In a previous article, we discussed the importance of a SWOT analysis. One of the main functions of the SWOT analysis is to help formulate strategies to keep the business running and help it grow. Here, we will look at the most common reasons why some strategies have been successful while others have failed.
‘Strategy’ is a magic word that can have different meanings in different industries. Some businesses mention management and operations, others expanding their market share, while others focus on maintaining their customer base or constantly innovating.
Generally speaking, it is a set of principles used to achieve the company’s goals; and for that reason, it tends to be business-specific. Its success or failure also tends to be business- and industry-specific. There is no infallible strategy that can be applied to any and all businesses, in any field or economic cycle. It’s the result of a convergence of favorable factors with sound decisions, clear goals and dedicated involvement of all stakeholders.
Some of the best advice about business comes from those in business. If you have no seasoned tradesman to help devise a strategy, you can find many resources online. The three basic business strategies, according to Porter are: cost differentiation strategy, product differentiation strategy and growth strategy. These broad approaches have been analyzed extensively by economists, business owners and politicians alike, and to prevent redundant work, we will concentrate on actionable, specific strategies, stemming from these three.
We will analyze each and offer tips in each category so you can see how the advantages and the risks apply to you. The strategies often go hand-in-hand, where you can design a marketing plan combined with product placement.
Cost-cutting and optimization – do’s and don’ts
What do most companies begin with? They look at pricing. It makes immediate sense – I set prices based on costs plus a reasonable margin; I cover my costs, and make a profit. But the flaw in this strategy is that customers don’t think about business’ costs – their main consideration is value, i.e. what they think the product is worth. You can’t put out a product or service that costs the company $10 when the consumer thinks it’s not worth more than $8.
Another strategy widely used is setting prices to meet the market – either you make a profit when your product or service’s perceived value surpasses the costs or you are intentionally lowering your costs to compete with other players already established in the market. The risk here is that customer and competitor behaviors can be unpredictable. Your competitor may lower prices even more while you’ve been selling at a loss all along.
Don’t forget the importance of value in your pricing – if you cut costs to bring your prices to the lowest possible point, you will inevitably be sacrificing your product’s value.
Do place importance on the individual customer’s buying habits – and weigh up the risks of setting your prices solely on your product’s market value.
What must a business remember most of all in pricing? The variables used to calculate the products’ costs (raw material prices, energy costs, import/export and logistics tariffs, interest rates) are ultimately and inevitably uncontrollable and unpredictable.
Given that, it is best to be proactive and open to change, as you periodically examine the rise and fall of these various costs and how they impact your profits and pricing.
Product strategies – do’s and don’ts
Celebrity businessman Dave Ramsey inspired entrepreneurs worldwide with the quote: “A goal without a plan is just a dream.” In order to ensure success for your product, you must make sure that your strategy is solid.
A successful product strategy takes these three areas into careful consideration: business and/or financial goals, market and competition, product features and unique selling proposition. Careful planning and development of each key area will allow you to predict your product’s success and/or identify potential problems before they arise.
Do keep a close eye on your competition while ensuring your product offers value to potential users. Market research is an essential part of your product strategy and should never be neglected. Remember to keep an eye not just on your long-established direct competitors but also on potential talent, those up-and-coming start-ups that could topple the status-quo.
Don’t allow your product to get left behind before it’s even had a chance. Many products fail because businesses are unable to adapt quickly enough to our fast-paced and ever-changing market or the business takes too long to launch the product.
Make sure you launch your product right when you see the opportunity in the market, and don’t forget to stay armed with a good supply of risk and change management strategies.
Rethinking how your existing products are made might lead to ideas for structural changes that could make your business more nimble, so you can ramp production up or down profitably or reconfigure operations more flexibly, which allows you to modify or make new products in response to anticipated markets. That improves your reaction time in the face of risks or opportunities.
Growth strategy – do’s and don’ts
Like with product strategies, planning is key in ensuring your product can grow and adapt to its market environment. Fail to plan, and you plan to fail.
So, what do you need to carefully consider your product’s market?
Is it an existing market, with a well-established competition? If you find yourself struggling to eke out a niche for your product in a sea of similarity, you need to consider market penetration as your main objective. Market penetration is the hardest growth strategy to tackle, and for good reasons. To increase your market share, you must take the time and resources to carefully evaluate how much your product or service is being used by customers compared to the total estimated market for that product or service. Once you have an idea of how far your foot is in the door, you can plan further strategies more effectively, such as differentiation and innovation.
Let’s consider that you are targeting a new market with an existing product. Market development is key here. You may need to consider targeting new geographic areas and launching your product or service internationally. Business trends point to global perspectives, supply, and sales. As a result, many tools have been developed in recent years to help businesses determine how to enter foreign markets.
But what about when your company already has a good market share in an existing market? You may need to consider introducing new products for expansion and will need a product development strategy. Many companies invest in research and development (R&D) to develop their strategy – Apple, for example, invest heavily in Technology R&D in order to ensure they can launch a new and improved version of the iPhone every few years.
Don’t forget to roadmap your product’s trajectory – take the time to establish where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going next.
Anticipating trends in unpredictable markets as well as keeping on top of fluctuating data is a constant challenge, for sure.
Don’t forget to check in regularly with your team and quickly identify any signs that your company could be running into difficulties. Are your stakeholders satisfied, or have they been showing discontent? Have you been missing more and more deadlines and failing to reach deliverables recently? Do you feel that you are switching too erratically from one strategy to another, unable to find one that fits?
Many of these symptoms can be traced back to superficial SWOT analysis and faulty calculations.
Depending on the business owner’s appetite for risk, they can be shapers of their industry or adapters. Some of the most notorious trailblazers we know are Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, while others have chosen to follow their lead and adapt to changing industries across the board. That is not to say that merely adapting to market forces is a bad position to be in. Each entrepreneur chooses their style of doing business and measures success in their own way.
Do carefully evaluate your business strategy and make sure that it is working for you and your product or service. It may seem like a challenge, but it could just be your company’s biggest opportunity yet!