Strategy is based on how we differentiate in the attributes of our products and services, our brand image, and our relationship with our customers. Strategy protects and extends those differentiators.
The Differentiated Customer Value Proposition
The purpose of strategy is to protect and extend our differentiators. It’s all based on how we delight our customers, which is what leads to the financial results that we desire.
We quantify the customer value proposition by measuring certain attributes of our products and services, including specific functionality, quality, price, and time. The dollar stores that we see in our neighborhoods may purposefully sacrifice some quality for low price and convenience. Luxury car brands offer high end functionality and quality at a higher price than their mainstream competitors. All these attributes are measured, and thoughtful decisions are made to position these companies as uniquely qualified to serve a specific market.
We also measure our brand image and invest in posturing ourselves in a favorable light. We may create the impression of the low-cost alternative (e.g., Walmart) or the fastest to deliver (e.g., FedEx) or the most luxurious brand (e.g., Rolls Royce) among a sea of competition. We measure customer perceptions and build our strategy around creating the image that favorably differentiates us.
The third differentiator that our strategy should emphasize is our customer relationships. Nordstrom is known for their customer experience. Amazon, Subaru, Trader Joe’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts have amazing customer loyalty. Contrarily, some cable companies and airlines are known for notoriously poor customer satisfaction. Again, all these companies measure their customer relationships and make conscience, numbers-based decisions about how much time, energy, and money to invest. The companies with positive customer relationships invest in that as a differentiator and competitive advantage. The firms we named above make this a core element of their strategy. At the same time, companies with poor customer relationships may know that attrition is unlikely. Sometimes we invest in “stickiness”, or the difficulty in changing, and can reduce investment in customer relations. How apt are you to switch your accounting software or CRM system? These are very difficult transitions, and we tend to run these systems long past their useful life (i.e., after they are fully depreciated). You may agree or disagree with any of these strategies. Our point is that we measure customer relationships and build our strategy around them.
Building the Strategy
Once we have our market intelligence (or measures of product and service attributes, brand image, and customer relationships) we define strategic objectives for how we want to delight our customers. We then identify the process changes required to achieve those objectives and then determine the organizational structures, people, skills, systems, data, and culture that we need to implement those processes to delight our customers.
Examples of strategic objectives may be:
- Be recognized as the low-cost provider in our sector
- Establish processes that ensure quality and safety
- Build a culture of change readiness
These are high level objectives that frame our strategy. While they may not feel actionable to the average employee, they establish the priorities for the company. We’ll show below how we make these actionable through data.
Recognize from the examples above that we may choose to focus on, or de-emphasize, certain product attributes, our brand image, or our customer relationships. Again, some companies will purposefully diminish quality or customer service to save money, knowing most customers won’t leave because other attributes are more important to them.
I use the negative examples to highlight the importance of data in our strategy. Not only do we use data to inform our strategic objectives, but we also use that data to manage execution of our strategy.
After we define our strategic objectives, we translate each into one or more measures. For example, we may seek to improve product reliability by 10% by the third quarter or deliver our services 15% faster than our top competitor by the end of the fiscal year. We may set out have 81% of consumers recognize our logo this year or for 78% of customers to have a favorable view of our brand in the next six months. Maybe want to improve customer satisfaction by 8% while reducing the cost of customer service by 4% before the end of the year.
When we quantify our goals, we make them actionable and measurable. We can define action plans, or projects, to achieve these goals. And we hold the executive sponsors accountable for the results while cascading associated performance objectives down through the organization to each employee.
The purpose of strategy is to protect and extend our differentiators, including:
- the attributes of our products and services
- our brand image
- and our relationship with our customers
A data aware strategy quantifies these elements, seeks further differentiation, and sets measurable goals for continuous improvement. When we achieve these goals, we delight our customers and deliver desired financial results.
Measurable goals, understandable action plans, and cascaded performance objectives align the organization and greatly increase the probability of executing the strategy and delivering the desired results.
We’ll continue this theme of the data aware strategy as we explore the following in coming weeks:
- Can we describe our strategy through objective measures?
- How will we align our entire organization with our strategy?
- Do our data assets reflect what is crucial to our strategy?
- How will we leverage our data to accurately predict future business outcomes?
As always, if you are working on your strategy already, or just don’t want to wait for the entire set of articles, email Emily Ford at Emily@WolffStrategy.com and she’ll be happy to set up a free 30-minute consultation with me.
Larry Wolff is the founder & CEO of Wolff Strategy Partners, a boutique consulting firm specializing in Enterprise Strategy Management, Digital Transformation, IT Leadership, and Executive Coaching. Larry has served as CEO, COO, CIO, Chief Digital Officer, and management consultant for public, private, international, and emerging growth companies. His specialties include corporate and IT strategic planning, technology led business transformation, business and IT turnarounds, merger integration and large-scale project rescues. His methodologies span industries and scale to companies of all sizes.
Feature image by Artur Szczybylo from 123rf.com.
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