Competitive Advantage is transient

Ever thought you could maintain competitive advantage? No chance. Think again. It is no longer sustainable. There is an accelerated rate of change like we have probably never witnessed before. Think of the age of steam and then some. We now live in an age where everyone, but everyone is looking for something new. We get tired of brands, ideas, services, shops, people very quickly. Our attention span keeps dropping (blame smartphones) and we are basically looking for the next hit. Let’s face it even the drugs we take are controlled to eliminate the hit and miss element of natural substances. So what on earth makes you think you can retain a competitive advantage? Arrogance?

Take poor old Marks and Spencer. It’s been on the high street since the beginning of time. In the 1970s and 80s you couldn’t imagine what would challenge them for the top spot. Complacency about their place in the British psyche made them shrug at the arrival of upstart Next. But what DID happen next? When the internet revolution began, Next were up for it. Being a mail order company they had the logistics sussed. For years M&S lagged behind woefully when it came to their website offering. It was like giving an octogenarian an MP3 player when they first arrived on the scene and telling them the music was in the box!

Frankly M&S have never really caught up in my opinion. Now no one really knows what they truly represent, unless you want a chocolate dessert or an upmarket chicken ping! M&S don’t seem to know who their target is anymore either. I used to love it but now can’t remember the last thing I purchased there.


Take the Hackney Carriage or the London Black Cab as another example. Uber has disrupted the taxi industry but not only that they are disrupting horizontally by using their current infrastructure to move into the food delivery market. Amazon are also using current infrastructure to sell B2B. Can you see a pattern emerging here?

The competitive advantage you have today will probably be superceded tomorrow. You may well win it back the day after but the triumph is undoubtedly short-lived. So what’s the solution? There isn’t a solution. There is however, a philosophy, an approach, a mission. Every company has to see where their audience is headed. Like flocks of birds they can turn in an instant. That’s why it pays to ask, to survey, to be a customer and interrogate every aspect of your offering. Being productive, developing competitiveness is not about tech it’s about offering what people need when they need it. More often it’s about anticipating need so you can delight them and bring back the ooh factor. Mind you Tesco came a cropper by almost providing too much of what we said we wanted. Lidl and Aldi then entered the market with a no frills options, fewer lines and lower prices. No amount of loyalty points meant anything to Tesco shoppers and Aldi are now undertaking facelifts to keep their stores attractive to retain their competitive advantage for a tad longer.

The key has to be maintaining agility at scale. That’s the toughie. What we also know is the customer comes first. Everything revolves around the customers’ shifting needs and desires. Start with that then maybe take up yoga!


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