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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 taking risks helps you find a stronger competitive advantage. Learn why being audacious puts you ahead of competitors. We also show you how, as we go through the 5 steps of the offensive marketing model. Read this to learn new ways to find and improve your competitive advantage.

Be audacious for competitive advantage

We recently shared one of our favourite brand essences which 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 put these two viewpoints on audacity in competition against each other, we know who’d win. In competitive situations, the audacious usually come out on top.

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

Ali or Schumacher?

The team who worked on that brand identity worried some people would link audacity to arrogance.

They worried people would link it to the perceived ‘bad’ side of competitiveness.

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

What they wanted to show was the “good” side of audacity and competitiveness. That was definitely more Ali than Schumacher. 

No longer fighting at that time, and sadly now no longer with us, 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’s 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 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 a competitiveness and a burning desire to be the best. But the way they approached being competitive led to very different perceptions and 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 articles on creative approvals and barriers to e-Commerce for examples). 

And often that decision is a mash-up of different views which end in compromise. A half-way house. A safe choice to not rock the boat too much.

Decision-making is hard. And marketing decision-making where you have the most need to be audacious is especially hard. 

With some extra reflection time as businesses bunker down for the great COVID-19 pause of 2020, we dived back into some classic marketing texts and articles.

We 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 spend a day ‘wargaming’ to look at competitors. They role play putting themselves in the shoes of their competitors and trying to work out their strategy. And then they review their own strategy against their competitor to work out 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 you drop into a planning presentation. But 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 factors. Profitable, Offensive, Integrated, Strategic and Execute (excellently).

There’s a lot of detail about each factor in the book. For the purposes of this article, we only summarise the most useful and still applicable points about 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 cost 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. 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 alway a cost. So, you need to work out what you’ll get in return for that. It needs to make a profit, or it’s not worth doing. 

We’re always amazed how many marketers and agencies don’t seem to 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 offense, to upset or insult.

We like both meanings. But for this article, we’re only talking about meaning #1. Check out our article on swear words in advertising if you want more on meaning #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 operate. And in particular, the opposite of how most big businesses operate.

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 brands that act as 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 like Brewdog in the UK or Who gives a crap in Australia to find challenger brands who are more competitive in an audacious (Muhammed Ali) way.

Integrated

Marketing is our main business here at Three-Brains. But we make a point 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 a previous article on how to explain marketing to non-marketers, we shared how marketers need 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 own the strategy. Which is rubbish of course. Because everyone needs to own the strategy. 

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 at other expertise areas like behavioural science for ideas on what makes customers tick. 

They think ahead to the multiple scenarios which could happen and have plans in place for each eventuality. And they prepare and practice. They get themselves fit and ready so when challenge time comes 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 the execution and the activation

It’s the actions and activity and implementation which makes the difference. That’s what puts you ahead of the competition.

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.

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’re 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 do better than what competitors do?

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

There’s an old Billy Connolly joke 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. Pretty soon they realise the lion has picked up their scent and is making his way towards them. The camera-man slowly takes his shoes off and reaches into his rucksack. He pulls 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 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 do. And of course, they are. That’s what give 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.

If you need a running mate to coach you to be more of a challenger brand, contact us. 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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