Assessing competitive advantage across the 7 P’s of marketing

Assessing what makes you different and what makes you the same

I’ve been in many client meetings where the management team have come up with a list of things that make their company ‘different’ from the competition. Then, after only five minutes of online research, we establish that they have in fact just compiled a list of what makes them the same as everyone else!

As a result, we’ve developed a printable worksheet [link] that takes you through a more structured approach to looking at what what makes you the same/different to your competitors—from a customer perspective. We’ve used this successfully in client workshops and training courses.

The worksheet is based around the 7 P’s of marketing—with which you may already be familiar. (If not, the Chartered Institute of Marketing has a great PDF explaining the concepts involved: Marketing and the 7Ps: A brief summary of marketing and how it works).

In summary, the 7 P’s of marketing are Product, Price, Place, Promotion, People, Process and Physical Evidence.

Once you understand these 7 P’s, have a go at filling in our worksheet, either as a team or individually. Sometimes, when working as a team, it can be helpful to fill it in separately and then compare notes; that way you don’t get ‘group think’ and the more quiet and reflective members of the team get chance to have their ideas heard on the same level as the more vocal among you.

Think through what either you or your customers would say makes you different to your competitors across each of the suggested elements. Once you’ve drafted the list, go back and check these are actually different.Think through the ways in which you are similar to your competitors. Are there things that most companies in your market have in common with one another? If very small differences exist, would your customers really still classify these as the same?

Do ‘get out of the building’ if you can, and try not to remain in an insulated management bubble. Ask customers, ask front line staff, ask your accountant! You might be surprised by their answers. Do some market research too: you can learn a lot if you spend a bit of focused time looking at competitors or pretending to be a customer online.

If you would like to do it as more of a collaborative exercise, it is possible to print the worksheet out at A1 or A0 so you can use different colour sticky notes to represent the different viewpoints of managers, staff, customers and other stakeholders.

Don’t be afraid to include the negative aspects too, whether that be the fact that your whole industry makes customers wait 8 weeks for delivery, or that your industry is notorious for spammy emails. Those observations are pure gold from an innovation and market disruption perspective!

Next steps

Hopefully you’ve got some interesting results by now. They may or may not be what you were expecting. Either way, the most important thing is that you turn your collected data first into strategic insights, then into practical action.

If you’re facilitating a session, use a white board or flip chart to take notes—this way you won’t lose any important insights and actions.

From an insights perspective, we’ve put together a range of reflective questions to encourage you to think about how well you understand your customers and competitors:

  • Where is the greatest disparity between what your customers think and what your internal team thinks? Identify the key reasons for this disparity. The disparities could be due to your team not having a great understanding of your customers and the business’ strengths and weaknesses—or your customer communications might be letting you down.
  • What were your customers thinking and feeling about what makes you different? Did you uncover any surprising insights?
  • When comparing yourself to your competitors, did you spot any interesting opportunities for development?
  • Did you find you were out of touch with your external environment? How good a grip did you have on what your competitors are doing and how they are positioned? How can you put processes in place to get better at listening and competitor research?
  • Do you feel you have a competitive offering that meets genuine customer need?

Now these need to be turned into action to improve your competitive advantage. For example, perhaps you found out that your customers don’t know about your best feature because your marketing is failing to communicate, so you need to change your messaging. Or maybe your customers feel your competitors offer better customer service and improvements need to be made. Moving forward, how could you innovate within your business to make you stand apart in the marketplace, thereby making your company more attractive to customers and differentiated from your competitors?

Prioritise the actions that come out of this as a group, assign who is doing what and within what timescale, and when you are meeting again to assess progress. Then JFDI.


Article by

Matt Stocker

Matt is founder and director of Stocker Partnership, a strategy and innovation consultancy. As a strategist, designer, innovator and geek, he's known for his creative thinking. Matt thrives in challenging environments and loves to push the boundaries of possibility. He's a big picture, visual thinker who is always running 5 to 10 years ahead. More about us

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