chapter  6
43 Pages

Market sensing and learning strategy: competitive strength through knowing more

This chapter opens up the fi rst stage of building a value-based strategy, concerned with the sensing and learning processes that underpin the strategy. It is about knowing stuff. This is the fi rst of our building blocks for value-based strategy – the strategic pathway – as shown as Figure 6.1 as a reminder. We address the issue of competitive strength, through the question of: what do you know that gives you an edge or advantage and how can you sustain that advantage over your competitors? However, instead of just looking at the same old tools of marketing research and the like, I want to focus on what people are doing to better understand their customers and markets and to raise their companies’ “market IQ” on a broader basis. Let’s consider the black swan perspective – the “unknown unknowns” and the shift in thinking we need from “doing market research” (mainly about techniques of data collection) to market sensing (mainly the process of understanding customers and markets). We can look at some of the newer knowledge-generating approaches that are proving interesting – ethnography, looking for the things which are “hidden in plain sight”, neuromarketing, internet-based sensing, futurology and marketing intelligence activities. Much of the shift from traditional approaches to market sensing is about emphasizing interpretation rather than just generating data. We fi nish off with a look

at some lessons in learning from those who have made learning work in generating competitive advantage and an approach to enhancing a company’s sensing capabilities around key markets and customers. This approach will be severely irritating to dyed-in-the wool, paid-up members of the marketing research profession. Guess what? I don’t care. What matters is learning and understanding to create competitive advantage. The structure of the chapter is summarized in Figure 6.2


Marketing information is diffi cult because it is the area of marketing that is surrounded by most misconceptions and misunderstanding. It is the area in which it is easiest to convince ourselves that the answer to all our problems is to do more marketing research, or collect more information and store it on a computer database – i.e. make a token gesture and ignore what really matters, so we can get on with doing things the way we have always done them. It is the area of marketing that sounds most academic, esoteric and theoretical (for which read: often impractical, vague and useless in the real world). It is the part of marketing that is most easily and most defensibly “delegated” to junior executives – after all, “real managers” are too expensive and important to spend time digging up market information and processing it – the trouble is that the expensive managers then take no notice of what the information says.