DON’T LET SUCCESS GO TO YOUR HEAD*
Past success(es) can be a problem. In a 1999 Harvard Business Review article, “Why Good Companies Go Bad,” which could easily be titled, “Why Good Brands Go Bad,” Donald N. Sull writes, “Success breeds active
Success can lead to hubris, a false sense of security and complacency, all of which undermine those successful ones’ willingness to adapt and build upon any advantage they might hold. Also, a contented marketer is an easy mark for a determined, aggressive competitor to topple. The determined competitor will work to neutralize the differentiation and may go on to win on price or some other factor (perhaps, using intangibles, such as terms of purchase or free delivery).
I delivered a keynote presentation to a large, multi-national pharmaceutical company on the subject of “marketing excellence.” Before preparing this talk, the client told me that a segment of the target-audience already felt that they had achieved, and were currently engaged in, marketing excellence. Okay, wonderful. Curiously, in researching the company, I learned their average cost for bringing a new drug to market was the highest in the pharmaceutical sector, nearly four times higher than the most efficient pharmaceutical company. Therefore, I warned that these marketers could not afford to be self-satisfied. I counseled them that their marketing should probably be at least four times more productive than their competitors’ marketing if they hoped to either compete effectively or to optimize the value of their very precious assets.
Any competitor who is self-satisfied is one who is vulnerable to failure. Self-satisfaction is where “active inertia” sets in, and the quest for additional ways to differentiate and compete begins to falter. If you want to be and stay a winner, then you ought to take to heart the words of the most interesting man in the world, the former Dos Equis spokesman, who in the brand’s advertising advised, “Stay thirsty, my friends. Stay thirsty.”
Don’t allow yourself to become complacent. Strive to grow. Continue to innovate. Participate in war-gaming to identify ways in which competitors may best your offering and marketing. Then, find ways to immunize your brand from the most significant and likely of these potential initiatives. Be relentless in your search for ways to differentiate and forestall more thirsty competitors. Importantly, act to increase your bond with your target-customers and (if you have it, leadership) position in the marketplace.
*Adapted from the forthcoming book, AVOIDING CRITICAL MARKETING ERRORS: How to Go from Dumb to Smart Marketing.