The power of a one-phrase strategy in driving growth

8 03 2013

Sports psychologists talk about being in flow, in the zone. It means the athlete is focused, with no distractions, and performance becomes almost effortless. But this state of effortlessness, requires a lot of effort to achieve it, whether in high performance sport or small businesses.

Re-reading Margaret Manson‘s CEO Online article “The power of the ‘One-Rule’ in productivity and growth” has been a valuable reminder of the importance of maintaining focus if market scale is to be achieved. In effect it recommends developing an organisation-specific way of challenging whether a proposed idea or project will “make the boat go faster”.

This strategic focus is much harder to agree and execute than a simple phrase suggests. It needs to be the organisation’s “north star” that helps people trade off competing priorities by being able to hold up a new project against the number one strategic outcome. It needs to be specific enough that everything can be justified against it, but broad enough to align the whole organisation.

Vern Harnish, business growth guru and author of The Rockefeller Habits, adopts a similar approach with recommending a “one-phrase strategy“. Vern often uses the example of the “wheels up” strategy of SouthWest Airlines. This simple phrase drove every strategic and operational decision from reservation systems to cleaning processes to the types of aircraft they bought. The single focus of every decision was to keep the planes in the air where they generate profits, not on the ground waiting or being repaired.

Do you have a “one-rule” or “one-phrase strategy” within your department or organisation? And is it one that helps clearly focus strategic and operational decisions as well as “wheels up” or “THE low cost airline”? Please share in the comments below.





Nike’s growth fuelled by deep customer insight

2 03 2013

This week Nike announced it was committing $50m to Michelle Obama’s campaign to get American kids more active, citing the high social costs of the “inactivity epidemic”. This commitment is just the latest example of the lesson Nike learned many years ago – to sustain growth, they must be customer-led not product-led. And when you consider they announced double digit revenue growth in December and Fast Company voted them the most innovative company in the world thanks to recent product and manufacturing innovations, you realise just how customer-focused Nike must be!

Losing sight of customer needs & market trends

In the mid 1980s, Nike’s growth stalled on the back of a failed brand extension into casual shoes. Despite Nike being a trendy brand, and casual shoes being a growth market, they failed to grab significant market share. According to founder Phil Knight, the problem was Nike had lost sight of who their customers really were. Their target market had always been performance athletes, reflecting their heritage in the legends of Bill Bowerman and Steve ‘Pre’ Prefontaine. Since Bowerman invented the waffle sole by pouring rubber into a waffle maker, Nike have been at the forefront of product innovation in every category they play in. In entering a new market, Nike took the same approach and produced “a functional shoe we thought the world needed, but it was funny looking and the buying public didn’t want it”.

Why this happened is a warning to sports organisations that’s as relevant now as it was when Phil Knight originally gave it. “In the early days, when we were just a running shoe company and almost all our employees were runners, we understood the consumer very well. There is no shoe school, so where do you recruit people for a company that develops and markets running shoes? The running track. It made sense, and it worked. We and the consumer were one and the same. When we started making shoes for basketball, tennis, and football, we did essentially the same thing we had done in running.”

Eventually this one-dimensional approach to customer insight became a weakness. “We were missing an immense group. We understood our “core consumers,” the athletes who were performing at the highest level of the sport. We saw them as being at the top of a pyramid, with weekend jocks in the middle of the pyramid, and everybody else who wore athletic shoes at the bottom. Even though about 60% of our product is bought by people who don’t use it for the actual sport, everything we did was aimed at the top. We said, if we get the people at the top, we’ll get the others because they’ll know that the shoe can perform. But that was an oversimplification. Sure, it’s important to get the top of the pyramid, but you’ve also got to speak to the people all the way down.”

Becoming genuinely customer-led

So what’s different now Nike are customer-led rather than product-led? Knight continues “whether you’re talking about the core consumer or the person on the street, the principle is the same: you have to come up with what the consumer wants, and you need a vehicle to understand it. To understand the rest of the pyramid, we do a lot of work at the grass-roots level. We go to amateur sports events and spend time at gyms and tennis courts talking to people.”

