The most important word in marketing

horse race 2

Yes, there is a most important word in marketing.

It’s not niche or product or even Facebook. But before I tell you what I think it is, will you let me tell you a little story to explain what it is?

You will? Of course you will. You really have no choice do you?

The most important word in marketing

A few years ago I was helping out a marketing manager who was in charge of selling simple metal parts into the aerospace business. A new competitor on the West Coast had stunned this business by taking nearly all of the lucrative California customer business — about one-third of the total market — in just a year.

“What are you going to do about this?” I asked my friend.

“Well, we’re the market leader and we’re going after it,” he said. “We’re going to cut the price and get all that business back.”

Sounds like a plan, right?

Well, after I conducted some research, here is what I learned:

  • The competitor had newer, more efficient equipment and a lower-cost non-union workforce.
  • The California-based competitor went after the West Coast business where it also had a significant shipping cost advantage over my Midwest-based client. The parts were heavy and expensive to ship.
  • The end customers usually required long-term supply contracts so the business was probably lost for a number of years.
  • My customer dominated in the Midwest market where it had a shipping advantage and long-term contracts of its own.
  • Customers in Europe were also extraordinarily loyal to my customer. We weren’t sure why, but they did not seem to ever switch from our supply.

The maneuver

When I reviewed the situation with my friend, suddenly it seemed foolish to cut the price to try to win the business back. In fact it would have been disastrous. If he went charging back into the California market he could not possibly compete on price. He would just lower the prices overall and the competitor might even send a message by attacking us in our own backyard.

As the market leader, my customer needed to exert discipline and look for another way to maneuver. He could not maneuver on price. He could not maneuver by sending in the cavalry to re-take the California market, at least for now.

We needed to defend the Midwest market, grow the loyal European market (and find out why we had an advantage there) and then look toward long-term equipment modernizations, and perhaps a West Coast location that would allow us to compete long-term (they eventually built a plant in Nevada).

Creating strategic leverage

The number one priority for a marketing professional is to determine where the company can best maneuver. Is it through product development, investment in branding, being the low-cost leader, developing a new distribution channel, or even through social media prominence?

The key to successful marketing is figuring out where you can create strategic leverage against your competition — where you can maneuver. While marketing might seem overwhelming and complicated, it’s not. Chances are, any business is really very limited in terms of where it can exert power. Your strategy is usually pre-determined by factors such as:

  • Your competitive position in the industry (leader? new entry?)
  • The growth rate of the industry
  • Entry barriers
  • Nature of competition (is it fierce? is it cozy?)
  • Technological disruptions
  • Buying trends

… and other factors.

So, the most important word in marketing is “maneuver.” Determining where you have room to maneuver in your marketplace will align all the pieces of your strategy and tactics.

This seems like such a simple concept but it’s overlooked by many. Does “maneuver” seem like the most important word in marketing to you or would you choose another?

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Maybe Joe.

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  • Merav Chen

    Talk about an irresistible title! It’s also an important word in life.

  • Yep. Flexibility, maneuverability, agility – whatever you call it, it’s key. And I might add that business flexibility only comes from intellectual flexibility. You’ve got to be ready to change your mind.

    Although, at the risk of alienating US friends in the {grow} community, I still prefer the UK spelling of manoeuvre. I guess I’m just stuck in my ways 🙂

  • Jeffrey Slater

    Mark, maneuver comes from the Latin word Latin manuopera or to manually operate – hand labor.

    Brands must do the hard work of finding where they can exert their advantage. Bravado in the corporate world often pushes companies into believing that their own belief in their superiority in one market will work in another. That is so rarely true.

    A hand laborer such as a crafts man or woman, has to find a way to use their strengths and leverage to get a job done. The electrician who finds a creative way to wire maneuvers safely but uses experience to guide them along. Agility and being fluid really helps to adapt and adjust. In the corporate world, that same flexibility proves a great asset when you have to determine where your resources are best deployed.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post.

  • Amen.

  • So you woul dyou pronounce that Man Over? : ) Thanks for the comment John!

  • You have the seed of an awesome blog post right there Jeffery! Superb comment.

