Get-Started Action Tips to Evaluate How You Stack Up Versus Competition

The late New York City mayor Ed Koch created a personal, attention-getting mechanism for gaining input and feedback. He famously asked: How am I doing?

Business and marketing leaders have much to gain by utilizing a “How are we doing?” outside-in learning approach. One easy-to-implement way to get started is to conduct a regular program to compare your products and services versus other available options.

During my brand management days at Unilever, the marketing teams had scheduled “cuttings” during which they would compare their products to those of their competitors, review new products and/or generally explore options in the category. It was a cross-functional gathering including R&D and sometimes other colleagues. It fostered collaboration and led to productive and interesting conversations about the business, beyond the technical details.

It was also a fun part of the job, and vividly demonstrated why we all came to work each day: to provide great tasting products to consumers.

I remembered those product review sessions when reading about the keynote speech former Kroger and Harris Teeter executive Fred Morganthall gave during this month’s Private Label Manufacturers Association trade show. His advice has widespread relevance beyond the grocery business: Continue reading

Decisive Super Bowl Play Demonstrates Power of Being “Always Ready”

My last post was about why the Coast Guard motto, Always Ready, is also a valuable mindset for business and marketing teams.

Because something unbelievable happened at the end of Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, “Always Ready” is a pertinent topic again.

Malcolm Butler wins Super Bowl XLIX for the New England Patriots. Credit: New England Patriots.

Malcolm Butler wins Super Bowl XLIX for the New England Patriots. Credit: New England Patriots.

Unless you’ve just come out of hibernation, you’re well aware of what happened Sunday night in Arizona. This is not the place to critique Seattle’s play selection.  You can find that everywhere.

Instead, let’s go behind the scenes and understand how one player made one of the all-time best plays in American sports history.

His name is Malcolm Butler.

In an interview on ESPN’s Mike & Mike radio program Monday morning, the rookie cornerback explained why he was ready.  Pay special attention to the end of the audio excerpt:

Continue reading

Master of Disguise – Texas Roadhouse CEO Goes Incognito for External Learning

“It’s important that I not be recognized when scouting. I have Bubba teeth to dive to another level. The goofier you are, the more folks don’t care about telling you stuff.”  Kent Taylor, Texas Roadhouse CEO

Photo: Texas Roadhouse Facebook.

Photo: Texas Roadhouse Facebook.

Getting closer to your business operations, employees and even competitors doesn’t require a trip to your local pop-up costume store.  Save that for this year’s Halloween shopping.

Kent Taylor, the founder and CEO of Texas Roadhouse provides a funny reminder that business leaders need to avoid the ivory tower syndrome and get out into the market for real learning. Continue reading

Beware the Arrogance of Dismissing Competition

Sometimes it’s possible to lose sight of and/or minimize something really important:  the competition also wants to win.

Most marketing plans include discussion about the competition and/or a competitor analysis; and most new product gate processes require a competitive assessment as well.  Yet, smart people can fall into the trap of dismissing real competitive threats.  The latest example is a case where $26 beat $5 million.  How?  Read on.

A front-page news report last week provides a distressing case study about the pitfalls of underestimating the competition, and in this case the implications are more than just a change in market share.  They concern the safety of US and allied military forces overseas.  According to The Wall Street Journal, a simple $26 software program was used by enemy forces in Iraq and Afghanistan (competition) to gain access to live video surveillance feeds from unmanned Predator aircraft.  What’s startling, though, is the apparent dismissal that the enemy (competition) would be able to develop a capability to fight back against the $5 million unmanned aircraft.  Here is an excerpt from the news report:

  •  “The potential drone vulnerability lies in an unencrypted downlink between the unmanned craft and ground control.  The U.S. government has known about the flaw since the U.S. campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, current and former officials said.  But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said.”  (emphasis added)

Predator Drone – photo from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. Web site

It’s one thing to not anticipate an event or course of action.  That can happen to the best of us.  It’s something altogether different to know about a threat and to dismiss it.  Yes, all business and marketing plans are based on assumptions.  But assumptions should be fact-based and built on learning from real events.  In this case, military planners and aircraft manufacturers should have known better than to dismiss enemy (competitor) capabilities.  This is especially true because of all the learning to the contrary that was available.  There is a tragic record of the enemy (competition) being creative (e.g., 9/11 tactics and implementation) and finding inexpensive solutions to complex problems (e.g., IED warfare – improvised explosive device – that has wrecked havoc on US and allied military forces).

There are always excuses (sometimes valid) and hindsight is 20-20, but in this case the benefit of foresight was available, but not acted upon.  Here’s one explanation for ignoring the enemy (competitive) threat:

  •  “Fixing the security gap would have caused delays, according to current and former military officials. It would have added to the Predator’s price. Some officials worried that adding encryption would make it harder to quickly share time-sensitive data within the U.S. military, and with allies.”


Don’t underestimate your competition and don’t ignore your weaknesses.  A determined competitor may very likely find a way to beat you on your business playing field.  At the same time, don’t allow perceived competitor strengths to cause paralysis of action either.  Move forward if you need to, but address and fix any issues along the way that might prevent success.   And be thankful during this holiday season that, in most cases, your business and marketing decisions do not have life and death consequences.

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.