Archive | February 2013

The One Question

By James Atkins, Vantage Strategy & Marketing

The one question you need to be able to truly answer…

“Why would someone buy from me and not the person down the road?”

Easy to ask, difficult to answer.

Put another way, are you clear on what makes you special?  How would you describe your Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA)?

The reason the answer to this question is so critical is because it should be your starting point.

How can you develop a business strategy, let alone fix on a business model, without a SCA that differentiates your business?

Armed with a distinct SCA the development of your strategy across marketing, operations, HR and finances should become much clearer.  They will have a better chance of working together and building, rather than pulling apart at the seams.

The trouble is that uncovering, or developing, a SCA is not an easy process.  Those that have been able to invent a product, a feature or a business model that is unique and impossible to copy are few and far between.

From my experience here are a few thought starters to help you on the path:

1. Innovation not invention. Invention is one way to deliver SCA but is a high wire act for most.  Innovation, however, is attainable.  Innovation in how you understand, meet and deliver based on uncovering true customer insights – in a way that is unique.  Ensuring innovation is a way of doing business and a strategic plank should be core to your business model.

2. Beyond the product.  It’s not just about the product…in fact it may well be about everything that surrounds it and is experienced by customers at each  touch point. The service journey, your positioning, the niche you serve, may well be where your SCA lies. Bendigo Community Banks, for instance, were able to identify a niche that was abandoned by others and developed a unique model that has really hit the mark.

3. Filter.  A robust, clear SCA will become a filter for what you do and how you do it.  If it can’t meet the test of being how you prioritize both big (and small) initiatives then it either isn’t a true SCA, or you are not committed to making it so.  These are not short term tactical activities – it’s strategic, and key to your success. When I visit Boost Juice it seems me that they have a very clear view of their SCA and how it translates into their total brand experience – it’s being used as a filter or guide for what they do every day.

4. Be adaptable, and quick…SCA is not static. The pace of change and the ability to imitate and reproduce at lower cost is a global phenomenon. Adaptability therefore must be a core competence.  It means staying ahead of competitors and carving out a niche in meeting customer needs better than anyone else.  Attempting to live off past glories based on a no longer valid advantage is the path to extinction.  Retail is literally littered with such failures the most recent here in Australia being Fletcher Jones. So, are you able to easily let go when you need and move quicker than anyone else?

And finally, for those of you that think you are in a commodity market and competitive advantage is not possible – think again.

There is no such thing as a ‘commodity market’…only ’commodity marketers’.  Anyone for bottled water?



Can You Prove It?

Written by James Atkins, Vantage Strategy and Marketing

One of the most critical issues for businesses is being clear about their sustainable competitive advantage (SCA).  Or put another way, being able to answer the question:

“Why would someone buy from you and not the person down the road?”

As I have written about before there are a number of ways to attack this critical challenge…(Article link: The one question you need to be able to truly answer…)

CompAdvantageBut once you’re pretty clear on your SCA, what comes next?  You need to prove it!

For customers the most critical proof is obviously their experience at every touch point and interaction they have with you.

But what about prospects?  How do they get clarity about who you are, and what makes you unique? Saying you provide the ‘best service’ or have the ‘most satisfied customers’ is all very well, but anyone can say that. Does your marketing move beyond puffery?

I think you need to make it tangible, give proof, put numbers and facts around it.

Easier said than done!  And from my experience, not a path many take.

Seven Consulting is a project management services company who make some big claims but back them up.  They have grown each year of their 10 year existence, and have made the BRW Fast 100 six years in a row – an achievement unmatched by any other company.

Here are some of the claims they make…

  • We manage large scale, complex IT projects for ASX Top 100
  • We are an independent Australian company
  • We have strong repeat business and 100% delivery success

Pretty standard stuff…but how do they prove it in their marketing messages?

  • We manage large scale, complex IT projects for ASX Top 100…we currently directly manage over A$500M in projects , and provide program office management for $1.5B
  • We are an independent Australian company…we have no formal or informal relationships or partnerships. 
  • We have strong repeat business and 100% delivery success…we can provide references for every assignment done since inception in 2002. Our first clients are still trusting us with their most important projects and programs

In other words we’re substantial (so we can meet your needs), are truly independent (so there will be no conflicts of interest in our advice) and our clients are highly satisfied.  A pretty significant competitive advantage I would think in a market where many such businesses are just body shops. Not just words, but facts and numbers they are willing to stake their reputation on.

So is your competitive ‘something’ a well kept secret?  Can your prospects get a real feel for what makes you different beyond words and spin?  If not, find some proof – ask your staff, clients or suppliers – they will help you prove (or disprove) your point of difference.  Start measuring and collecting facts and figures that prove who you are, and what makes you unique.

