After two decades of writing about and analysing growing businesses as well as doing it for my own operation, it is often a mind-growing experience to see the process of building a successful business put into clinical and even theoretical terms.
It is especially uplifting and even more believable when the deductive theorising is supported by believable case studies.
This is what I took away from my reading of Bob Bloom’s Inside Advantage.
Bloom was the CEO of an ad and PR agency in the US called Publicis. And over the years, he has been associated with many successful turnarounds or launches of big-name businesses and out of these experiences he pinpointed what is the difference between good and great business performers.
In a nutshell, he argues you have to find your Inside Advantage (IA) and exploit it professionally.
He believes a great way to find your IA is to workshop it with your entire team because the questions you have to ask sometimes can be better answered by people closer to the action.
When Michael Eisner ran Disney, he would put on brainstorming weekend get-togethers that included the top executives all the way down to employees who worked at the coalface selling tickets to the company’s key customers.
This is the same technique pioneered by Edward de Bono who believes collective thinking can lead to lateral thinking and this is, as he argues, at the core of all successful businesses, executives, sportspeople and any high achiever.
The starting point for Bloom is to know your target or core customers and define them, profile them and be an expert on them. This is where a total business brainstorming can be very insightful for those at the top.
By the way, this idea marries nicely into the notion that most businesses get 80 per cent of their business from 20 per cent of their customers. These would be core customers.
The next step is to define precisely what it is you are selling. Bloom makes the important point that we all sell something, which could be called transactional. It could be golf clubs, financial services or coffee but the point of difference where business owners play to their IA relates to the emotional thing that is sold.
Think about your own local area and ponder where you go for coffee or for regular meals. These destinations, which ‘own’ you as customer, invariably do more than just sell coffee. They sell friendliness, recognition and anticipation of your needs — it explains why you go back all of the time.
So you have to wrap your good or service in a compelling emotional package to mine your IA.
Once you know your customers and have created a standout product, next step is to create the persuasive marketing strategy but it is always easier when you know who your customers are and exactly why they would always want your product and be happy to tell others about you and your product.
Bloom says you have to dream up attention-grabbing events, strategies and plans to capture the eyes and ears of potential customers, while locking in your existing customer base.
He concedes this can be easier said than done and you might need outside expertise to come up with the marketing strategy but if you know your customers and you have an emotionally powerful product, then the marketing job should be less challenging.
Getting these three steps in place gives you the opportunity to own the customers in your segment or marketplace.
Pre-political correctness, Bloom said they defined Southwest Airlines’ personality as a woman to appeal to the downtrodden salesmen who were their core customers. Along with their flights they ‘sold’ loving care and it worked a treat.