Brand Strategy

Is Your Brand Training to Win or Just Happy to Compete?

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Bill Winchester


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Competition ImageWhy is it that a lot of brands seem to lack the drive to compete? Marketing departments that are run by people who will kill you at racquetball, trounce you in a 5K or dunk over you in a game of basketball become shrinking violets when faced with a rival brand.

Marketing decisions that should literally take minutes, instead take months, bogged down in research and discombobulated decision-making. The “run-it-up-the-flagpole” culture that exists in America today has created a sort of corporate genetic mutation. Brands that should be lithe and agile, instead have mutated into weak-muscled, milquetoasts and are in danger of getting mowed down when the game gets serious.

But why? Why would a company choose to be non-competitive? There must be a good reason.

There’s a time to plan and a time to play

I believe it’s the disease of having to prove ROI, without a shadow of doubt, before a product or marketing campaign even exists. Instead of developing new products and innovative marketing campaigns, companies develop arcane algorithms and processes. Marketing and new product development stops resembling a game of racquetball or basketball, requiring quickness and ruthlessness, and starts resembling a stroll through a swamp requiring fear and slogging.

The result is new product introductions stall with fear and hesitation until the company loses interest or the idea becomes irrelevant. Brilliant ad campaigns decelerate while they are passed around from marketing manager to CMO to CEO and back again until they seem old and tired and suffer death by yawn.

It’s a four-quarter game

Who’s to blame? In the past, folks writing for the Harvard Business Review have pinned it on Wall Street. The problem, in a nutshell, is Wall Street rewards steady earnings over innovation.

Chris Trimble, who writes and teaches about strategic innovation at Tuck, is quoted in this article: “I’ve had CEOs tell me that ignoring Wall Street is the only way to do the right thing for the company’s long-term future. They choose to invest in innovation, take the short-term punishment (in the form of a declining stock price), and hope that the punishment is not so severe that they lose their job.”

I’m not arguing with the Harvard Business Review, but the problem goes much deeper than the CEO. Fear has become part of corporate culture and has led to a collective lack of competitive drive. That should be scarier than Wall Street.

The saving grace for most brands is their competition is doing exactly the same thing. It’s simply become the way business is conducted. It’s like everyone made a collective decision to be nice. “Let’s just have a friendly game. No elbows and no dunking, okay?”

But ask yourself this: What happens if one of your competitors has been sharpening their game? Becoming quick and ruthless. What if a new competitor came into the marketplace? Someone who can move fast and without fear? Perhaps a company who is privately held and doesn’t’ worry about Wall Street. Could you move fast enough to keep your advantage?

The solution is pretty simple. Learn to compete. Learn to win. Train. Run faster. Stop being fat and complacent. Simplify your game. Get mean. Throw some elbows. Be aware that you’re only winning because no one is challenging you.

Businesses need “first-step speed”

In many sports there is something called “first-step speed.” It’s the first step you take with the ball that gets you just that little bit in front of the competition.

A brand can develop that first step by doing a couple of things: First (and just to keep the sports analogy going) don’t worry about winning the next quarter, worry about winning the game.  Stop being afraid of Wall Street and start being afraid of your competitors. Second, question the algorithms and processes your company uses to develop everything. Are they really valid or are they simply slowing you down and opening up an opportunity for a faster competitor? And third, play the marketing game like street-ball. Not Wall Street ball.

Bill Winchester


Has actually won a bagpiping contest.

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