Learn more at

The Top 5 Tools to Drive Strategy in Your Business

Written by Russell Cummings – Strategic Business Development

One of the many challenges facing business owners and managers is having the right “business tool” for the job. In business we often have a range of tools, systems and processes that enable us to drive the operational elements (CRMs, HR Systems, Financial Systems, Management tools, etc) but when it comes to developing strategy, we are often at a loss.

Over the last 26 years as a Business Consultant, I have amassed a number of powerful tools – most of them are in the Mindshop Toolbox. Below are five of my favourite Strategy Tools:

1. Draw your Vision – is a really simple concept that allows you to clearly articulate your thoughts and feelings around WHERE you would like the business to be. The old adage “…a picture paints a thousand words…”  is really applicable here as you can convey a great deal of information in a simple format. And it is memorable and easily communiacted to the Team. I have found that recall of the drawn vision is much higher than a written version. It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw – this isn’t an art competition – it is about the tactile process of drawing and converting your thoughts to pictures. Try it you’ll be stunned at the outcomes.


2. Strategic SWOT Analysis – This is a simple tool that is a great variation on the traditional SWOT Analysis that forms the Appendix in most business plans. Our variation on the standard tool, is to be far more strategic in developing your SWOT elements by asking the questions “Do our competitors have this Strength or Weakness?” and  “Are the Opportunities and Threats realistic?”. Asking these questions focuses the analysis on the elements that you can really use to make a difference. This tool is so powerful because it links the NOW (Strengths and Weaknesses) with WHERE (Opportunities and Threats) and generates a list of strategic actions that your business can take (the HOW). Watch the video for tips on how to apply this tool in your business. Used well, this is one of the most powerful tools you can have in your toolkit! It is the direct application of the NOW-WHERE-HOW model.


3. Competitive Advantage – most business managers understand the notion of Competitive Advantage but few people have a simple process for working out what it is. Our model works off the concept that Competitive Advantage is determined by understanding what it is your business does that “adds maximum value to your Customers” and that you also do “better than the competition”. Once you have your Competitive Advantage then you can apply it to your product/service strategies, pricing models, operational planning, sales, marketing and promotion. It is your key differentiator in the market. Watch the video to determine your Sustainable Competitive Advantage.


4. Product Portfolio Analysis – Few businesses take the time to analyse their portfolio of Products/Services and use a structured process to develop strategies for them. Most product strategy is developed on an adhoc basis. PPA is a relatively simple tool that allows you view your product range and analyse the gaps. It also provides insights into how you can be more competitive in the marketplace. This is a powerful tool that you can use in a variety of ways to analyse products, services, markets and even customer groups. Watch the video for more insights.


5. Consumer Decision Making Model – how can you influence consumers to buy your product or service? Isn’t this the “Holy Grail” of business? My experience is that if you understand the process that consumers use to make purchasing decisions (even small ones) then you can create marketing and promotion strategies that drive consumers to purchase your products. This model is a well researched process of steps that consumers move through when making a purchase decision. The larger and more complex the decision, then the more time they will spend at each step. Businesses that can position themselves to interact at each step in the process, will have a far greater chance of success. Watch the video for more insights.


Add these tools to your business toolkit and start using them to have a stronger strategic focus in your business. You can use them as individual tools but my experience is that the real power comes from using them in a sequence where one tool builds on the next. Use the sequence above as a starting point to really leveraging the power of these individual tools.

3 Key Ideas to Help Business Leaders Succeed in 2013

1. Leadership is not about attributes its about behaviour

In a January 2013 article for Harvard Business Review on management versus leadership, experienced change expert, Dr John Kotter explains that Leadership is not about attributes but rather about behaviour. A great point for many business to reflect on. Being technically skilled and in a senior position does not necessarily mean somebody is a ‘leader’ within an organization. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words”. You can read more by clicking here.

2. ‘Change’ is the new normal for businesses

changeThe ‘new normal’ for businesses is that of constant change and this requires a different mindset as a leader to focus on the things you can change (internal locus of control) and not be distracted by the things you cannot (external locus of control). Ensure you don’t overwhelm your teams with too many projects that causes them to become stagnant. Prioritize those projects that will have the biggest impact on achieving the vision for the business or projects that remove barriers to more strategic initiatives.

3. Leveraging your team to implement change effectively

Increased accountability and communication is required internally to help team members stay focused on key priorities. Instead of attempting to engage your entire team focus on the top 25% of performers and provide them with common problem solving and strategy development tools so that they can be constantly refining and improving processes while staying on track with the overall direction of the business.  Business leaders need to continue developing their own skills and having high energy levels to ensure they lead by example. Walk the talk at all times.