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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 8, 2008 12 years ago

Lasday: Street Smart Marketing

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'If you don't know where you're going any road will take you there.' Mark Twain

Lasday: Street Smart Marketing

What's Your Strategy?

'If you don't know where you're going any road will take you there.' Mark Twain

Can you summarize your company's strategy in 35 words or less? If so, would your senior associates put it the same way? In truth, very few professional service executives - builders, commercial realtors, community bankers, corporate attorneys, financial planners - and more, can answer this question.

How would that affect your Gulf Coast enterprise? Well, for starters, if most of your executives cannot articulate the objective, scope and advantage of your business enterprise in a simple statement, neither can anyone else on your team. And if your team can't articulate your own strategy to your customers, then who can? As Mark Twain once said, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there". That means you don't know what you want to happen.

Companies that don't have a simple and clear statement of strategy will likely fail to execute on any strategy. In a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, a statement on strategic corporate initiatives, says "In an astonishing number of organizations, executives, frontline employees, and all those in between are frustrated because no clear strategy exists for the company or its line of business".

Entrepreneurs at Gulf Coast enterprises mirror their larger corporate brethren in wondering why their carefully crafted strategies are never implemented. You can't assume that their mission statement or value proposition hiding on a dusty shelf, long term goal statement or strategic planning process will ensure competitive success. They all fall short in understanding the necessity of having a simple, clear, succinct strategy statement for immediate action. One that management can internalize and use as a beacon for making difficult marketing choices.

Keep it simple

With a clear definition, the risk takers in your enterprise can focus in on their own agreement which must first be accomplished. Then, implementation will become much simpler because the strategy's essence can be readily communicated within the enterprise.

Most Gulf Coast professional services have a defined landscape; that part of the market in which you compete. Will your strategy remain there? If not, what are the boundaries from which you will not venture. The boundaries are geographical, certainly. They may also be well within service levels, price, time lines, staffing, investment, talent or other considerations.

Let's be specific: Assume you are a builder of high end homes. To better compete in this economy, will you also now do mid-range homes or perhaps town homes or apartments? Would you consider a medical complex? Will you handle direct sales yourself? Staff up or downsize? Will you consider "vertical integration" such as going into heavy remodeling, or perhaps offering wholesale services to other builders? And what about establishing yourself in an adjoining county where permits are on the upswing?

Depending upon your own professional service, these may be the type of questions you will ask yourself in formulating your own strategy.

Competitive advantage.

Your competitive advantage is the essence of your strategy. What your business will do differently or better than others defines the all important means by which you will achieve your stated objectives. As you think of your own enterprise, you'll immediately know the trade-offs that distinguishes you strategically.

Define the objective

This is the single specific, detailed, precise action conversation that will derive results in the near term. This initiative has virtually almost nothing to do with your warm and fuzzy mission statement which details the ultimate purpose and the ethical values that spell out the underlying motivation for being in business originally.

The strategic objective then, must be specific, measurable, attainable and with time lines.

Define the scope

Who is the targeted customer, where is he and what is he looking for? Here you determine your offerings, geographic location and any vertical integration.

You'll need a retail psychographic lifestyle overview of your client base to allow not only focus but to eliminate waste in effort and funds by missing the target altogether.

Define the advantage

What is the single most distinctive feature of your service that you want to communicate? There should be only one such selling proposition - the Unique Selling Proposition (U.S.P.) - the difference between you and everyone else in your space; clarity about what makes your service distinctive and what most helps employees understand how they can contribute to successful execution of your strategy.

Wal-Mart, for example, could sum up its competitive strategic advantage as "lowest prices every day on the broadest range of goods that are always in stock and in convenient locations". That was easy! In a similar manner, our Gulf Coast commercial builder, might have this strategy as "custom designed, financed and created just for you on the Gulf Coast the way you dream it, on your time schedule, budgeted, coordinated and delivered as promised by our own internal award winning staff".

Delivering a strategy also calls for an analysis of competitors' current strategies and what they might change near term. The process must involve a rigorous, objective assessment of your own capabilities and resources along with those of competitors. Remember please, this is anything but a feel-good exercise in identifying core competencies.

The final word

The really creative part of developing your strategy is finding the sweet spot that aligns the firm's capabilities with customer needs in a way that competitors cannot match your unique selling proposition.

Once you know your strategy, the verbiage should be worked through in painstaking detail. Then, circulate the statement throughout the entire organization. A simple 35-word statement can have a substantial impact on a company's success. Spend the time to develop your advantage. Communicate it often. Energize and empower your people to act; and then live it every day!

Lou Lasday creates action-oriented Strategic Marketing Initiatives for Gulf Coast emerging companies. He has been a general partner of an Ad Age Top 100 marketing communications firm and Regional President of the American Marketing Association. Mr. Lasday can be reached at [email protected].

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