Within this story are several keys to organisations being genuinely customer-led

  • Be wary of using staff as a proxy for the needs of the customer, as this becomes potentially limiting if/when the actual customer base diversifies beyond the core customers
  • To understand customers, get out to where they are buying/using the products and services you provide – see how they use it, and listen to how they would improve it
  • To achieve scale, design products and services based on the common needs across target customer groups, rather than focusing on the differences between them.
  • Changing the focus from creating products to delivering solutions (as discussed in this recent post on ‘Re-evaluating the 4Ps of marketing for sport’)

In this context, Nike’s announcement of combining social responsibility with business growth makes good sense. Nike knows what’s important to their customers both now (a company that takes social responsibility seriously) and in the future (active and sports-aware kids will become the target customers of the future). It’s not just their innovation department that is thinking several steps beyond the current product line.

To read more about customer-led growth, click here





Parallels between the roles of a team captain and an NGB

25 02 2013

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The role of an international rugby captain came under public and media debate in Wales last week. Regular captain Sam Warburton was fit again but left on the bench, with Ryan Jones retaining his place and the captaincy. With many accepting the logic of not changing a winning team, focus turned to the role of the captain(s) and who could/should/would do what.

The captain’s role can take many forms, including leader, organiser, encourager and of course player. And the specifics of what’s required often vary by sport, team and the individual in question. But what is consistent is that the role is as much as about bringing the best out of others as it is about playing well themselves.

The debate in Wales got me thinking about the role of NGBs. Like team captains, NGBs can be required to play many roles within and on behalf of their sport. But while the requirements vary by sport and situation, it is vital that the NGB has clearly defined its role before it finalises its business model.

What roles could an NGB play?

The many potential roles of an NGB can be clustered under three headings – leader, enabler and deliverer.

Leader – This could include the traditional role of governor, setting and enforcing rules of play and standards of experience. Or it could be a thought leader, sharing lessons, successes or new innovations with other partners. Or it could be a connector, co-ordinating the different organisations across the sport to achieve common measures of success. Or it could be leading the performance of a group of partners the NGB has formally or informally outsourced work to.

Enabler – This could include recruiting, training and upskilling the workforce across the sport, through a range of formal and informal qualifications. Or it could be supporting the delivery chain of clubs or facilities to improve their facilities, marketing skills or other capabilities. Or it could be about aggregating, adding value to and sharing consumer and market intelligence to enable partners across the sport to provide innovative and relevant offers to a growing number of participants.

Deliverer – This could include directly filling a delivery gap, either with national programmes or through a club network. Or it could be running competitions and events that other providers train people/teams to take part in. Or it could be through stimulating innovation by developing and testing new products to create a proof of concept for the market to scale up. Or it could be through orchestrating and delivering an overarching campaign to drive demand across the sport.

My intention is not to prescribe the ideal role of an NGB. That depends on the market their whole sport operates in, future customer needs and the strategic outcomes of the NGB. However the strategic choices and the information required to make them are similar across sports. And the key word here is choice. In the same way that Sam Warburton or Ryan Jones couldn’t play all 15 positions and direct the game from the stands, no organisation can successfully be everything to everybody.

Strategic choices require a clear understanding of the whole market

To develop a clear understanding of the market (sport) and its potential customers (participants), requires answering 4 broad questions:

What does current demand look like?
This includes understanding who is doing what, where, when, how, why & with who; and hence identifying the current trends, customer behaviours, needs, influences and barriers.

What does current supply look like?
This includes understanding who is providing what, where, when, why & how successfully; and hence identifying the needs, priorities and drivers of current providers.

What does future demand look like?
Given the trends within the sport, across other sports and throughout the target customers wider lifestyle, how is demand likely to change if nothing different is done? Are the potential market forces and new trends likely to increase or decrease demand over the next 3-5 years?

What does future supply look like?
Given the most likely political, economic, social and technological trends, what is likely to happen to supply over the next 3-5 years? For example will facilities be opened/closed/repurposed and what could be done to respond to the positive and negative impact of this potential future?

In summary, these aren’t simple questions to answer as they require a deep and on-going flow of market intelligence and consumer insights. However some NGBs are already building this understanding of where their whole sport is now and where its going. This understanding is being used to evolve their business model by making strategic choices about the market opportunity they are going to pursue and the role and priorities they will need to achieve it.

