Contact Us | User Login  
Program Competencies
Our Blog


PDF Version



Monday, November 3, 2014


A friend, and fellow martial arts club member, recounted a story of a friend of his who was mugged recently. The friend walked down a dark, deserted street to be confronted by a guy wearing a hoodie. He heard someone stop at his five o’clock position, looked back and saw another guy in a hoodie. The hood(ie) in his face demanded his wallet, and watch. He then heard the snapping open of a tactical baton from the hood(ie) behind him. At that moment, for the first time since walking down that street, he had a firm grip on his situation, made a sound assessment, and arrived at a wise decision for his health and wellbeing. He complied with their demand.


What we are referring to is “situational awareness,” or in the aforementioned instance, the lack thereof (up to the point when he handed over his wallet and watch). We may define situational awareness as being aware of what is going on in your environment, its meaning and what you need to do about it in order to achieve your objectives. The dark, deserted street, the lone individual approaching out of nowhere in a “hoodie,” being surprised by someone coming up behind him, all suggest very poor situational awareness.


What does this have to do with us marketers? Simple, if you don’t have sound situational awareness of what your competitors are up to it’s unlikely you’ll reach your objectives. Objectives such as your brand’s business objectives (sales, market share and profits), marketing objectives (adoption, switching, etc.), marketing mix element objectives (such as the brand’s communication behavior objective) and/or specific tactic objectives for that matter. Moreover, if you find your brand is not achieving the objectives that you’ve established for it, you will not know the causal factors if you don’t have sound situational awareness. In other words, you’re “out of the loop” (literally and figuratively), that is the OODA loop (military aviation for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act).


OODA informs us that there is more than observing, although this is the place to start. It also requires an appropriate assessment of the situation (situational assessment) to get at its meaning. It addresses the question, “so what?” What does it all mean for our brand? Finally, there’s identifying what needs to be done and then taking action to put us on track to achieving our objectives. It’s all rather simple, yet it just doesn’t seem to happen.


As marketers we all appreciate the need to be relevant to our target-customer and meaningfully differentiated versus competition. Yet, when we inquire about brand ideas, positioning strategies, messaging, marketing mix elements and tactics of our clients we find that they are neither clear about what they are doing, or where they stand versus their competitors. They don’t know the brand idea or positioning for their own brands. Nor do they know the positioning strategies of their competitors. And, when we get them to look at it (i.e., observe and orient) they learn that they are in the same exact position. No differentiation. Just sameness in positioning strategy.


When we look at our clients’ communications and contrast them with competitors we find that they are going after the same customers, promising the same benefits, using similar reason-why support, and employing identical execution formats with similar, rather predictable and pedestrian situations. Again, no differentiation. Just sameness in marketing communications (i.e., advertising).


Obstacles to Situational Awareness

So why don’t marketers, or their organizations have good situational awareness?


1.  Myopia – Nearly everyone is focused on what is in front of his/her face. Emails. Preparing decks (presentations). Their eyes are off the ball regarding whether they have relevant, meaningful differentiation versus competition.


2.  Not monitoring – Basically, there’s very little monitoring going on. And, if it is being undertaken it is not being absorbed and/or shared by the team responsible for addressing it.


3.  Assuming you’re got it right – This is about “drinking the Kool-Aid.” It’s about making decisions in a vacuum and believing you have the right answer. But the right answer for an organization is typically the first executionally expedient answer that has consensus. It is not necessarily the answer that will prove successful in the marketplace.


4.  Underestimating the competition – Your competitors are not stupid. One can expect that they are every bit as smart and experienced as you. If they don’t have it correct now, anticipate that they will learn and make it right. The competitor who has the more insightful situational awareness can expect to be the victor.


5.  Stuck in a loop – Despite being made aware of their situation they are either impervious to the intelligence or unable to act upon it. They may feel hamstrung by legal and/or regulatory, lack creativity to address the situation, reluctant to do anything but what every competitor is doing, etc.


6.  Lack competitiveness – They believe competitiveness is about having an entry in the market. They don’t have a full appreciation for the need to differentiate to win. They say it but don’t live it.


Without situational awareness marketers are likely to be mugged. No, not by someone in a hoodie but by someone who is a savvy situational aware competitor. Not by someone who is out for your wallet and watch but, instead, someone who is out to achieve customer preference and loyalty, and market share.



How do you get back in the loop? How do you achieve situational awareness and, with it, the objectives that have been established for your brand?


1.  Observe – Identify what your key competitors are doing in the marketplace. Observe and chronicle their positioning (brand idea, target-customer, competitive framework, benefit, reasons-why and brand character), advertising (communication strategy and campaign idea consisting of the Naked Idea, Core Dramatization and Key Copy Words), promotion, clinical studies, indications and labeling, media, etc. Know where they stand and, importantly, where they may be going!


2.  Orient – Compare and contrast what they are doing with what you are doing. Identify what it means for your brand, particularly as it relates to achieving business and behavior objectives. Also, check for differentiation and determine its relevancy.


3.  Decide – Identify what you are going to do given your awareness and assessment. Identify indicated actions aimed at achieving differentiation and achieving objectives.


4.  Act – Don’t just sit there. Take action! Not just any action but action that is grounded in reality as measured by driving differentiation and customer preference.


5.  Dare to be different – Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity, “doing the same things in the same way and expecting different outcomes.” By the way, when we do things in the same way as our competitors their customers think it’s about their brand of choice, not ours. Doing different isn’t adding risk, unless you haven’t first assessed it with current and potential customers. Doing the same things as competition risks that you will not be able to achieve the important business and behavior objectives for your brand without needing to resort to using muscle and/or price reduction – neither of which are acceptable alternatives for most enterprises.


It helps to get an outside perspective, one that’s not clouded by biases, or blinded by false assumptions. It helps to gain input from insightful, experienced marketers who will challenge what you think you know and how the organization has handled, or plans to handle, matters dealing with competition.


If you are interested in exploring having BDNI conduct a marketing, positioning or communications audit to gain situational awareness and boost performance please respond to this article by clicking reply.

Get in the loop!
Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney


Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

© 2003 Brand Development Network (BDN) International. All rights reserved.

  Home | About Us | Contact Us | Site Map | Help

© 2007 Brand Development Network Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Site Web Master: Vincent Sevedge. Designed by
Call us: 800-255-9831
[Print Page]

Open 5-2008 BP&MCC Online Assessment