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Brands need eyes in the back of their heads

April 30, 2012

Facebook was lucky, it knew its enemy (Instagram) because it followed the old saying “keep your enemies close”; they went to the same school, lived down the road from each other.

It’s easier to follow a competitor when you are that close, but that requires discipline from a company that’s growing so fast. Next time, when a competitor emerges from the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Facebook might not be so fortunate.

Failure to spot competitors has been one of the major reasons for the downfall of some of the world’s biggest brands. They get blinded by arrogance and it becomes harder and harder to see the biggest competitive threats that don’t conform to your pre-conceived notions. If you make cameras, you can only see other camera makers as your competitors, not a phone and the same could be said for Nintendo’s recent challenges in the world of gaming, they also failed to see the rise of mobile. 

The way around this problem is to have eyes in the back of your head, which means you need to see competitors from all sides, not just straight ahead. The best way to do this is to start by understanding the consumers that might not traditionally be your customers; they aren’t your core, they are the ones on the peripheries. You need to understand how they are behaving and what they want. This takes discipline because there’s always only so much budget to go around, it’s always easiest to focus only on the people that seem to matter to you right now.

To challenge conventional laziness and lack of resources, corporate leadership needs to embrace the idea that there’s value to a broader level of consumer understanding. Instead of positioning the exercise as a negative, it needs to be flipped to a positive. The positioning up the organization has to be about getting to the opportunities before competitors do, so this isn’t about finding competitors, because if it is, you’re already too late.

This opportunity seeking is not for the feint of heart, you’ve got to disrupt your traditional research practices and slay your conventions to get there. You’ve got to experiment and do things that are outside of your comfort zone. In addition, it requires a bravery to get to grips with your brand’s weaknesses and to acknowledge and identify your Achilles heel, because this is where you will find opportunity.

Once you discover and find that opportunity, your job has just begun because you have to convince others that this emergent behavior is worthy of your colleagues’ time and your company’s investment. You’ve got to make them excited about the potential, you’ve got to take them into this new world and tell them a story and you’ve got to demonstrate what it’s going to take for your brand to be successful in this new space.

The brands that survive in the world of hyper-competition will be the ones that get to opportunities fastest and have teams capable of convincing stubborn internal cultures that they need to embrace change and forks in the road.

These will be the ones that have the courage to embrace new forms of research that can uncover real opportunities and can find creative and imaginative ways to brings these opportunities to life in order to convince the corporation to take action.



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