By Gary Beemer
1. Problems are all around us, solve some and you may just have the next big idea for your business.
2. Positive trends present opportunities, but after we develop them the real challenge is maintaining our competitive advantage as consumers change and competitors arise.
As marketing practitioners we may be self-employed or work for a company. Regardless of our status, the business that we find ourselves in started because someone had an idea that they felt would solve an existing problem, or take advantage of an emerging opportunity.
A successful Tampa-based printing company came into existence because the owner of a retail store bought a small printing press to make his own ads. When other businesses started asking him to print their ads as well – a lightbulb went on – and a new business was born.
A recent example of solving a problem is Dollar Shave Club, which was recently purchased by Unilever for a cool $1 billion in cash. Anyone who shaves regularly bristles at the cost of razors. We tend to put up with high prices as traditional marketing efforts from big razor brands focus on benefits derived from ever improving technology in blade configuration and lubrication. But when the cost became as painful as dragging a dull blade across our irritated skin, a new idea was born.
Michael Dubin founded Dollar Shave Club in 2012 with the idea of selling inexpensive razors on a subscription basis, addressing both price and the inconvenience of buying them. Industry experts weren’t so interested, so he ditched traditional marketing used by big razor brands and talked to directly to guys about their “razor problems” via YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUG9qYTJMsI). His first video went viral when he connected to his target market using irreverent “guy talk” that resonated and resulted in thousands of orders.
Problems are all around us if we stop for a moment and recognize them. If the solution is within our wheelhouse, and we can reach our target in new ways using unique story lines, we may have a winner on our hands as well.
An example of taking advantage of opportunities in the form of positive shifts in consumer preferences – albeit a recently struggling one – is Whole Foods. A growing trend in healthy eating and the number of people willing to pay higher prices for farm-to-table natural and organic foods seemed like a fertile market for new types of grocers. In 1980 the original Whole Foods Market opened with a small staff of 19 people. Revenue has grown from $75 million in 1990 to $15.4 billion in 2015, but recently same-store sales have been dropping according to analysis by Forbes.
Positive trends and growing markets attract competitors, so Whole Foods is now competing with Kroger, Costco, Publix and others in a segment they helped create. More competition has put downward pressure on natural and organic food prices, but Whole Foods was slow to react, resulting in some shoppers defecting based on lower prices for similar products in traditional grocers and clubs. Whole Foods is now opening new stores called 365 that offer natural and organic foods that are more in line with competitor pricing in less affluent communities. However, is it too little and too late, and can the business support seemingly incompatible premium and every-day branding strategies and pricing structures under one good-for-you umbrella?
Taking advantage of opportunities is one thing, but maintaining a competitive advantage requires a laser focus on changes within the trend and constant innovation to stay ahead of the curve. When an original proactive approach becomes reactive, our competitive advantage is slipping away. We not only need to start well, but manage well as the opportunity matures, competitors emerge, and consumer preferences change.