make a profit, or it’s not worth doing. We’re always amazed at how many marketers and agencies don’t get this. 

Profitability covers all those advertising and media costs. It pays wages. If you’re not driving profitable growth, you’re not even playing the right game.

Offensive

A word with a deliberately double meaning.

Meaning #1 is to go on the attack. To not be passive or defensive. And of course, meaning #2 is to cause offence, to upset or insult.

We like both meanings. But for this article, we’re only talking about #1. Check out our article on swear words in advertising for more on #2. 

The book defines offensive as an attitude, structure and strategy that successful businesses put in place.

Woman sticking up one middle finger to the camera - the non-verbal way of swearing

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 work. And in particular, the opposite of how most big businesses work. Big businesses like predictability. They like to use their scale to keep things ticking over, so they can regularly turn in predictable and safe performance numbers. They’re full of critics and coasters. Responsible for much of the complacent and mediocre marketing which clogs up our screens, our billboards and our airwaves. 

It’s why challenger brands are much more interesting. Brands who challenge existing category norms and shake things up. Those brands know what it takes to be audaciously competitive.

Look at examples from the Challenger project initiative. Brewdog in the UK, or Who gives a crap in Australia, for example. These challenger brands compete in an audacious (Muhammed Ali) way.

Integrated

Marketing is our main business here at Three-Brains. But we do our best to not be ‘marketing wankers’.

You know that type, right?

The ones who think the rest of the business should bend to the will of marketing. Who come across like spoiled children when they don’t get their way.

The best marketers recognise business is more than marketing. There’s huge value in influencing other business functions to support the marketing effort.

A rope net with many connections

In our explaining marketing to non-marketers article, we shared how marketers have to influence the rest of the business. To persuade them to help do marketing in an integrated way.

Look at our functions of e-Commerce guide, for example.

Based on our experience of setting up successful D2C stores, marketing alone couldn’t deliver this. You need supply chain, IT and finance to help create the business case, and activate the plan in an integrated way.

So, being able to integrate multiple functional expertise areas behind a common goal is also a key part of finding your competitive advantage.

Strategic

Well, here’s where the rubber really hits the road on finding your competitive advantage.

In our beware the strategist article, we singled out those smug individuals who called themselves strategists. As if only they can do strategy. Which is rubbish of course. Because everyone can and should be strategic. 

In fact, the more we think about it, maybe you should look for these strategists more often. Not for advice. But, for a way to get ahead.

Board level view of a chessboard as you are playing black and your opponent is moving their white queen

There’s a great poker quote, that if you look around the table and don’t know who the weakest player is … it’s probably you.

In business, anyone who feels the need to call themselves a strategist puts an obvious target on themselves. A target which says this person isn’t strategic at all.

Because here’s the thing with strategy. People and brands are successful because they are strategic. Not because they call themselves strategic.

Real strategic thinkers gather marketing data about the situation. They look to expertise areas like behavioural science for ideas on what makes customers tick. Then, they think ahead. They prepare for different eventualities. That means when challenges come along, they’re ready for anything. 

Execute (excellently)

And of course, the final part of the puzzle is about playing the game itself.

In marketing, that’s execution and activation

It’s actions and activities which get you ahead of competitors. These make the difference between winning and losing. 

Great executions which bring the brand essence and values to life, and tap into the emotions of your target audience

Outdoor billboard with writing that says this will drive $1m in sales - probably

But if you have your profit worked out, you have the right offensive attitude and you’re set up to take an integrated and strategic approach, then the execution is actually the easiest part. It’s taking all that thinking about making your competitive advantage come to life.

Find your competitive advantage

No matter what line of business you’re in, you ALWAYS have competitors.

You absolutely have to build your own customer 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 do better than what competitors do?

Because, if it isn’t, someone else will win, not you.

There’s an old Billy Connolly joke that brings our point to life.

An animal documentary maker and his cameraman are deep in the African jungle filming.

They spot a large male lion. Pretty soon they realise the lion has picked up their scent and is making his way towards them. The cameraman slowly takes his shoes off and reaches into his rucksack. He pulls out a pair of running shoes.

“What are you doing?” whispers the documentary maker. “You’ll never outrun a lion even in those.”

To which the cameraman replies, “I don’t need to outrun the lion. I just need to outrun 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’re playing against, and who you need to outrun.

Look at the businesses which 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? Are they audacious? 

Of course they are. That’s what gives them their competitive advantage. 

Triangular warning sticker with large exclamation mark on a wall. Sticker has many rips and tears in it.

Are you POISEd for competitive advantage?

So, our challenge to you. Are you POISEd to find your competitive advantage?

Because that’s what we’d be working on right now if we were you. Your competitors are digging around in that rucksack for the running shoes.

Get ready to run.

Drop us a line, if you need a running mate to coach you to become more of a challenger brand, We’d love to help you find your competitive advantage. 

*As Amazon affiliates, we earn from every qualifying purchase

Relay sprinter holding a baton in his blocks about to start a sprint relay

Photo credits

Schumacher outfit : Photo by ZU photography on Unsplash

I am bold : Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

Hand / Stop : Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Sprint : Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

Coins spilled from jar : Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

Woman giving the finger : Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Rope Netting : Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash

Strategy (Chess) : Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Billboard (adapted) : Photo by Kate Trysh on Unsplash

Attention sign : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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