How a company reveals its level of competitiveness through its business choices
I wrote this article to explain how a company reveals its level of competitiveness, innovative strength, soundness, and challenges through its business choices, which can be observed independently of its structured communication. And it is also clear that, in order to contribute to the competitiveness and growth of the company, the communication must harmonize with these underlying objective elements.
Operating on the market and developing relations with other organizations engender a keen spirit of observation. Information about a company can be obtained through various sources and from signals it emits independent of, and often long before, the messages it disseminates through a structured strategic communication plan. A company entering the market needs to be ready to face such scrutiny.
A communications strategist knows how to determine a company’s positioning not from what members of the organization claim to be or say they want to do, but from the actual business choices as reflected in:
- Staff organization (training, type and level of specialization, average salaries, constraints and options associated with each job function);
- Cost distribution and budget composition (even from a budget proposal);
- Valorized elements in the production process;
- Implemented strategic and communication action plans and prioritized actions;
- Innovation marketing strategy: Does it protect its innovations to prevent entry of direct competitors into the market? Does it create new value chains by establishing a position of control and disrupting an industry’s prevailing paradigms? Does it compete directly with its competitors by leveraging original ideas and creativity or does it focus on micro-targeting? Does it focus on the needs of a specific category of key stakeholders to consolidate a value chain that is appetizing also to competitors? Does it pitch an idea to stakeholders and then use them as stepping stones in its own climb?
- Legal agreements and external policies that the company has prioritized;
- Frequency of new project launches (which says a lot about how hungry a company is for visibility but especially for money). Does it invest in innovation by protecting patents so that it can prevent the entry of competitors into the market and buy time to sell itself at premium prices? Does it count on excluding newcomers from the market or on its own competitive capabilities?
- Factors it weighs when assessing competitors and the market. The focus of the assessment often relates to a perceived threat and thus to a company weakness;
- Corporate relations and profiles of individuals and companies who hold shares in the company;
- Use of market-relevant data and information: Does it have and use any? Does it not have any, but seek them out, even if it means stretching its budget? Does it not consider them a strategic asset?);
- Susceptibility to fashions and the ability to distinguish them from market trends, especially those driven by technology;
- The proportion of time devoted to focusing goals, defining strategy, and execution;
- The time it takes to assess strategic errors and deploy response/recovery actions.
All of this early information is useful to the strategist in gaining a clear understanding of a given company and planning the most appropriate analysis model, which in turn will guide the development of an effective strategic communication plan for the company.
The information is also relevant to a discerning stakeholder or seasoned potential investor, giving them an initial gut feeling for the company that no external communication campaign, however carefully crafted, can counter.
The bottom line is that no matter how broad and disjointed the target of an organization’s communication may be, regardless of how superficial the conveyed company representation is, the company must still make sure that its communication aligns with the elements of its identity that are visible to the closest observers.
It is old-fashioned to think that image is a simple question of cosmetics. Establishing an identity and positioning requires identifying value areas (perhaps through value proposition design), fine-tuning the business model, company policies and processes, and also defining a credible industrial growth plan aligned with market trends. The communication must be consistent with all of this.
The real task for today’s entrepreneur seeking external visibility is to do some serious thinking about the elements that determine the competitiveness of their company and how to translate them into appropriate representations.
Shaping your communication to create an impression without seizing the concurrent opportunity to assess and remedy weaknesses in your positioning is simply not a good strategy. Competitors are alert to appearance strategies, they see what the company boasts but does not possess, and work to fill that gap themselves. Companies are born every day that make large investments in marketing to trumpet an idea that sounds good on the surface but when they have to lay their cards on the table it becomes evident that they were bluffing and do not have the goods necessary for establishing a solid market position.
The truth is that innovation, real innovation, demands a certain amount of time. An innovative project needs a team with the managerial and organizational skills necessary to get it off the ground quickly, to streamline and enhance processes, while also having the sensitivity to know how far to push the communication and what kinds of communication investments are worth considering at the various stages of a project’s development.
It is no accident that the CEOs of the most promising startups are usually people with great sensitivity, practicality, and sense of timing.
Appearance strategies, dictated by a rush to market and lacking focus on the true innovative value of a project and the real qualities of the enterprise, constrain the company and curtail opportunities by binding it to a false image which becomes a confining straitjacket that can be very difficult, if not impossible, to remove. These strategies, however, remain quite common. Companies often assume that the fast pace of the market means that speed is the paramount virtue and they must apply the first strategy that looks like it will achieve the goal of quick market entry. But that strategy is shortsighted; jumping into the water is relatively easy, swimming with the sharks takes preparation.
I repeat, an excellent strategy that allows market entry and monetization of the project in the short term will not necessarily be effective in preserving and enhancing competitiveness in the long term. Worse yet, sometimes by binding oneself to such a shortsighted strategy, one’s future scope of action is compromised.
A change in direction may thus be necessary, but under suboptimal conditions. It was better to get it right the first time. At that point they company either fails and has to be built anew with clearer goals, or it has to make a significant shift in its business model. And while learning from mistakes certainly has some value, the market is not necessarily going to be forgiving and the company may be forced into damage control mode in its communication. It would be better to avoid that.
Good strategic work in terms of market positioning and communication, therefore, is never a waste of time and should never be interpreted as a costly delay in getting to market. The big prize is staying there, and of course prospering.
And while the product positioning is developing, the company should always focus on communicating its values and the motivation for its choices; the company’s philosophy and actions are true mirrors of its culture, sensibility, entrepreneurial ability, identity, and growth potential.