Navigate a Challenging Business Environment and Stay Ahead of Your Competition

When facing a challenging business environment, which these days is true for almost every industry, companies don’t always have the time to make considered decisions. Agility has become a much-needed skill.

So, how can companies be better prepared for whatever the future holds? 

Agility needs preparation and with this in mind, most major organisations conduct some sort of societal trend following in the hope that they will correctly “guess” what might happen. You may be one of them. So it might surprise you that I believe this is a huge mistake, especially if you think that trends alone will better prepare your organisation!

Think about it. Most companies follow the same trends, attend the same trend “shows” & conferences, and get the same or at least very similar reports.

This results in them all working on the same ideas and concepts, and eventually launching very similar products and services or campaigns, that struggle to compete effectively.

Have you never wondered why suddenly everyone is talking about a certain topic, using similar slogans, or launching equivalent offers? Now you know why!

Here’s how to avoid this and develop a powerful competitive advantage.

 

Market Evidence

I want to start by sharing just one example of the problem I just mentioned. A few years ago, we started seeing many companies using the idea of “YES” and “NO” in their advertising. In Europe, these included:

  • The Swiss Migros Bank: see the videos here – only in French & German, I’m afraid but still easy to understand whatever language you speak.
  • Coke’s “Say Yes to Love” campaign.
  • Coke say yes to love

 

  • BMW 320i  Campaign YES YOU CAN

 

These are just three examples from very different industries, but I’m sure there are many others in your own country. (If so, please share the example in the comments below.)

Clearly, the trend for more independence and freedom has been emphasised in all three organisations mentioned above. Perhaps they are working with the same trend or advertising agency? Or maybe they are buying the same external trends report. It certainly looks like it, doesn’t it?

Companies that develop concepts based upon this type of external resource alone can find themselves in a race to be the first to market when using the ideas these reports suggest.

Incidentally, it is not always best to be the first when introducing new concepts to consumers, especially when they require learning new ways of thinking or working.

So what can you do about it? The vital step that many – dare I say most – organisations don’t take, is to turn the trends they are following into plausible future scenarios.

Scenario planning ensures original thinking from which proprietary ideas are conceived, and takes the development of new concepts in-house, where it belongs.

Then, the new product and service concepts, the new advertising campaigns, and the new promotions that are designed are unlikely to be the same as those of the competition and will, therefore, have a greater chance of success.

 

Turning Trends

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5 Business Success Factors (So You’re Ready for Anything!)

We are sweltering in the Northern Hemisphere with record temperatures, so here’s a “cool” idea on how businesses can get ready for anything by applying these success factors.

Every winter, the media is full of stories of record snowfalls somewhere in the world, whether in the US, Europe or in the Far East. Despite all the sophisticated technologies at our disposition, we just never seem to be prepared. So what are the success factors of readiness?

Remember winter storm Juno in the USA in 2015? It dropped a couple of feet of snow on the Eastern coastline of North America. According to the Weather Channel its snowfall broke records in Worcester, MA, although in most other places it fell far below that of other storms from 2013 all the way back to 1978.

In the same year, in the North of the UK, the region was battered with a rare blast of thundersnow – an unnerving combination of thunderstorms and downpours of snow. As if that wasn’t enough, they were soon preparing to do battle with the elements with yet another storm shortly afterwards.

Now what do all these storms have to do with business you might wonder? Well for me they are a great illustration of the problems that many companies can face from time to time. Governments and city maintenance teams prepare for winter by organising vast stocks of grit and salt, as well as heavy snow-clearing machinery. But despite all this preparation, they still seem to be caught off-guard when they need to use them.

The same goes for businesses. Companies follow trends and expect to be ready for anything; they’re not!

The reason is that there are two serious problems with that way of thinking:

Firstly they are all following the same trends, attending the same trend “shows” & conferences, and getting the same or at least very similar trend reports.

And secondly, they think that knowing the trends will somehow protect them from future risks and catastrophes. However, having the right material still doesn’t stop bad things happening, as we’ve seen this winter. 

So let’s take a look at what you can do to be better prepared and not get regularly “snowed-in” as many countries are this winter.

The Problem with Trend following alone

As I already mentioned, trend following suppliers are providing almost identical information to all their clients. This results in their clients then working on the same ideas & concepts and eventually launching very similar, non-competitive products and services. Have you never wondered why suddenly everyone is talking about a certain topic, or using similar slogans in their advertising? Simplistic trend following is probably the reason. 

