What Drives Competitive Advantage?

Kevin Root |

            What Drives Competitive Advantage?

Nearly all businesses share one thing in common. The quest for competitive advantage.

For most, this can be distilled down to one key but frequently elusive differentiator—insight.

Insight is different from information. The former is valued by all executives, the latter is what slows down organizations. Insight delivers a deep understanding while information simply conveys facts or data, and often results in the dreaded “analysis paralysis.”

Why is real insight so elusive? Because it lacks the proper context and framing which are required to turn information into insight.

For businesses seeking competitive advantage, the most valued insight is frequently that which comes from listening to your target audience—be it existing customers or prospects. Doing it the right way is challenging. That’s because it’s not enough to simply ask a question and collect the answer. That produces information, and while it certainly can be helpful, it rarely produces insight. Insight on the on the other hand gets to richer learnings like “why,” it uncovers motivations, gaps and needs that are not only unarticulated, but also frequently not even understood by your audience.

This is where market research contributes to competitive advantage. In today’s customer-driven market you must talk to—and deeply understand—your customers and prospects in order to build services and products that meet their needs better than your competition. There is a strong case for working with outside research firms to do this for you so as to eliminate internal bias going into the study or when analyzing the findings.

Focusing on uncovering unmet needs is critical, and it’s hard. This typically cannot be done with a simple survey. It’s best done when qualitative research is combined with quantitative research techniques. Only then can you quantify the findings AND understand the “why” questions and motivations behind them.

Customers can’t tell you what they want in your next business, product, or feature, but they can tell you what works and doesn’t work for them. But don’t stop there, uncovering and fully understanding this is where the real opportunity exists to deliver on the next great unmet need especially when you understand the motivational drivers.

Want to get more bang for your research buck? Find a research firm that has deep experience in your field, your product and your target audience. This will not only save time and money but will also deliver more actionable insights. The reason is that you don’t need to spend time getting them up to speed on your industry or products and their experience will be leveraged to guide you in the development of the approach and the analysis.

Some firms consider market research as a cost, while others see it as a strategic investment. Here are some of the reasons why:

Risk Reduction: New businesses, products and features require risking resources and capital. Market insight greatly reduces the chance of failure in delivering the right product at the wrong time, emphasizing the wrong features or even utilizing the wrong assumptions.

Maximizing Marketing Efforts: Understanding the “why” behind your customers’ or prospects’ decision making helps you understand their emotions so you can personalize the marketing message for different audience segments. The results will provide a treasure trove of insights that can be leveraged in your content marketing, ecommerce, and demand generation initiatives.

Go To Market Strategy: Deep customer or target market insight guides sales channel and marketing efforts. Knowing how to frame the problem to resonate with different market segments and having data to effectively differentiate, position, and price the solution sets both sales and marketing up for success.

Strategic Direction: Market research, done correctly, is the foundation to competitive advantage. Executives armed with insight that points to opportunities over the horizon are able to make course corrections to position their firm in the right place at the right time, before the competition awakes to the opportunity.

Firms that innovate place a premium on market insight and understand their customer and prospect segments at a deep level. They value qualitative and quantitative insights to gain a competitive advantage. Their competitors, on the other hand, invest their time reacting.