'HOW TO WHY' SERIES: THREE
You’ve captured your true purpose and realized the need to tell your truth and who to tell it to. Now, what’s stopping you from going forth and telling it?
When looking at the lay of the branding land, strategists have primarily focused on asking ‘what is the competitive climate?’. What are the emotional, psychological, political, and economic obstacles blocking your path? Competitive analysis is often a good chunk of such marketing communication plan or branding platform, sometimes taking up as much as 50 percent of a three-inch, three-ring binder or a 13MB file. For the purposes of creating a purpose-led communications strategy, you should answer this question with total objectivity and without blinders. Identify other businesses or organizations that are, or could be, competitors. Call out any other issues that may be standing in the way of you achieving your purpose.
These issues may be psychological obstacles. They can be emotional roadblocks. They can be driven by economics. They can be obstacles within your organization, such as cultural, resources or operational issues. These obstacles can be readily evident, big, and sometimes monstrous. They can also be hidden landmines or stealth-like forces waiting beneath the radar. Whatever they are, make sure you take note of them. The answer to this question is a true reality check. If there is one guiding principle in purpose-led communications, it is the realization that the best way to deal with your competitive climate is to know who and what it is and to deal and speak to it with absolute transparency and integrity. This is an area of communications planning where fear loves to feed. You need to look that fear right in the eye and master it.
Take the classic Economics 101 meaning of competition and wrestle with it in terms of how your business and organization can achieve its cause. Most see competition as a pillar of capitalism that fuels innovation, efficiency, and low prices. Microeconomic theory believes that pure competition produces efficient means and tools for allocating resources. It makes businesses create new products and services that provide the customer with more and more options and variations. More selection usually, but not necessarily, leads to lower prices, as opposed to pricing situations under a monopoly or oligopoly. This classic viewpoint can clash with a purpose-led organization. It can also be difficult to appreciate by the business committed to sustainability.
Ask yourself and your team what you are competing for? Is it profit? Market share? Are you hoping to defeat or conquer something? Is it something bad? Is it good? What is the size of the competition? Are you a small entity competing locally or a corporate giant dueling for global markets, talent, and resources? What are the consequences of your competition? Is it friendly? Is it for fun? Is it for pride? Or is it a bitter rivalry? Is it like a war? How does all this bump up against the idea of your business as a cause or a driven by noble purpose? What damage needs to occur for you to achieve your purpose? Who will suffer? Who will gain?
Interspecies competition can be seen as the shaping influence around adaptation and evolution. Social Darwinists believe competition can help determine who and what is best politically, economically, and environmentally. Do you feel your purpose separates the strong from the weak? Are the obstacles standing in your way superior or inferior to your purpose? How do you feel when your purpose is placed in a hierarchy of importance?
Now, let’s shift our perspective. It doesn’t take a Nobel Prize in economics to know that competition can have a less than positive impact upon both humans and the planet. Negative effects range from damaging other living things to the depletion of valuable resources and energy supplies. Competition often demands enormous financial reserves. Competition can soften ethical principles to gain the upper hand. Competition can hurt the team because it pushes itself beyond its limits to win and becomes unprepared for losing. Ironically, going full throttle for competitive advantage can actually hurt company profitability. There hasn’t been much visible, mainstream philosophical energy or discourse around the core nature of competition and its impact on ethics. Throughout history, philosophers’ observations on competition isn’t always taken seriously since it doesn’t have the gravitas of the MBA in finance. Competition was always regarded as being a natural part of our society. This has changed recently. Some now see competition as being the enemy of cooperation and meaningful innovation, while others view competition and cooperation as necessary roommates.
Is competition at its core beneficent? Who benefits from competition? Who suffers? Is the suffering justified? Are the benefits hoarded or shared, revealed or hidden? Can the benefits be financial and mindful? Does competition call for only one winner? What happens to the losers? What happens to the winner? Why is it set up as a game to begin with? What comes to mind when you hear the term “cola wars”? What comes to mind when you hear “war games” in a marketing context? Think about the meaning of these terms in as they relate to your business or organization: contestant, champion, comer, finalist, foe, front-runner, favorite, world-beater, king, leader, and number one.
Let’s move from the competitive to the collaborative climate.
Take an inventory of your collaborative climate. What joint operations, actions, or cooperation are essential for your success? What are the forces working with you? What can you create rather than destroy or conquer?
Fully integrated individuals realize that they must work with both their personal strengths and weaknesses. Functional families realize they must work together for the betterment of each family member, which results in the overall health of the family. Truly healthy corporate cultures rely on true collaboration among departments and teams and offices rather than a divisive “winners and losers” approach to the bottom line. A collaboration-based profit and loss statement is more sustainable than one built by a winner-take-all, master-of-the-universe mentality. Think about this when you construct your collaborative climate. Compare your competitive and collaborative analysis. See which one feels most aligned with your purpose. Think about what the difference is between being better than others and doing better for others.
Take a 360-degree view of your organization. Look at it from both the inside out and outside in. See yourself as others see you. Create an inventory of your weaknesses and the strengths. Think in terms of both physical competition and philosophical roadblocks. When you feel you have created a comprehensive competitive overview, select the number one obstacle standing in the way of your success.
Conduct a review of your collaborative climate. Again, look at what’s being done internally or what could be done in terms of collaboration. How do others regard you from the perspective of collaboration? What is your most effective means of working with others? What is stopping you from collaborating with others? What would happen if you pursued a collaborative relationship with your main competitor? Or, with any competitor? What would happen if you worked with the attitudinal, economical, and environmental obstacles standing in your way rather than always going against them?
After contrasting your competitive and collaborative climates, which climate most supports, nurtures and fortifies your purpose? Both your intellect and instinct speak volumes when you make this observation. If you are an organization genuinely committed to a noble purpose, the answer to this question is evident and energizing. If it isn’t, then you need to keep working on this answer before you move to the next question ‘What can only you truly promise your primary audience that is of real benefit to them?’