As an example, think about how many companies have used the idea of “YES” and “NO” in their advertising in the past couple of years. These include:

  • The Swiss Migros Bank: see the videos here – sorry only in French & German but still easy to understand
  • BMW 320i YES, YOU, CAN
  • Orange telecom mobile
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Sourcing and Services Matter: Why Price Alone Won’t get your Customers to Stay

Price wars are a standard challenge of marketers, whether working on the retail or manufacturing side. They have become more frequent in the last couple of years following the recession. Consumers are today even more price sensitive and are searching for great value and even greater deals. However as most retailers are now claiming lower prices, it becomes less of a differentiator. I therefore read with interest that Walmart is moving from its emphasis on low prices to one on sourcing.

In 2007 Walmart replaced its “Always Low Prices, Always” slogan by “Save Money Live Better”, so this new push with the message “ Made in the US” is worth noting. This latest announcement is made in conjunction with its promise of an additional $10 million in grants to non-profits focused on “on-shoring” manufacturing efforts.

 

Target announced last October its plans to introduce the “ Target Sustainable Product Standard” which was developed to “establish a common language, definition, and process for qualifying what makes a product more sustainable.” Target will ask vendors to complete an assessment that is designed to determine a sustainability score for their products. Products will be assigned a score of between zero and 100 “based on the sustainability of ingredients, ingredient transparency, and overall environmental impact”.

 

Both these initiatives show a move to a more caring retail environment. A study run by the Boston Consulting Group at the end of last year, found that more than half of companies with sales greater than $1 billion are actively planning or considering to bring production back from China to the U.S. This rise from a mere 37% just six months earlier shows a significant shift in American sensitivity.

 

Jumping across the “pond” to the UK, something similar is happening in terms of shifting attention from price to value, or should I say values?

 

Tesco recently introduced their “ Price Promise”, a pledge to match the price of a basket of both own-label and branded products at Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons, or to offer customers a voucher at the till for the difference. Sainsbury’s has appealed to the Advertising Standards Authority, arguing that this claim was misleading customers. However, their wrath was, in part at least, sparked by the fact that this new Tesco pledge came in response to their own highly successful “Brand Match” scheme, although the latter only compares branded products.

 

Sainsbury’s has now retaliated with the launch of a new campaign with the title “ Same price, Different values”, a possible dig at the fact that although Tesco won the ASA appeal, Sainsbury’s might appeal as they claim that their own-label products cannot be compared since many are locally produced. To support this position, the National Farmers’ Union has now taken a stance, backing Sainsbury’s. In light of last year’s  horse-meat scandal, the values of retailers and the sourcing of food has become even more crucial, and Sainsbury’s sees this latest row as an opportunity … Click to continue reading

The Great Trends Hoax: They don’t give a Business a Competitive Advantage

Do you follow trends? I bet you do! Everyone likes talking about the future, imagining what it might hold and then taking pride in seeing that they were “right”, that what they had “predicted” has come true. If this is how you work with trends, then you must read this post – urgently!

There are many trend providers today, from futurologists, to trend agencies, to gurus, all claiming to have “the truth”. An ex-colleague of mine made an interesting comment to me last weekend, as we hiked up to the top of La Dole, one of the small hills in the Lac Leman area of Switzerland where I live.

We were discussing trend following and she was comparing the providers with which her company had worked in the last five or ten years. Which of them “had got it right” and which ones hadn’t. I said that I wasn’t too keen on businesses working with trends alone, as there was no competitive advantage in doing so. She then made a wonderful comment: “You’re right of course. In fact when you go to these meetings to hear about the latest trends each year, you are sitting with a group of 20, 50, 100 or often even more people, all hearing the same presentations and “predictions”. If you all go back and start working on actions to respond to the future that was just presented, you’re all doing the same things and are in a way actually making the predictions come true”.

As I said, I have never really liked working with trends other than for developing plausible future scenarios, but she had put one of my concerns into words; you don’t gain competitive advantage from following trends. Whilst they may at best provide indications of some tactical actions you might take in the short-term, trends cannot help you develop your vision and strategy.

So if you want to achieve the real advantage of following trends and to get a head-start over your competition, then it’s time you started developing your own future scenarios. How? Well, here’s a 10-step approach that I have found has worked with many of my clients, which assumes that you are already following trends of some description:

10-Step Process

  1. Identify the most relevant trends for your category from all those that you are currently following. This evaluation is often best handled by your market research and insight group, who have access to a lot of information, both internal and external, and not just on trends. If this is a new area for you all, you may decide to seek some external support to help you make these first difficult choices.
  2. Invite a group of about 10-15 people from various departments within the organisation and who have ideas about what will happen in their different areas of the business, to join your “Futures” team. I have found that when invited, few refuse and in fact more ask to join the group when they hear about it, than
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