Competitive advantage lurks beneath the surface
The CRM database and the addressability of digital audience platforms are the new drivers of competitive advantage, making it increasingly difficult to gain visibility into what your competitors are doing. It is causing an “iceberg effect” on the competitive landscape. Above the surface, brand media and channel activities can be observed by anyone, consumers and marketers alike. Competitive intelligence is in plain view, allowing you to steer around — and if you’re lucky, past — your adversaries. The danger occurs below the surface, where the specific data assets, technology, analytics, processes, and optimization techniques that drive customized experiences cannot be easily observed, copied, or counteracted.
From a brand marketing perspective, when a company like GEICO is putting its “fifteen minutes could save you 15% or more” message into the marketplace, that message is immediately accessible to competitors like Progressive and State Farm. They can immediately see what GEICO’s strategy is, what it is trying to convey to its customers and prospects, and how the company intends to compete. And as quickly as a new campaign can be executed, Esurance is claiming it can do the same thing in seven and a half minutes. And take consumer retailers like Best Buy, Lowe’s, or Chipotle. If they are opening new locations, their competitors know it. They know when and where the next store is going to open. They can even walk in and assess every public-facing dynamic — experience how these brands are positioning themselves against competitors.
But in today’s one-to-one, addressable consumer world, the “platform marketing” strategies that build competitive advantage will not be as visible. They’ll be below the surface, growing roots and taking hold of the customer relationship before we ever realize what’s happening. There are two elements of this visibility problem. The first involves how organizations integrate customer insights with their business strategies and, in turn, how they enable it with the use of data, analytics, technology and platform marketer skills. The second element revolves around the very definition of “one-to-one.” If every consumer is getting a highly customized and personalized experience, we have very little visibility into what that experience might be from one consumer to the next.
If I’m Citi, it’s difficult for me to understand what Chase has to offer. I can log onto the website, call customer service, or even walk into a branch, but if Chase is truly delivering a personalized interaction with me, then I have no idea what the interaction will be like for the next consumer who approaches. Soon enough, we won’t even be able to rely on broadcast television advertising to give us that insight, as addressable TV continues to gain traction. If we’re really moving to this highly personalized world — and inevitably we are — it’ll be very hard to judge the scale and the depth and breadth associated with a competitor’s customization strategies and techniques.
You could be getting pummeled by rival, and you won’t even know what hit you. You simply won’t be able to figure out what they are doing. ”How is their media spend so much more efficient than ours?” “How are their customer retention rates so much higher than ours?” “How is their basket so much bigger than ours?” “How are they doing it?!”
In this world of addressability at scale, it’s impossible to even grasp the magnitude of that kind of competitive advantage, and the impact it will have on a company’s longevity. This is unexplored terrain for all of us, and rather than spinning our propellers trying to get into the minds of competitors, we must set our sights on our own customer-centric voyage. All we can do is push toward competitive advantage for ourselves and try to land on the right side of the equation; let the other guys be the ones trying to figure out how we’re sinking the competition — not the other way around.
We’ve been experiencing elements of this for years. Most brands are very happy to be on the cover of Advertising Age for their latest branding campaign, or their YouTube video that went viral. But when you get to this personalized, addressable level of customer-centric marketing, suddenly they clam up — nobody’s willing to discuss their use of data and analytics to drive a better consumer experience. It’s their secret sauce!
All said, this is really just an observation. Not a whole lot can be done to counter or prevent this “iceberg” effect. It’s something every marketer will have to deal with more and more. Your only course of action must be to focus on your own platform marketer competencies, and shoot for that first mover advantage that will keep your competitors wondering where you came from.