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How accurate is your marketing field of vision? Why marketers need to be like the submariners of the Royal Navy.

April 21, 2010
Image of HMS Astute, one of the world's most powerful submarines

HMS Astute - submarines provide a lesson for companies needing to develop effective competitive intelligence

The larger the corporation, the longer it has been established, the greater likelihood for marketers to focus on competitors of a similar size. This is unhelpful to any business trying to maintain its position in the public consciousness.

The danger of focusing on your main competitors is that your value could migrate to new companies without you even knowing about it until it is too late. Brands need to have relevance to their customers – existing, new, prospects and people as yet unborn. This means that strategic marketing has a crucial role to play – undertaking 360 degree competitive intelligence (CI) in order to preserve value, customer relevance and future profitability.

But the problem for many companies is that issues such as “brand”, “brand strategy”, and “strategic marketing” are viewed as “marketing speak” or marketing jargon. With one fell swoop, senior directors dismiss the most important element of the marketing mix because they believe that marketing is all about getting stuff out of the door. These tired boards and their cumbersome groupthink serve to monitor the obvious and panic at the discrete when in one mighty bound it suddenly appears in front of them.

A company which really understands marketing is one which uses the skills of the submariner to navigate the seas. It uses a periscope to look forward, backward and from side to side for those things which are immediately obvious (the large competitors). It uses towed sonar arrays to understand locations of enemies it cannot quite see. And it uses onboard sonar to ping into the murky depths for objects great or small which might be a threat – even though these threats are unseen and unknown.

So how can a strategic marketing function match the skills of the onboard team of HMS Astute?

Michael E. Porter in 1979  identified the “five forces” attacking a given company:

  1. The competitive rivalry within an industry
  2. Threat of new entrants
  3. Threat of substitutes
  4. Bargaining power of customers
  5. Bargaining power of suppliers

These can and should form part of any strategic marketing analysis of your company’s position. As can be seen, the traditional periscope-only marketing strategy would mainly focus on the first of these five forces (competitive rivalry) while leaving the bargaining to either the sales team or the production team. But the threat of substitutes and of new entrants is also crucial and here you need to adopt additional methodologies to keep your business competitive:

  • What issues are affecting your customers today and what are they likely to be tomorrow?
  • What is happening in the customer demographic which could impact on your product/service delivery?
  • What is the capability of your smaller/new entrant competitors to adapt new technology and/or new methods of delivering service to your client base (e.g. they may not have or need your company’s overhead or legacy revenue models to deliver product to customers at a more attractive price)?
  • How has your industry survived during major seismic shifts (e.g. when CDs appeared to replace LPs and some books)?
  • Have  new entrants (or even existing competitors) created models which you could leverage to better effect?
  • What will happen if you do nothing/adopt new models/adopt new working practices?

A submarine survives in a hostile environment on intelligence alone. It moves forwards. backwards, up and down in an environment of coldness and darkness. Companies need to adopt similar approaches if they are to remain effective, profitable and of relevance to existing, new and future customers.

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