This focus on defining a key role is crucial to future growth as the expertise and processes required to be very good at governing a sport, running events, orchestrating national marketing campaigns, developing innovative products are all different – and these are just a few of the potential roles NGBs may choose to play. Doing a bit of everything isn’t the answer, as anyone who’s seen a prop dive pass or attempt a drop goal will testify…





Business model reinvention – opportunities for the sports sector

17 02 2013

With the latest round of funding for NGBs now confirmed, many are taking the opportunity to review not just the offers they make to their target customers but also the underlying business model they use to deliver those offers. To support those conversations, and introduce some of the key ideas, I’ve summarised a few recent articles that have been part of those discussions. This is subject I’ll build upon over the next few weeks, as while only one of the articles is about the sports sector, all the lessons are relevant for NGBs and other sports organisations.

Core competencies – Nike CEO Mark Parker On His Company’s Digital Future
(Austin Carr, fast company)
Nike is undergoing a digital revolution writes Austin Carr. It started with the Nike+ partnership with apple that tracked and changed people’s running behaviour. More recently the Nike Fuelbands are using “visual feedback” to change people’s wider lifestyle into something more energetic. But the story is more than these data-based innovations, impressive though they are. It’s the fact that Nike’s core competences that once were limited to trainer design, now extend to digital software and behaviour change science – to help achieve the same strategic goal of selling more shoes.
Business model question for sports organisations – what are the core competencies/capabilities your organisation needs to deliver on your strategic objectives, and how will you go about filling any gaps?

Key activities – Invest to innovate: Coke’s 70/20/10 rule
(Josh Leibowitz, McKinsey)
McKinsey partner Josh Leibowitz puts forward the argument that companies need to innovate to grow and that innovation is an investment mindset not all companies have. Amazon for example are restless innovators, achieving year on year growth through constantly introducing, testing and adapting new capabilities. Similarly Coca-Cola have a clear mindset based on investing 70% of marketing into “now” programmes, 20% into “new” or emerging trends and 10% into “next” ideas. Then they follow a systematic process of “start small and scale fast”, because they know growth comes from the scale of execution not the quantity of ideas.
Business model question for sports organisations – what key processes does your organisation need to be very good at to deliver its value proposition to target customers?

Channel strategy – Apple CEO likens retail experience to Prozac
(Ingrid Lunden, TechCrunch)
Apple’s 400-ish stores serve over 10 million people a week, but Tim Cook isn’t even sure that ‘store’ is the right word anymore. “They’re so much more than that” he says, referring to the fact that their delivery channel continues to create a customer experience that its competitors find hard to match. In becoming the face of apple, the stores have gone from a sales hub to a gathering place for the local community (a strategy also used by Sir Richard Branson to launch Virgin Records many years ago). But despite this changing role, they’ve not lost sight of the sales objective – as they’re having to close stores so they can build bigger ones!
Business model question for sports organisations – what is the experience you want your target customers to get as part of your value proposition, and how consistently is it currently being delivered across all your delivery channels?

Core purpose – Kill Your Business Model Before It Kills You
(Ron Ashkenas, HBR blogs)
One from the archives (last October) to finish with, as this nicely summarises the point of the previous articles. Ron Ashkenas asks why leaders wait too long to modify or abandon their business model. Kodak is a good example, hanging on to a core belief that film was part of the photography future even as the market (they invented) went digital.
Business model question for sports organisations – what assumptions are currently held about the purpose of your organisation that no longer reflect the value proposition you are planing to deliver to your target customers?





Re-evaluating the 4 Ps of marketing for sport

10 02 2013

This month’s HBR magazine has an interesting article about rethinking the classic 4 Ps for B2B marketing. Instead of Product, Place, Price and Promotion, the authors propose Solution, Access, Value and Education. As NGBs are largely in the B2B space, rather than B2C, the article has some interesting ideas for sport’s governing bodies.

Instead of PRODUCT focus on SOLUTION
HBR – Define offerings by the needs they meet, not by their features, functions, or technological superiority.

Relevance to NGBs – as NGBs become more customer-focused in their planning and delivery, they are moving from just developing new products to providing the supporting services and experiences that collectively deliver benefits that meet customer needs. Central to this evolution is a deep understanding of their customer’s needs, influences and behaviours, as this enables them to clearly identify solutions that meet the specific needs of their target customers.

Instead of PLACE focus on ACCESS
HBR – Develop an integrated cross-channel presence that considers customers’ entire purchase journey instead of emphasising individual purchase locations and channels.

