How to stay on top of market changes, look for opportunities and build competitive advantage

This outtake is from an hour of discussion recorded exclusively for our Pivotal Marketer Community on Facebook sees Angela Hatton, marketing consultant, trainer and published author and MMC’s Rene Power discussing looking at market changes to find opportunities, communicating the value of marketing back to the board, understanding competitors and competitive advantage and the overlooked power of annual reports.

It’s the third part in a series of serialisations on marketing management, be sure to check all new posts as they publish (or see the recommended reading below).

Rene Power:

Yeah, I see that a lot in industrial sort of B2B manufacturing where you’ve got the leading lights in organisations are often the guys in the white coats. They’re tinkering with product, they’re working in the labs. Wherever you find them in an organisation but they’re the guys with the knowledge and the expertise and the experience.

And good marketers will tap into them and kind of turn them into rock stars, for the want for a better phrase. But you’re right, them and product development specialist type people, they run the risk of demoting marketing because they’re pushed up to the front, aren’t they?

Because they’ve got that knowledge. And you’re right, what they don’t necessarily have is the commercial thinking and the thinking about what this means for customers, what this means for the market.

Looking at market changes to find opportunities

Angela Hatton:

I think that’s right. Yeah and you started off by asking what marketers might be able to do. And I ask all of them at the moment, how many of them have thought to put a short, white paper together for their managing director about how markets might need to be re-segmented as a result of the COVID situation?

Now that depends what sector you’re in as to whether or not that is a significant factor but it was interesting. I was on a call earlier on which I mentioned to you, Rene, before we started with the Historic Houses Association which is a group that I’ve been helping. And just in the conversation, one of the stately homeowners said that they’d identified a new segment.

They actually used the language, they’ve identified a new segment of visitors to these houses and it is the “COVID fearful” because they don’t even want to take a ticket off you to go into the different bits of the place because they don’t want to touch the ticket. Now how big that segment is, how serious it is, it is an interesting question. But across a lot of these markets, the markets have changed as a result of that.

Rene Power:

But what that does is by asking the right questions and unearthing that as a little bit of insight, if you like, you can then decide, “Well how are we going to talk about that? How are we going to introduce that into our narrative and into the experience and the service in how we deliver this thing, so that people like that can be reassured?”

And they go and say, “Oh it was all fine and it was well catered for and well managed,” and you get positive reviews and similar people going back.
So it’s not just about using it in a communications perspective but it influences product and service design, doesn’t it?

Communicating the value of marketing back to the board

Angela Hatton:

It does. And I think my point is that many of the marketers I’ve met over the years have been, I guess, very reactive. Someone asks them, “Can you help with this?” And what they don’t do often enough is proactively position themselves with that strategic hat on by making that paper that goes round the board that says, “This is our observation. This is what’s happened in this sector, and I think there might be messages for us.”

The blue sky stuff sometimes but just to sort of say, “We’re not just here filling balloons and organising parties for the customers. Actually, we are the people looking further ahead, and we’re important.”

Rene Power:

I think it’s a nice idea that and there are in lots of different sectors. Well you’ve got ONS, the Office of National Statistics, people like that where you can go and get general data about trends and things.

But then in most vertical sectors there’s various states of the nation things put out at various times of the year that you could tap into and extrapolate that together and go and look at what some of the big players in any market are saying and talking about.

And you’re right, turning that into a piece of well informed material, almost like a briefing document or a white paper that, you intimated it would be for the C-Suite and the strategic team to make decisions on.

But also as a potentially customer facing piece as well. It just shows that you’re exercising a lot more of this.

Angela Hatton:

That’s right.

Rene Power:

And I think that’s the thing, isn’t it? That’s one of the biggest things you can do.

Angela Hatton:

Yeah.

Understanding competitors and competitive advantage

Rene Power:

Brilliant. What other sorts of things could early to mid-level marketers in organisations be thinking about doing to maybe bring some value to their organisations?

Angela Hatton:

Well, I think competitor watching and to get you similarly, making sure that they are the place that people go when they want to know what’s going on with competitors.

I mean just down to ridiculous thing, that tends not to be kind of a single person responsible for competition, and I understand that because actually it’s a bit like going on holiday and what six churches later you can’t remember the first one because they all seem the same.

So I’ve always suggested that the team takes a competitor each rather than tries to do it all.

Rene Power:

Oh, that’s nice, yeah.

Angela Hatton:

But they should be getting annual reports, and they should be using their finance team to help them understand the data in that, if there’s a lot of finance in there because very often what you can see in those reports is the long term capital spend and the long term ambitions, which allows you to start putting some clues together and giving you a bit of an advanced warning as to this company looks like they’re thinking about extending their manufacturing into Asia or developing into a new product.

I mean it always surprises me how much people do actually put into those annual reports that when you start to really look at them and see what they’re saying and what the chairman’s saying.

Because you know he’s trying to keep his job, isn’t he? So he’s kind of bigging it up a bit in terms of, “This is what we’re going to deliver.”

They’re recruiting four more customer service staff. Oh well, maybe they’re trying to improve their customer service. You could expect to push in that direction. What are we going to do to counter it?

Rene Power:

The overlooked power of annual reports

I think the annual reports are a gold mine, aren’t they? Because they hint to vision, mission, values, statements, eco, green. Like you say CapEx, sales obviously, particularly if they’re PLC’s and things.

They’ve got to publish all their stuff. It gives you a lot of information and if you’re looking at the top two or three in a market, they give you a real feel for where they think the market’s going.

And if they’re starting to diversify into other areas, then you know that okay, they’re not viewing this one particularly positively. If they’re going all in, clearly they’re seeing something that the rest of us aren’t seeing yet.

So yes, I think if you’re a challenger brand, you’re a challenger business, mid-level and you’re in a market where it’s very competitive and there are some very dominant players, then yes, using those tools and particularly those reports and things are going to be really, really useful.

For sure. And you’re right, most people in businesses, particularly now, we’re quite lean now, no one’s got the time to be doing that. If the marketing people aren’t doing it because they’re too fixated on getting a TikTok video out or whatever, it’s something that’s just not getting done.

Angela Hatton:

I think that’s right. And I think as well is that the generation of senior managers will potentially have grown up in an era when the real kind of buzz words almost in terms of business strategy was about competitive parity.

And people used to go and do benchmarking with competition and other industries. And that was all about being as good as.

And of course being as good as isn’t good enough. It’s the starting point. You have to be better.

Competitive advantage comes when you deliver something to a specific group of customers. And you’re doing that either more efficiently or more effectively in terms of the P’s. Your value proposition is better than the competitions.

But recognising that your senior managers may have done their MBA or whatever they did at a time when actually they had been spending half a day going round researching other companies to do competitive benchmarking is an important thing to understand where they’re coming from maybe.

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