Looking back over the past year I struggle to name one client who hasn’t had to confront major change in their industry. My own industry, advertising and marketing, feels like it has been put through a combine harvester and spat out of the other end.

The reality for marketers, and businesses trying to get attention today is:

  • Advertising has become a dirty word, and in fact drives customers away
  • It now costs money to reach your friends on Facebook
  • Marketing and design has been devalued and coding is the new black
  • By my estimates, 70% – 80% of the content we encourage brands to create is never read
  • Competition is growing exponentially and stability is a fantasy
  • Demographics no longer matter and imagination beats knowledge

It won’t come as earth-shattering news to you that we are experiencing an evolution, a slow and long revolution, brought on by the collision of the internet and social media.

So what is a business to do in times of major change like these?

The key is to plan, to think strategically, to think like a general who is about to invade a country. The key is to outsmart the opposition! This might sound a bit extreme I know but it takes cunning to win a war right? And for many of us, this is war.

Here are three things you can think about to begin creating a plan to dominate in 2016

Instead of reacting to market forces every day, your business should be aiming for something and planning how to get there. If you have a goal and you act on that goal, your chances of success are greater.

A simple way to do this is by thinking about who, what and how.

The first part is who.

Understanding your ideal customer, your “who”, is more important than ever. You should be trying to understand your core market and thinking about who exactly can deliver enough business to you for optimum profit – who is that ideal core customer that can drive your business growth? Then, as a priority, chase more of them – it is the fastest, easiest and most sensible way to grow. Get more customers like you current customers. You will always attract other customers but your time should be spent chasing your optimum customer.

As an example, over the last ten years my business has had to deal with increased competition from offshore developers, often Asian or Eastern European, who can build cheaper websites. While we couldn’t compete on price, dealing face to face with local customers gave us insights offshore companies could never see. Their relationship ended with the delivery of the website. On the other hand, we could see that for many people their pain point was not the fact that they needed to get a website live, their pain point was the fact that they wanted to grow their business, two totally different things. Our customers were clearly businesses that needed to grow, a completely different prospect to the business that just wanted a website to act as a business card.

Businesses that want to grow became our “who”, and we created a simple statement describing that person so we could actually visualise them. By defining a very specific target audience, it becomes more cost efficient to market your services or products.

It also helps you to refine your offering or innovate within your industry because you can get a clearer understanding of exactly what your specific audience needs and wants.

The second part is what.

Clearly defining “what” business you’re in is a great way to help differentiate your business. When I ask most of my clients what business they’re in they tell me what they make or what they sell – I’m in the cosmetics business, or I make cosmetics. “But that’s not the business you’re in” I ‘d say. If you asked Lancôme what business they’re in, they would most likely say they are in the business of helping women to look and feel beautiful. They understand their ideal customer very well, they understand how to help her. They know that women don’t want to be told what to do, they want to be helped.

It is here that your strategy should be built on two parts – an emotional part and the tangible part. The product/service is the tangible part. The emotional part is what the customer gets out of it, what it does for them.

This is where your powerful marketing messages will come from.

You can’t have a good strategy unless it’s part emotional and part tangible – that’s the what.

The third step is the “how”

This becomes simpler when you have your “who” and “what”. Here I’m referring to how do you sell what to who. The biggest mistake most people make is they sit in their office reaffirming amongst themselves what a better product or service they have, and fool themselves that they don’t have any real competition.

The common reality is, a gymnasium which sits on a corner has 3 competitors on the other three corners. It’s not enough to be great at what you do, the challenge today is how are you going to sell what to who, versus every competitor you have. How are you going to convince your “who” that you’re better? you have to think of your how in terms of developing a strategy to stand apart from all the other competitors.

This is where you have to think of your how in terms of developing a strategy to stand apart from all the other competitors. Businesses today can’t stand still. If you think about all of the world’s largest brands, they continually innovate. Smaller businesses aren’t used to continually innovating but I argue this has to change.

Faced with competition left, right and centre, my business took a serious look at our “what” and how we could innovate. In fact, we felt the need to innovate and differentiate was so great we re-invented our business around our “what.” We realised that if our business defined itself by helping companies that want to grow we should be walking-the-talk. So we began sharing more useful content like this blog and creating workshops and eCourses that help companies to think, act and grow strategically. This helped to set us apart from any and all of our competitors.

The beauty of it is, with a clearer understanding of your “what”, your “how” will fall into place.

What can you do to set distance between your business and your competitors?

The key then is to walk the talk by embedding it all into your DNA, your systems and practices, and working with your staff so they feel part of the new brand and its direction. As Steve Jobs said, “Nothing great happens until someone becomes passionate about something.” If you believe in your “what” enough, success is only a matter of time, not luck!