Competitive Advantage As a Moving Target

Businessweek has a special section on competition and it contains some really good articles, but I particularly liked How To Hit A Moving Target.

Differentiate your products. No, nothing's unique anymore; just slash your costs. Sorry, everyone's doing that. Invent new markets instead. Hug your customers, that's the ticket! Get real, you wuss — it all comes down to squashing your competitors like bugs.

The message between all those lines is unmistakable: No matter what strategy you try, competitive advantage — whether it's Home Depot's big-box appeal, Intel's chip technology, or Disney's magic aura — is tougher to create and sustain with each passing year. Says C.K. Prahalad, professor of corporate strategy at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and co-author of several books on competition: "Whatever advantage you have, someone will take it away from you."

The funny thing is that the article goes on to rephrase some of the ideas that it initially mocks, and recommends them as ways to develop new competitive advantages. Convenient amnesia, I think. But still, some of the points are pretty good – like obsess about customers.

Overall, it makes me think the mantra of today's corporations should be experiment, execute, and evolve. Come up with a witty subtitle and you have the next business bestseller.

  • Competition doesn’t matter as much as companies seem to think it does. I don’t buy Jamba Juice because it is the best smoothie out there… I wasn’t even really a smoothie drinker before I found them. Will people get an Oddcast avatar because its the best one? Who goes searching for avatars and comparison shops? You encounter our service and it either does what you want it to do or it doesn’t. I feel like dating is the same way. I don’t just take the best of what I happen to find… I have a certain something I’m looking for and I know what it is when I see it.