Professor Michael Porter: Be Different, Look For Your Weirdness

Michael Porter (1947) is a professor at Harvard Business School, specialized in topics about business strategy, economic development of nations and regions, and about the implementation of business competitiveness in the resolution of social, environmental and health issues. He is the chairman of the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness (in the same school) and also manages, once again at Harvard University, the program directed to new deputy counselors and presidents of large corporations. He has been awarded on different occasions due to his trajectory and he is the author of numerous books, among which stand out "Competitive Advantage" and "Competitive Strategy".

Professor Michael Porter


Now, let's jump directly into some of Porter's advice, dedicating time to explain each one of them:

1. Success doesn't mean being the best; success means being different.

Dedicate your time on trying to be the best by being different from others. This is the essence of everything: discover your weirdness, your singularity, your particularity. There's no other path. If you have nothing that differentiates you from others, you won't have a competitive advantage, you'll be the average person and your income will be limited. Focus on finding something that makes you stand out in some way. This is not about trying to be extravagant or flamboyant, just simply different. Trying to be the best is not always the best strategy; it's often too expensive, an alternative only reserved for those industry tycoons. If you try to compete with them, you will get frustrated and in the end, you will only get the crumbs.

2. Poor companies ignore their competition; the average company copies its competition; the winning companies define the path to their competition.

The authentic long-lasting competitive advantage lies in the capacity to innovate constantly. Success is based on being different, as we said, and the recurring success is based on being different in a recurring way. One cannot live from static competitive advantages. Everything has an expiration date and during shorter times as time passes. The self-compliance, the accommodation, and the gentrification lead us to extinction. In other words: whoever always offers the same and in the same way, ends up giving up doing it. The capacity to learn continuously and to be young forever is essential to compete.

3. If you try to serve everyone with everything, it would not be possible for you to obtain a competitive advantage. All good strategies create unhappy clients. Why? Because they only serve a specific group of people.

There's nothing more reckless than attempting to be liked by everyone. Defining your target means that an important part of the public will be unsatisfied; either for the quality level, the price, the attractiveness or whatever. Positioning yourself correctly implies to not be liked by many, those who are not interested in the value you provide. But, it doesn't matter; that is the reasonable result of positioning. Positioning yourself in the market demands the ability to say "no" to a lot of things. You cannot be everything: fast, cheap and great. The worst is to be indifferent. Being in all puddles is not profitable.

4. 75% of companies lack of strategy and they limit to copy others.

We are all very innovating in our speeches, but we are also too bureaucratic in our behavior. Although everybody glorifies the virtues of the differentiation, in the end, are few who actually achieve to differentiate. First, because one must look for differentiation and work it; second, because differentiating implies risking; and third, because differentiation must be renewed (everything nowadays is copied very rapidly), and to do that, a lot of effort and perseverance are required. Steve Jobs also talked about this issue, claiming in one of his speeches: "To keep innovating for years a lot of discipline is required".

5. "Good Marketing" does not exist, despite what many people think. It only exists good marketing for a specific strategy.

One of the mistakes many times people make when talking about marketing or management is to universalize the advice and messages. These are useful when they have been particularized for a given context. Nothing is good or bad by itself but rather good or bad for a specific situation or strategy. Not taking this into account could have bad consequences in the future. The ultimate cause is the last thing in one's achievement, but the first thing in intention. The first thing is to ask ourselves "Why?".   

6. The key to retent clients is satisfaction. Satisfied clients maintain his/her loyalty for a longer time, purchase more, talk favorably about the company and its products, pay less attention to competence and are less sensitive to price changes.

Specifying sales is essential, but keeping clients' loyalty is even more. Selling only is not enough, one must generate loyalty, looking at the client as more than a mere transaction. The first strategy (focusing only on selling) often gives results in the short-term, the second strategy is profitable in the mid and long-term. Happier clients, more revenue. To do this, you must always think about giving more for less: better quality, better price, better attention, better distribution. You have to become obsessive in polishing and making your value proposals shine continuously.

7. The successful seller worries first about the client, and then about the products they sell.

This is the authentic philosophy in business. Put yourself in your client's situation to know better what necessities they have and, from there, start building the product or service. A lot of times, people do the opposite: they design a product or service and then after, they try to position the product in the market, something that often fails. Sometimes the problem is not the incapacity to sell but rather that the service or product you are offering doesn't interest people. If you want to be successful, develop empathy, put yourself in your clients' shoes and figure out what they really want.

8. The best advertising is the one carried out by satisfied clients.

All publicity that comes out from your own mouth is always under suspicion and generates misgivings but if that publicity would come out from other people's mouth, credibility increases. There's nothing more profitable than a satisfied client because they will make free publicity for your business through, perhaps, the most effective method of advertising: "The word of mouth". Moreover, with the impact of social media nowadays that effect is exponentially more important every day. But conversely, it also works and in a much more resounding way. According to statistics, people talk seven times more often about negative things than about positive things. An unsatisfied client could be very damaging to an organization. Because of this, worrying about your clients' satisfaction is not a side issue.

9. Now, it is not enough to satisfy clients, you have to leave them enchanted.

Competence in all industry sectors is ruthless. In a lot of industries, a situation of dead heat becomes a true reality. The tangible profits from products are copied in real time. Prices are often too tight. Standardization is now the trend. Markets are changing faster over time and, in mature markets, the most profitable difference comes from the service quality and from the capacity to arouse valuable perceptions. The emotional differentiation is more and more an obligation nowadays. When differences (in price or quality) were more obvious, communication between companies and their surroundings was much more straightforward, and it only treated basic elements: prices and attributes. Now the rules of the game have changed. Communication has become more complex, and this is why companies should pour more effort into their brands. It is necessary to create an "emotional connection" with the public, where positive experiences and feelings are linked to brands. We have gone from the age of the indispensable to the age of the irresistible.

10. Shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy or sustainability. It is a new way of reaching economic success.

The Harvard professor points out: "We went from philanthropy to the corporate social responsibility and sustainability, and now we have to start creating shared value. Shared value is not a theory, it is now a reality. The efficiency of the economy and social process are not any different. Shared value is to create economic value while generating social benefits. Companies that don't embrace it, will get stuck". Today, lying, scamming and cheating is more complicated than ever before. Transparency is gradually getting greater. Everything ends up being exposed and faster. We live in a world with much more interconnection. And whoever doesn't take this into account will sooner or later pay for it. Another thing is not sustainable. Actually, it has never been, the difference is that now the lies are much more evident and they are counteracted faster. Shared value is no other thing than being aware of the fact that we are all in the same boat.

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