  • “The difficulty of tactical maneuvering consists in turning the devious into the direct, and misfortune into gain.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

  • Steve Woodruff

    I’m thinking about what a GPS does – a form of dynamic positioning and directing (according the the circumstances). “Hard” road maps, on the road or in business, are increasingly obsolete – and, frankly, I don’t miss them!!!

  • Mark, This is a superb post ! Thanks.

  • It is interesting to see that the most common reactive stance is to “retake the city”…many times by lowering prices, etc. Thanks for the encouragement to discipline.

  • This is great advice no matter what your product is. I see this happening a lot in the publishing business. Big guys are trying to retake a hill while the indies are out there, yup, maneuvering.

  • It goes hand in hand with having an open mind and spotting opportunities. A wonderful post Mark. Thank you.

  • Thanks for adding to the discussion Edwin.

  • nice analogy. Thanks Steve.

  • Thank you sir.

  • You’re welcom. Thanks for the comment Jeff.

  • Yes. I see that too. Sad to see. They need a new adjacency or model!

  • Thanks for reading today Corina!

  • SanDee

    Great post! Good reminder that price doesn’t always drive the choice to buy and examine all factors before making bad marketing choices.

  • Manuever. A smart word of marketing advice. I don’t often use military references when discussing marketing but your post and several of the comments made me curious about the term “manuever” (or as John prefers, “manoeuvre”). I found these six elements of manuevering quite relevant to marketing as well as warfare:

    War theorist Martin van Creveld identifies six main elements of maneuver warfare:

    Tempo: Tempo as illustrated by John Boyd’s OODA loop.

    Schwerpunkt (focal point): The center of effort, or striking the enemy at the right place at the right time. According to vanCreveld, ideally, a spot that is both vital and weakly defended.

    Surprise: based on deception.

    Combined arms

    Flexibility: According to van Creveld flexibility means a military must be well rounded, self-contained and redundant.

    Decentralized command: Rapid changing situations may out pace communications. Lower levels must understand overall intent.

    ABM. Always. Be. Manuevering. Thanks Mark!

  • This reminds me of the serenity prayer:

    “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

    We spend much of our time and energy preoccupied with facets of life that cannot be changed. In reality, we only have control over a very small percentage of our lives.

    The same concept applies in business, as you state in your article: “Chances are, any business is really very limited in terms of where it can exert power.”

    Having the “wisdom to know the difference” between what we can and cannot change simplifies life and drives us to live in the present moment, empowering us to focus on the few aspects of life we can control.

    “Determining where you have room to maneuver in your marketplace will align all the pieces of your strategy and tactics.” This correlates with accepting what we cannot control and identifying and focusing on what we can.

  • Thank you SanDee.

  • Wow. I LOVE this. Is there any way you could turn this into a guest post by fleshing that out a little in marketing terms? Really wonderful thinking there Billy!

  • Excellent!!! Love that so much. Nothing more to add to a perfect comment other than to say thank you David for this gift!

  • I would be honored, intimidated and challenged all at the same time. Can do. Will do.

  • … and MUST do! : )

  • Joebuzz

    Hi Mark, this is a very interesting perspective. Indeed its a skill to maneuver efforts and resources!

  • Thank you sir.

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  • Great case study. Thanks for sharing it. I would say alignment is the most important but it goes with maneuver. Align with your strengths, your marketplace and sales.

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  • A very important word to be sure! Thanks for commenting Alice!

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  • Muhammad Saad Khan

    A very interesting post and I believe I can relate to this as we “Maneuvered” at Cloudways. We were trying to compete to the biggest managed WordPress and PHP hosting platform providers and they were ranking high on search engines. They have invested time and money to build reputation and search engine visibility. After working day and night, we get to know that it will take a lot of time to get near to any of the competitor and we might not be able to outrank them completely. So, what we looked into applications that has less competition and their popularity was rising. We chose Laravel and Woocommerce and devoted our efforts to exploit a huge gap there. They both were related to WordPress & PHP (as WooCommerce is an ecommerce plugin for WordPress & Laravel is a PHP framework). We hit the relevance and the gap in the market and ranked in top 5 positions on target keywords. We not only drove a huge amount of leads but also panicked our competitors and saw them running after us.

    I personally believe that there is always a way out. You just need to figure it out. The solution to a problem is always around.

  • Fantastic example! Thanks for sharing this Saad!

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