Tuesday, April 22, 2008

For Marketers, the Earth Day Bandwagon May Be Full

In the thick of Earth Day media coverage, it may be time to ask: Is “green” on its way to being as undifferentiating a term as, say, “solutions provider”?

An interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal takes a look at that question. And clearly, in some sectors—particularly in the consumer space—the answer is yes.

Quick take in B2B: Environmental claims may not yet be devalued. But there’s certainly no shortage of green pretenders out there. Trade media are being flooded with green product stories … some have merit; many don’t. As a result, many audiences are becoming desensitized to claims about corporate environmentalism and social responsibility.

So it’s more critical than ever that substantive, defensible claims be the backbone of any green messaging. That’s most likely a good thing, because it may encourage more companies to pursue environmental initiatives the right way—with actual green impact.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Who Cares What the Competition’s Doing?

You shouldn’t—or not much, anyway.

Last week, we touched on business strategies and hedgehogs and such. To follow up, here’s a column from BtoB magazine that’s a window on the strategies of leading companies.

Author Wes Ball gives us a snapshot of what his firm’s research uncovered about “alpha companies,” as he calls them.

Here’s the big idea:
Nonalpha thinking: Focus on staying ahead of competition.

Alpha thinking: Focus on what your b-to-b customers want to buy.
Of course, it’s important to keep an eye on what other companies in your market are doing and saying—but maybe only to make sure you aren’t doing and saying the same things.

After all, what’s good for another company isn’t necessarily good for yours. Instead, what’s best for your company is whatever you do best—and that customers value.

In the B2B game, your customers’ success drives your success. So we counsel our clients to pursue a customer-centered strategy, and make that the foundation of everything they communicate.

In other words, move the way alpha companies do. They don’t get mired in keeping up with the competition; they’re too busy focusing on their customers’ needs. So take a page from their playbook: Stay out of the “me, too” fray, and you’ll stay ahead of the competition.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Your Strategy (or Lack Thereof) Makes a Statement: Employees Need a Clear Strategy Statement to Follow

The other day, a colleague and I were discussing a formerly family-owned manufacturing company that was recently sold to a private equity firm. With such a big change, there was a real challenge for the new leadership to come in and smooth out the transition with employees. The key? First, articulate a strategy for success in 35 words or less.

That’s one of the top jobs of a company leader. And yet, many CEOs can’t readily identify their strategy, according to an excellent piece in the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review, “Can You Say What Your Strategy Is?” (you’ll need to agree to the terms and conditions to read it).

If the chief can’t say what the strategy is, then how likely is it that anyone else down the line will understand it, either? And how will they be able to work in ways that support it?

This represents a major missed opportunity in internal communications. But the HBR article details a few strong examples of companies with unique strategies that are well defined and well followed. Consider, for example, Edward Jones, and its successful against-the-grain approach of one very hands-on financial advisor per office—often in a rural location overlooked by other firms.

So how can you embark on a similarly successful path? The HBR piece also offers a good primer on the basic tool of marketing communications that starts it all: a powerful, succinct strategy statement.

A note on that strategy: It should be based not on what your competitors are doing (that tired “me, too” philosophy), but on what’s best for your company to do. The HBR calls it your “sweet spot,” the intersection of your company’s capabilities with your customers’ needs. At Scheibel Halaska, we usually refer to this approach as being a “hedgehog”—as in the ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” For the uninitiated, this term was popularized by Jim Collins in his best-selling book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t.”

If you’re a CEO or in any other leadership position, the HBR article (and Collins’ book, while you’re at it) should be required reading. Hope the leader of that manufacturing company we were talking about gets a chance to read it, too.