Relevance to NGBs – it’s often tempting to think about participants in just one place, whether its as a member of one club or on the end of one email address. In reality participants increasingly want choice and flexibility in how they engage with a sport, just as they do with many other brands. Therefore the modern NGB business model needs to consider who its target customers are, what kind of relationship the NGB wants to have with those customers, and who their key partners need to be to provide the range of access those customers want. These partners will include those offering local delivery options and/or online connections.

Instead of PRICE, focus on VALUE
HBR – Articulate the benefits relative to price, rather than stressing how price relates to production costs, profit margins, or competitors’ prices.

Relevance to NGBs – pricing is a common topic within sport, usually in the context of demands for programmes/sessions to be cheaper or free. To be able to achieve scalable growth, the conversation needs to turn to the value sport provides, as many of the competitors for people’s time have a higher price but still offer better/more relevant value. For example, how does the value of the hour of sporting experience you provide compare with the price of a coffee or a trip to the cinema?

Instead of PROMOTION focus on EDUCATION
HBR – Provide information relevant to customers’ specific needs at each point in the purchase cycle, rather than relying on advertising, PR, and personal selling that covers the waterfront.

Relevance to NGBs – in thinking about “grow” & “sustain” plans it can be easy to forget that most participants don’t quickly commit to a sport for the long-term. Therefore promoting the value and accessibility of the solutions a sport offers, needs to be an on-going process for retaining and growing customer engagement. This education can extend beyond where to play and why it’s adding value, to include information about the participation itself. Nike have already demonstrated that the cross-industry consumer trend for accessing and using personal consumption data can be harnessed as a powerful motivator of participation.





Why do we play sport?

1 01 2013

New year is a great time to start or increase our sports participation. For a start there’s safety in numbers, as “do more exercise” and “get fit” are high on the list of annual new year’s resolutions.

But to create a new habit out of these resolutions, personal trainers will tell us we need some extra steps. To succeed we need to set a goal & get a “gym buddy” to help keep us going. We also need to understand and identify our motivation for doing it. Asking why isn’t something we do enough, but only through really questioning ourselves can we understand why we want to do something.

Goals are good, but what happens once you’ve ticked off the race? Buddies are helpful, until they get injured or too busy at work. So if we don’t have a good reason why, then the new behaviour is unlikely to stick long-term.

So why do we play sport? And do we play all sports for the same reason? There’s plenty of research around, telling us the reasons people drop-out of sport or won’t start. But what about the millions that do play? What gets us out of cozy beds or (hopefully) dry houses to ride, run or kick balls around? What drives our love affair for playing, not just watching, sport?

Digging beneath the responses of SportEngland’s satisfaction survey shows that we can participate in the same sport for a multitude of personal yet common reasons. For some it’s about the competition & progression, for some it’s about improving their health or fitness and for others it’s purely social & not about the sport at all.

These motivations become important when we think about the competing activities. Those motivated by specific competition will be less inclined to play a range of sports than those driven to improve their general well being. Equally for those motivated by the social opportunity, a coffee shop or social media chat may be a competitor on a wet & windy day!

As for me, I play football because it’s been baked into my DNA since I could walk. I no longer dream of playing for Fulham or Wales, but I still get excited when a tricky pass or move comes off! They remind me of why I had the dreams as a child.

I ride my bike to explore places while getting fit, I run to remind myself I used to be much faster, and I used to swim because achieving a big goal like a sub-3hr triathlon was impossible if I didn’t.

So why do you play sport? Would you be lost without your regular fix, or will other fun activities replace it before the sun returns?





Balanced scorecard – 20 years young

23 10 2012

The Balanced Scorecard approach to successfully executing business strategy is now 20 years old. But the work of Kaplan and Norton is still relevant to our sector today, as we move from counting inputs and outputs to measuring impact and outcomes. For those not familiar with the approach, the balanced scorecard enables a business to manage its performance across four dimensions of the organisation, rather than down within departments or silos. These dimensions are:

Financial / Stakeholders – is the organisation creating value for its ultimate stakeholders/funders?

Customers – is the organisation providing the products, services & experiences that its customers want to buy (with their limited time or money) , so that value is created for the stakeholders?

Processes – are the organisation’s internal processes efficient & effective enough to deliver what current and potential customers want?

Learning & growth – are the people and organisation learning from its stakeholders, customers, partners and processes to keep improving what they offer to their customers?

For a more complete yet succint introduction, watch this wonderful short video by www.intrafocus.co.uk








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