Best Practices

Best Practices


It is often the case that the first thing that gets cut in rough times is the marketing budget. This can be true in both large companies and smaller ones – and even for those smallest companies with no separate marketing department at all.

Regardless of your organization design, I suggest that it is critical to deeply understand how your company is viewed both internally and externally versus its competitors. Once you understand this, you can then decide how to sustain, enhance or change its image. What we are really talking about here is your company brand. Your brand is the emotional reaction that your company creates in the mind of its customers, competitors, suppliers, employees and other important stakeholders such as original equipment manufacturers, investors and the community in which you operate.

A discussion of brand comes naturally to us as consumers but less instinctively perhaps when we are in a B2B environment. Perhaps you are a lubricant manufacturer and you are selling to industrial businesses, distributors and also to consumers, which adds to the complexity of the discussion. For the purposes of this article I will focus only on the B2B aspects as this is the area in which I have had the most experience in my career.

If you understand your brand then you should be able to articulate succinctly and clearly what its value proposition is, and also how it is different from those of your key competitors. It might be helpful to reflect on the ideas of the author and corporate strategy expert Michael Treacy, and his model that lays out three basic value propositions: Product Leadership, Customer Intimacy and Operational Excellence.

Product leadership means having a standout product which is clearly differentiated from that of competitors. Customer intimacy calls for a deep understanding of your customers and likely a finely honed, needs-based market segmentation approach. Operational excellence involves exceptional and efficient execution of processes such as manufacturing, supply chain and customer service, and may lead to cost advantages in the marketplace versus your less-efficient rivals.

Which space do you occupy? Of course, in these competitive times even if you understand your key value proposition you cannot ignore the others; rather, you have to satisfy some reasonable or minimum level of competency in each area in order to compete. You may well be unsure of your value proposition, and even if you are sure, you may find that not all stakeholders may see it the same way as you do. Here are some places to seek information on how your company is viewed:

Do a customer survey aimed at eliciting the customer view of your value proposition.

Have an in-depth discussion at your next sales meeting.

Review your competitors marketing literature to see how they position themselves as well as how they may be differentiating themselves from your company.

Run a workshop within your own company – you might be surprised to find disparate views.

If you are clear on your value proposition, how good do you feel about its sustainability and level of differentiation versus your competitors? Do you need to invest in some way to create more clear water between you and your competitors in your chosen brand value? You may want to put in place a regular process for evaluating your position with regard to your brand value. It would also be beneficial to ensure that your marketing collateral materials (including company and product brochures, your website, presentations, articles, interviews, etc.) are aligned with your brand. Highlight your brand characteristics in internal meetings, and train your new employees in the concept as well.

Ill emphasize here that it is crucial to get objective information in this process. If you decide to go ahead with a customer survey, you may want to have an outside party conduct it; you should ensure a sufficient range of customers is covered as well as decision makers and influencers within your customer organizations.

It is also useful to put in place metrics where possible. For example, if your strength is product leadership, then you can measure the number of new products introduced each year, or percent sales of new products, or customer ratings of new products. If you are focusing on operational excellence, you can measure things like quality deviations, your on-time and perfect delivery percentage, customer complaints and resolution, and costs over time. (Hint: If you are alert, you may be able to pick up comparable data for your competitors, which may be available in the public domain.) If your forte is customer intimacy, consider measuring things like growth of market position in your chosen segments, improvement on customer surveys, and joint projects with customers.

If you find during this exploration of your brand and of your competitors brands that there is not enough differentiation, then it may be time to get out of the box and think more deeply about where to put your resources. Perhaps you have some cultural, skill based, technology based, or other advantages (like geography or facilities) which are not being sufficiently utilized now but could be a future source of differentiation.

One thing is for sure: When all stakeholders – internal and external – truly understand your value proposition, and if that value proposition is meaningful and relevant, you will feel like you are operating on all cylinders.

Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. E-mail her at or phone (908) 400-5210.

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