by Karla Raines, author of “Differentiated: The Breakthrough Approach to Strategy for Organizations Driven by Purpose“
I spend my days tracking trends with the power to shape or drive a company’s future. Purpose-driven companies looking to stand out in the marketplace are navigating several notable shifts, courtesy of the customer zeitgeist and COVID-19.
Here are four field-tested insights to achieve strategic success.
Insight 1 – Purpose unites with strategy.
We see so many examples of customers flocking to purpose-driven organizations and turning away from those that do not authentically demonstrate their commitment in thought, word, and deed. Numerous reports by international consultancies note the driving force of Millennial and Gen Z consumers, and that trend is transcending generational cohorts. Your customer can spot inauthenticity in a nanosecond today.
Too often, companies focus on purpose from a brand and marketing perspective only, missing the opportunity to connect your purpose with a corporate-level strategy for authentic differentiation in the marketplace. Companies align their “why” with their strategy to create a differentiated advantage through purpose and customer clarity.
- Take stock of your mission statement. Does it clearly state the difference you promise to make in your customers’ lives? Do you have evidence to back it up? Those are the sorts of questions your customers expect you to answer today to demonstrate authenticity and transparency. They are looking for messaging and evidence supporting mission delivery and impact. How do you stack up?
Insight 2 – Equity belongs to your strategy.
When you adopt your customer’s mindset, you appreciate what matters the most to them, embracing their heads and hearts. Customer mindset opens us up to realize that a commitment to equity and inclusion requires more than an initiative. It’s time to bring an equity perspective to your strategy. As you embrace your customer’s heart and mind from the outset of your strategy process, you are sure to include diverse customers as you set strategy. If you don’t recognize the potential to deliver mission impact for everyone from the beginning of your strategy process, you will miss opportunities to align inclusion with purpose and differentiation.
- Review your customer personas. Who is your company serving well? What are their shared beliefs, expectations, and desires? Who aren’t you serving well, or at all? Which customer personas miss out on your mission impact? Be honest about the gaps and commit to delivering purposeful results for everyone who might benefit from your company’s products and services.
Insight 3 – Smartphones changed strategy.
Your customer defines your competitive set and your relevance. Today, your competitors are a click or keyword away, thanks to the widespread adoption of smartphones. Plus, consumers are trying new brands like never before thanks to the pandemic, and most intend to continue the new shopping behavior even after COVID-19 subsides.
Your customer decides what matters most — and if your organization matters at all. If your organization isn’t unique and special — truly differentiated — in a way that matters to your customer, then guess what? You aren’t even on their radar. They’ve scrolled past your offerings and moved on to more compelling options. It isn’t about you – what you do or why you believe your organization matters. Your customer is asking themselves, “Why should you matter to me?”
- Check out the competition. What are the common search words used to find your company and your products? Imagine that you are the customer. Type in a few common keywords and see who pops up. Then move over to social media and see which brands land in your lap courtesy of the search engine. Welcome to the new competitive realities. Stay up-to-date on the companies catapulting into your markets, with a keen eye on those offering something novel or unexpected. Don’t miss out on opportunities to matter the most to your customers.
Insight 4 – Novelty begins with a customer mindset.
If you want your company to outperform the competition, then you need to differentiate. Your customer experience aims to be unique and special, and achieving distinction takes creativity. Without creativity, it is more challenging to recognize uniqueness and convert differentiation into a competitive advantage. We’re talking about more than brainstorming and visioning. Its time to use approaches that emphasize empathy and human-centered design. Better yet, establish a personal practice to spark your imagination routinely. Much like getting on the yoga mat daily, an intentional creative thinking practice will spark idea flow and build muscle memory as you stretch into new ways of thinking.
- Take a look at your go-to tool. There’s a good chance its premises are out of date. You wouldn’t use a five-year-old phone today, now would you? Outdated approaches tend to over-simplify. Don’t miss out on a trend that will propel your customer’s choices because you mistook it for a simple threat.
From one strategist to another, I would avoid:
- The risk of being left behind as your competitors adapt to changing customer preferences.
- The risk of undervaluing your customer’s power to determine the rules of engagement.
- The risk of underestimating the threat of new entrants to your market.
- The risk of overestimating your organization’s ability to navigate complex and rapid changes.
You are leading your company during an exciting time. The opportunities to re-evaluate, re-discover, and re-design are unprecedented. The world needs more companies devoted to making a positive difference. I hope these four tips inspire you to achieve purpose-powered strategic differentiation and make notable impacts on your customers.
Karla Raines is an accomplished strategist serving purpose-driven organizations in dynamically competitive industries. Her commitment to mastering the art of strategy led her to a career-defining eureka moment in 2018. Karla’s book, “Differentiated: The Breakthrough Approach to Strategy for Organizations Driven by Purpose“, shares the story of her inventive strategy process, Differentiation Zone®.