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Breaking from the past

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As a marketer, I feel a huge amount of pressure to deliver stronger programs with better performance for less money. Many times, I can get there by tweaking an existing program, or create a new program to deliver the required results. But there are also times when it is necessary to revisit the fundamental marketing strategy behind the programs.

Geoffrey Moore has written a new book called Escape Velocity for companies challenged to grow their businesses because they are stuck in their past. It’s the perfect companion to Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma. Christensen describes why market leading companies can get trapped by their own success, allowing competitors to pass them. Moore takes this thesis further by providing the “mother of all frameworks” to build and execute a plan to address the challenges faced by complacent companies.

What is the framework? It’s called the Hierarchy of Powers. In a nutshell, it helps assess a company’s strength in five dimensions:  category, company, market, offer and execution. It is the same dimensions investors use to evaluate the strength of a business. For companies and marketing departments that are stuck in neutral, the framework helps them to:

  • Make asymmetrical bets: Stop peanut buttering your investments. Invest to win in one to two areas where executives are fully committed, and don’t have a backup plan. Or as Moore says, “Burn the lifeboats!”
  • Create competitive separation by making core versus context investments: We all know that yesterday’s innovative product feature or program is today’s table stakes. Yet we see product features and programs that continue to get funding as if they are core to our company’s success when they are not. 
  • Lead first—manage second: Make sure you have established a leadership position before you begin to optimize the profits from your bets.
  • Build plans for winning market segments: Use a nine-point checklist from target customer to positioning, and everything in between.
  • Deliver results based on where you are on the arc of execution: Catalyze the right resources to invent, deploy and optimize your execution.

Does it work? It did for Sybase. Sybase worked with Moore and Todd Hewlin from The Chasm Group to make asymmetric bets in the enterprise mobility software category and financial services market. Believe me, there was a significant amount of pain felt throughout the marketing organization as we cut back the majority of our programs and departments’ budgets, many of which were considered entitlements. What we lacked in budget equality, we made up for in well-funded campaigns to build our company and market power. 

We invested in what was core to win, and optimized, i.e. cut, what had become simply context to compete. This improved the competitive separation of our offers and marketing programs. It resulted in marketing campaigns with strong product launches, taking market share from our key competitors, and very strong returns to our shareholders. With our acquisition by SAP, we maintained this focus.

Who is this book for? Escape Velocity is certainly meant for executive teams of companies ripe for reinvention who need a framework to diagnose and tackle critical challenges. It is also a terrific read for any marketers who find their programs stuck, stale, or simply not delivering the results they once did. The problem may not be the programs. The problem may be your lack of differentiation in the Hierarchy of Powers that signals a deeper, potentially ruinous malaise. 

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