Executive’s dilemma: flexibility vs consistency
The essence of a competitive strategy is to gain an advantage over your competitors through insightful resource allocation. When a business executive makes a strategy choice, she has to maximize utility by making the best judgment on the situation at hand. The challenge is that the situation at hand is not like a chess table. The executive doesn't have a clear vision of all the pieces in the game. Her vision is partial. There is no chance to play the game as a trial before making a move. The uncertainty of real-life situations puts her in a difficult position to predict the consequences of her actions. The executive lacks the advantages that a chess player has.
In the game of life, actions must be aligned with a predetermined strategy to win. Random actions lead to random outcomes. Also, the past does not always repeat itself as the situations evolve and new outcomes emerge. A business executive must be flexible yet committed to a strategy. How can an executive be fluid in an ever-changing competitive environment and also strategic in her actions?
Data may help to spot patterns
During a game of chess, a chess player’s strategic advantage is to be able to spot a behavioural pattern. A pattern is a repetitive behaviour of your competitor. Taking advantage of a pattern is to exploit a repetitive behaviour. A good example of exploiting a pattern woul
d be Chrome browser’s decisive win over Internet Explorer web browser. At its 2002 peak, Internet Explorer commanded 95% of the browser market. Once the most-used web browser, Internet Explorer had been on a steady downward trajectory for years. Now, its share of the browser market sits at about 4%, according to browser usage tracker NetMarketShare. Internet Explorer’s inferior user experience was a pattern. It repeated itself over the years making Microsoft’s browser synonymous with bugs, security problems, and outdated technology. This pattern paved the way for Chrome browser to surpass Internet Explorer. Chrome is currently the browser leader, commanding a 71% share of the market. Another example would be Blackberry’s stubborn insistence on the physical keyboard. When they had released a touch screen phone, it was too late and too little. Blackberry believed in evolving products incrementally. Their pattern was to stick to their initial strategy and progress with small steps rather than making a drastic difference in the market.
Success comes when you capitalize on a pattern which exposes your competitor’s weakness. When we use data to spot and exploit a pattern, Data bring clarity to the situation at hand. One can be flexible and yet driven by a strategy that is derived from a pattern.
Data may help to align external patterns with internal resources
If a chess player moves forward way too early, she could die a pre-mature death or if she holds back too much, the others could take advantage of her over-defensiveness. The player must look for the perfect opportunity to make her move while giving adequate thought to the consequences of her actions. This is called to spot a window of opportunity. Such opportunities can be exploited only through the awareness of external patterns and internal resources. The success of Zoom would be an example of spotting a window of opportunity. In the days of the pandemic, Zoom's ability to meet the needs of people working remotely has heightened it to rockstar status in the video-conferencing market. Companies including Cisco, Microsoft, and Slack have also been prepared for the days, something like this could happen, and they see exponential sales and growth. But Zoom is seeing the biggest increase because its product is easier and more robust than others and it's at the right time when people need it. Zoom aligned an external pattern with its internal resources and became an overnight success nine years in the making. Such alignment seems like a chance event, but it does not have to be like that. Spotting an external pattern and aligning internal resources to exploit it could be a consistent and continuous way of doing business. Using data to understand external opportunities and internal strengths is the only way to achieve such consistency.
Data can speed up the growth
Data can be used to uncover the fastest way to achieve growth. If there is a window of opportunity, the business executive should exploit it fast enough, otherwise, the competition will wise up and block the path. Time is the essence. To achieve a lightning-fast result, one has to have the perfect combination of the message and the product or service offering. Incompetence is one of the pillars that will cripple growth. The trick is to prioritize and highlight the attributes which can beat the competitors.
Finding out the strategic attributes is not as easy as it seems. However, data give the business executive the ability to quantify the probable market share gain for each attribute, then the ability to tailor the value offering message accordingly. Shifting your emphasis on the message to a strategic attribute can speed up the growth. Here is a good story to demonstrate the power of the right message. From slow growth to lightning-fast results with only a shift in messaging.
Sir James Dyson, the founder of Dyson, with an estimated net worth of £16.2 billion is a British inventor, industrial designer, and entrepreneur. He is best known as the inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner. Dyson's breakthrough in the UK market came more than ten years after the initial idea of a bagless vacuum cleaner, definitely a slow burner. Dyson’s previous emphasis was on the suction efficiency that its technology delivers. However, a shift in messaging in a TV advertising campaign in 1993 delivered incredible results. The slogan "say goodbye to the bag" proved more attractive to the buying public than its previous emphasis on suction. The Dyson Dual Cyclone became the fastest-selling vacuum cleaner ever made in the UK. Dyson’s story proved that changing your emphasis on messaging can speed up your growth immensely. The crucial question is how to know what to emphasize to speed up the growth. Help comes from data. Gone are the days when it was acceptable to build an entire business strategy on the musings of an advertisement team. Business executives today understand that they need to be much more strategic. Data may help business executives to find out what exactly contributes to their market share and how much.
Bringing all together
A strategist should consider being flexible but still goal-driven, timing to act decisively, limits on her resources, emerging competitors’ patterns, alignment of external opportunities with internal resources, and the best value offering to maximize growth. All these considerations cannot be satisfied with traditional methods. The only working tool we have at hand is being savvy with data. Data can adequately meet the demands of a modern business executive. But like everything in life, application matters. Finding the right partners who have mastery over data to support the executive in her decision making is the challenge that lies ahead.