About Thinking Creatively

Thinking Creatively is about taking a step back... when you want or need to think strategically and creatively about your business... or about your customer's business... or about a solution to a challenging business problem. The goal is to be one part inspiration and one part motivation. We hope to provide - over time - thought-provoking advice, tools, ideas and company profiles that help get you to your next breakthrough. Your feedback and interaction is invited, welcomed and encouraged.

Thinking Creatively is made possible by the support of GMC Software Technology. Normally such features are for "Premium Members" only. However, because the topic is so timely and essential to all executives in the industry we asked GMC Software Technology to provide support for this series. Their support allows us to to present these articles free for all WhatTheyThink.com members.

It is getting to be that time of year where we take a look back to see where we’ve been… and begin to look forward, to where we’re headed.

So we’re going to pose a series of strategic questions over the next few articles of Thinking Creatively. These questions are all designed to prompt reflection. And introspection. All are designed to get you thinking about positioning your business with more clarity… getting to a more successful path to the future. To plot a course… to stand apart from competitors… to find the growth opportunities that are perfect for your business.

Each of these questions has played a role in hundreds of successful positioning and repositioning assignments I’ve been involved with over the last twenty or so years. That includes companies large, medium, small and just starting up.

In this article, I’ll list out the questions. Then future articles will expand on them individually, helping you capture the subtlety and strategic significance of each one.

Question #1: What Business Are You In?

This sounds like a simple question, but has huge implications, depending on how you answer it. When people ask you, “what do you do”, how do you answer?

Are you in the printing business?

The graphic arts business?

The customer communications management business?

The marketing services business?

The “right answer” for you…

  • Creates a perception for your customers, employees and vendors that determines what you are “eligible” to sell, make and buy;
  • Determines who is most likely to be in your competitive set (and your customer’s consideration set);
  • Determines whether you are the leading player, a top 3 player or an afterthought in your segment of that business;
  • Guides how you configure your resources and where you make investments.

Question #2: Who is your Core Customer…Really?

When we say “core customer”, this isn’t necessarily a list of your customers today… or even your largest customers. This is a description of the customer who sits in your sweet spot. The ones who you serve incredibly well, who most appreciate your offering… and who provide the best opportunity for growth and profit long term.

Question #3: What is Your Unique Point of Difference?

For every successful business, there is that “one thing” for which you are most known. The one thing that you excel at, that others can’t match. Here is a great article I recently read that captures this sentiment. It is called “Real Unfair Advantages” and it describes how to find that one thing that makes you special and that competitors find nearly impossible to duplicate (think Google’s search algorithm).

Question #4: What are the Trends, What is “In the Air”?

In order to position yourself for the future, you should make a list of trends. What are thought leaders in the industry talking about? What are publishers writing about? What questions do your customers keep bringing up? This question is important to capture how you are positioned to deal with and take advantage of where business is headed.

Question #5: What are the Deep Needs of Your Customer?

When it comes to customer needs, it is easy to default to “lower prices, superior quality, or great service”. What will help you get to a more differentiated strategy is to look deeper. What are the internal issues your core customer faces when they must complete a communications project? What are the chronic problems they face in THEIR industry? What problem would they pay dearly to solve, if you could solve it for them? If you just keep asking “so what does that do for them” after every question… you’ll get to a much more detailed and relevant list of deep needs.

Question #6: What Things Do You Do Really Well (what are your core competencies)?

This question, when dealt with honestly, can have a huge impact on your positioning.

Are you great at manufacturing? Or, do you and your team have outstanding selling skills? Do you get kudos for your creativity, your design and consultative skills?

There is a great deal of chatter about becoming a marketing services company. Some companies have “communications capabilities” in their DNA. Others are much better at “making things”. Be candid as opposed to optimistic. In the end, the place you land in positioning your business has to be anchored in credibility. You can’t expect the captain of an ocean liner to be a great pilot, just because he carries people over the ocean. But both are worthy professions.

Six questions. The answers -- to any one of these questions -- have big implications for where you decide to take your business. Here’s hoping you can devote some time to reflect…and react, in your path forward to future success.