What's Your Competitive Advantage?

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, February 24, 2014
If we all drive the same type of car, with the same size engine and the size type of tires on the same track, it would be rational to think that one’s competitive advantage would be the driver’s skills.   If we all send email the same way, at the same frequency and with the same engagement strategy, isn’t the only competitive advantage simply the size of the list and the strength of the brand?   In the email space, I rarely see any companies that see email marketing as a means of creating a competitive advantage.   

I’ve always been a staunch believer that optimizing total cost of ownership is the real key to success in programmed marketing like email and search.  TCO takes into account technology costs, all loaded vendor costs, any innovation done in-house, and all the other costs of operating specific to email.   

Not many in the space look at it this way.  The vendors look at it from a technology and service enablement advantage, but don’t they simply sell case studies of how they’ve done it for another company?    Marketers look at it as a cost management exercise in many cases, since the cost of real change is rarely allowed to be amortized over a few years. 



When I go to conferences and hear the case studies and the hallway conversations, I am even more convinced that email marketing hasn’t evolved as much as we believe. It is still considered a pedestrian fulfillment function in most organizations.    There are still many discussions of best practices -- many of which have been used for over a decade.  

What gets lost is real innovation.   It can’t be purely vendor-driven.  

I would challenge our industry -- most importantly, the marketers vested in this email marketing space -- to raise their game and think long and hard about a strategy for the channel that will outlive your role as an email marketer and will survive when you are vice president of marketing.  

More observations:

--       Marketing technology is an enabler, but can you make it a differentiator -- either through influence, organic innovation or cooperation partnerships?  Or is the best you can hope for competitive parity?

--       Sourcing is a catalyst, but can you support a sustainable vendor/contractor infrastructure where you create some competitive advantage?   Some think of this as strategic partnerships, some as cost management.  I believe one of the keys is to develop a culture of people who can get the absolute most value and insight out of partners and vendors without overpaying.  

--       Marketing intelligence is the baseline.   You cannot expect to leapfrog a competitor if you don’t develop processes and methodologies that allow you to react faster and smarter and minimize the risk of your decisions.  This is marketing intelligence: not an outsourced function, but an intellectual asset you must grow and develop.

We need marketers to step out of the “manage campaigns” mode and really begin to press vendors and innovators to create advantages that are sustainable, unique and scalable.

Jack Welch’s directness has always been fascinating to me:  “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”  What are you doing this year to build your framework to innovate and create an advantage, outside of optimizing communication plans?

3 comments about "What's Your Competitive Advantage?".
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  1. Jason Smith from LoudDelivery, February 24, 2014 at 2:39 p.m.

    I agree with this entirely! Marketers need to stop boiler plating everything and start thinking out of the box. Create value and engaging information.

  2. Al Lautenslager from Author, February 24, 2014 at 7:25 p.m.

    The competitive advantage is the benefit you offer that your competition doesn't. Dig deep, they are not always obvious. Ask your customers why they buy from you, regardless of price.

    Al Lautenslager
    -author, Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days

  3. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, February 25, 2014 at 1:19 p.m.

    Nice post David. You are coming at this competitive advantage issue - and differentiation - which was the subject of my EI column last week, positioning - from a different angle - process, innovation ... but really important.

    In your parlance, I think there are at least 2 ways email marketers can think about innovation:

    1) Program iteration - think about cart abandonment remarketing. Deploying such a program has become a "must do/me too" now for retailers ...and there are several "accepted" best practices - but how can you take such a program and personalize/evolve it for maximum results for your customers, product mix, margin target, etc.?

    2) But then also how do you develop truly innovative programs, that might be unique to your business or market? This requires a formal planning or innovation process, which very few marketing organizations make the time to do. It is also why a lot of the innovation actually comes from outside the organization- consultants, agencies, technology vendors who are motivated (and/or compensated) to develop innovative ideas.

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