Imagine a future where your website is packed with social proof, rich content, and frictionless eCommerce. Picture a slick mobile app that your customers use across iPhone, Android, and tablets worldwide. This future also includes an authentic and real-time presence on Facebook and Twitter, a partnership with an innovative crowd-funded deal site, and a partnership with a location based service offering customers perks when they come your way. Your customer community is active on a platform that you own and operate. Your internal collaboration tool is live. And your competition is doing the exact same thing.
Most organizations would say that the picture painted above is their dream state—it's the future of their digital brand experience. They're going to give customers what they want, when they want it, and win them over in the process. But the competition is thinking the same way. They're reading the same Fast Company articles, courting the same hot start ups, and fighting the same good fight internally to help transform their business into a digital juggernaut. The frenzy over digital is at an all time high, and business leaders know that they've got to do something. We hear the same cry from executives across companies and industries, “We've got to get out there and engage with the customer!” And so, a fickle and frenzied arms race has commenced, in which every brand is in a hurry to be present in every setting, on every device, and in every conversation.
The problem is, digital isn't an arms race.
Long before there was an app store, Michael Porter reminded us of the difference between effectiveness and strategy: "Operational effectiveness means performing similar activities better than rivals perform them...Strategic positioning means performing different activities from rivals or performing similar activities in different ways." What this means for digital is that you need to be approaching common platforms in ways that are starkly different from your competition – ways that create real competitive advantage for your business. Just being present on Facebook, Twitter, and in the App Store is not enough. Put another way, you need to think about the actions you could take that would be counterintuitive or uncomfortable for your competition.
Creating digital advantage is hard because you have to do something that your competition can't or won't do (which means you probably won't want to do it either). To inspire your pursuit of this elusive state, here are a few manifestations of digital advantage in action, from easiest to hardest:
- Spend. If all other things are equal, and you can outspend your competition, you win.
- Exclusive Partnerships. If your competition can't play along, you win.
- Investment and Acquisition. If you own a piece of the right action, you win.
- Loyalty. If your customers make a true habit out of something you offer, you win.
- Platform. If you build something central to the category and community, you win.
- Intellectual Property. If technology patents and trademarks offer you protection and income, you win.
- System. If you can create a system of solutions that work better together in harmony, you win.