We’re living in uncertain times: Political turmoil, the rapid advancement of technology, and our increasingly global economy mean that it’s difficult to know what the world will be like in a month, in a year or in a decade. As an entrepreneur and leader, that means you may not even know how to proceed, let alone outperform your competition.
Outperforming and outmaneuvering your competitors is the key to success, but it’s also the biggest challenge you’ll face as a brand leader. As you hunt for new markets, new opportunities and new ways of producing higher quality products faster and cheaper, so too are your competitors. How can you possibly get ahead if you’re all working with the same information? The short answer: find ways to do all of those things from a different angle with a different approach.
“Internalize the fact that every owner is going to be scrambling to find that ‘golden ticket’ of information that allows them to leave their competitors in the dust,” explains Lisa McClung, Managing Principal at Lismore International, a global advisory firm. I’ve been in contact with Lisa McClung and her company Lismore for a few weeks after speaking with a mutual contact. She’s an experienced board member for several mid-sized companies. “I’ll let you in on a secret, though: For most brands, that ticket doesn’t exist. It’s like people searching for a magic tool for weight loss or the acquisition of new skills. The fact of life is that if you want something that everyone wants, but few people get, you need to experiment with many different approaches until you find what works for you and your situation in particular.”
I sat down with McClung to talk through trends she’s noticed over time. Here’s her short list of what brand leaders can do to ensure they outperform every competitor:
Look At Your Brand From The Outside In
“The best thing that brands can do is break through the mental walls that they’ve naturally built up over the years and look at their brand from the outside in,” explains McClung. “This can be quite difficult to do without asking for outside opinions. Seek out mentorships and contact industry leaders — and past leaders and leaders of industries that are similar to yours — and ask for their take on your situation. The more input you get, the more clearly you’ll see your brand now and for what it could be with the right tweaks.”
To do this, expand your business network aggressively. Don’t blow off those industry events, and follow up when you meet someone who has accomplished more than you. Ask them how they did it.
Most industries have a bread-and-butter market that loves them. For software, that means coastal millennials. For heavy machinery, that means Big Agra and commercial construction companies. But if you never stray beyond those markets, you’ll short your brand the opportunity to be a market leader elsewhere — either geographically or demographically.
On a regular basis (once a quarter is great), take a look at emerging markets that you’d be capable of serving but don’t currently. That may mean a different country, like those with developing economies. It may mean looking at a different set of customers who could use your solution if it was slightly tweaked or even just marketed differently. Take an outside-in look at your product and offerings and think about how someone who had never encountered your brand before would apply those solutions. That includes seeing how other industries, no matter how different they are from yours, have dealt with similar problems.
Set Your Team Up For Success
“It’s hard to be innovative, fast-moving and focused when you feel disorganized and undervalued. So make sure that your employees are never put in that situation,” says McClung. “If you want your team to succeed, the simple fact is that you have to invest in them. That means not only making sure their pay is competitive, but also fostering workplace culture (including a healthy work-life balance) and creating thorough documentation and resources for teams to lean on. Make sure that management is paving a smooth road for your engineers, sales, marketing, and product teams, and your company’s growth will accelerate smoothly and reliably.”
The keys to outperforming your competitors are simple but not easy. Focus on building a cohesive and loyal team that’s excited about what your brand does, stays humble, asks for advice and keeps an ear to the ground for untapped opportunities.