The Road to Competitive Advantage

By Colin Scotland

What is a competitive advantage?

It is the thing(s) that makes your business better and gives you an advantage over your competitors. It is the 'differentiator' that will help to ensure your business thrives.

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Ask yourself, what makes me better than my competitors? What sets me apart? These are the fundamental questions that you should ask yourself as you seek to innovate your business processes and attract more customers with the aim of not only reaching your short-term goals but sustaining your business over the long term.

"Your competitors never stand still, so neither should you!"

As in all areas of life, business and markets are fluid and dynamic things that are constantly changing, so deserve your constant attention. What set Nokia apart as the world leader in mobile phones was blown out of the water when Apple introduced the game-changing iPhone back in 2007.

Remember, your competitors never stand still, so neither should you!

Ok, so I know what competitive advantage is, but how is it achieved in the real world?

In reality, in lots of different ways, Davidson in his seminal work Even More Offensive Marketing (1997) identified many types of competitive advantage, here are seven of them:

  1. Having a superior product or service.
  2. Having a perceived advantage in customers' minds through advertising and brand positioning, for example, think Coke versus Pepsi.
  3. Cost leadership. This isn't just about being the cheapest, it is ensuring it streamlines your overhead costs, which can have a significant effect on profitability, and remember, turnover is vanity, profit is sanity.
  4. Legal advantages such as copyrights, patents, and sole distributorships, make it difficult for your competitors to 'muscle-in' on your business.
  5. Superior relationships with customers, suppliers, distributors, and partners.
  6. Possessing superior skills and competencies.
  7. Attitude advantages. Are you happy where you are or are you eager to drive your business forward?

Take a long look at the above and ask yourself, how am I achieving a competitive advantage in my business?

Are there things I could do differently, or better?

Why would my customers choose my business over my major competitors?

What makes my competitors good/bad?

These types of thought-provoking questions will prompt you to think about your business in a way that embraces the concept of continuous innovation, continuously reinventing your business, building on previous successes, and seeking new, exciting ways to succeed again and again.

There lies the crux, competitive advantage on its own is not enough, you need to strive to innovate, reinvent and change to achieve 'sustainable competitive advantage', the holy grail of achievement for all market economy businesses.

Imagine Apple still trying to sell the first generation iPhone today versus the other smartphones on the market, or Microsoft trying to put the first generation Xbox against PlayStation 4. If any of today's big players stand still and stop innovating and reinventing to maintain their sources of competitive advantage then they will soon become the Woolworths, Saab, Borders, and Blockbuster of tomorrow.

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