About 95% of what executives in competing companies do is pretty much the same all around. It consists of good management.
If you are CEO-ing a wireless communication services provider services, you strive to put up an advanced technological infrastructure with a promising future, cool end-user phones, other devices and accessories, a great service system, attractive added-value services and competitive prices.
Well, this is precisely where your competitors put their efforts as well. The 5% (give or take) that you do differently constitutes your strategy. The CEO of Southwest Airlines, the revolutionary domestic American airline, most of the time does exactly what her colleagues do. But her firm offers ticketless travel, and serves meals in the airport during waits, and not on the plane.
Doing well what you are supposed to be doing is a prerequisite for competing. It is definitely not a strategy. Being better is a deserving effort, yet it is not a strategy, either, especially not in the long run. Categories tend to converge into an equable level, more or less, of prices/costs, product quality and features, technological sophistication and service quality.
How, then, are you supposed to compete? Well, you could offer your clients more than what your competition offers, for a higher price, for the same price, for a lower price, or offer them less value for a lower price. All of these options can give you an edge, but usually not for long.
You could also offer something different than what your competition does. You can cater to a need not formerly satisfied by your category. Nokia, for example, did just that when it decided to treat cell phones as fashion accessories and later as entertainment devices.
Even this approach could not be considered as an insurance policy. There are no insurance policies in the world of business. But, if it is difficult or impossible to imitate, or it is something not likely to be imitated by your competition—then you might just have created for yourself a mini-monopoly of your own. Well, this is surely an accomplishment that should not be underestimated in a competitive market.
So, what really is a strategy?
Dan Herman, PhD, CEO of Competitive Advantages, is a strategy consultant, keynote lecturer, workshop/seminar leader, and author of Outsmart the MBA Clones: The Alternative Guide to Competitive Strategy, Marketing, and Branding (www.outsmart-mba-clones.com).