Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It’s All About Advantage

“Sustainable competitive advantage is the essence of strategy.”

What makes firms distinctive?  In our over-saturated, over-exposed markets, how do companies really differentiate themselves?  I thought about this for a bit, and surely Walmart does embody its “everyday low prices,” Publix (a supermarket company from Florida and Southern staple, which I dearly, dearly miss) is certainly “Where shopping is a pleasure,” and Subway is the fast food I go to when I want to “Eat Fresh.”

It’s not a coincidence that these companies happen to be market leaders.  (Look up Publix for a minute; it has been around for 85 years and it is family-run and both the largest employee-owned company and the most profitable grocer in America).  Without a doubt, these companies certainly have their strategy laid out for every employee to articulate. 

At least one of my examples started out as a fun “business” venture, a means to another mean, yet it grew larger than imaginable (Here’s looking at you, Subway).  I was excited to learn that my favorite ice-cream company had similar origins.  Ice-cream life began when I met Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food ice-cream.

Maybe businesses that were never meant to be “businesses” like Ben and Jerry’s are some of the best out there because they have grown organically.  You can’t buy that type of culture and you can’t teach it either.  The people who are there love their job.  It’s more like a hobby.  I would say that Ben and Jerry’s strategy is something along the lines of “remaining socially conscious and unconventional by dominating the mixed-in super premium ice cream market and producing the ice-cream in a sustainable fashion with the spirit of Vermont.”  I believe that this passionate spirit (like that of Southwest) that makes businesses is a competitive environment successful.   It’s how companies like Etsy and Zappos thrive. 

I think the question of this case is: how could Ben and Jerry’s (or companies like it) continue to grow while keeping its communal, home-grown spirit?  After all, the company did go after a real CEO with real experience, so this meant they were going in a new direction, different strategy per se.  This is the part that strategy plays.  That’s why I believe in ‘quirky” companies like Ben and Jerry’s strategy should be fluid, and not imposed.  It’s not a once a year “jam session.”  It should be part of hallway catch-ups and cafeteria sessions.  For these unconventional companies, that is the only way strategy will come about.  

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