I was looking back through some files and found an article from the July/August 2011 issue of The Harvard Business Review: “Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage.” I’m sure I kept it because its basic premise: the need for flexible, adaptable, sense and respond organizations is exactly the point we made in our book Value Acceleration. (Come on, we all love articles that support our positions).
The article’s authors note that competitive advantage “no longer arises exclusively from position, scale, and first order capabilities in producing or delivering an offering.” They note that to thrive and survive you have to be “quick to read and act on signals of change.” This further supports my premise that the CMO must spend a lot of time out with customers to be able to sense those signals of change.
Business success comes to those who can skate where the puck is going to be as Wayne Gretzky famously said. And once there, you have to support trying new things. In the same HBR article, Scott Cook of Intuit is quoted, “It is only a failure if we fail to get the learning.”
As we note in our book, competitive advantage comes from aligning the capabilities of your company with the current and future needs of your customers. It is those “future needs” that are hardest to sense; and yet that is where the opportunities lie. Everything else can be outsourced, and so no longer a competitive advantage.
The great CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) brands used to have a competitive advantage from their ability to create unique and excellent products. The major retailers have access to outstanding companies that can create equally good (if not better) products for them as “house brands.” If the retailer already has substantial foot traffic and they can produce as good or better products than the brands do, who needs the more expensive branded products. (I recently posted on this specific issue.)
The key is to sense and respond to consumer needs, wants and demands. Are the CPG brand managers out in the field with customers, or too busy crunching data to understand yesterday in the hopes it will predict tomorrow? It can, until it doesn’t, and that’s when the new leader emerges.
Get flexible, get adaptable, and beyond all else, get in touch with your customer. It is your job to think like the customer, not hope they think like you.