Ben Chiganze Bassfisherman’s Approach
MY friends Alan and Chris used to follow my lead on fishing expeditions when they were still novices in the game. They used to marvel at my fishing proficiency. I would wallop them every time we went to the dam. Gradually, they copied my striking
techniques and mastered them well. They then bought fishing tackle, which was similar or identical to mine.
This was followed by acquisition of fishing equipment, which matched or was slightly better than mine.
As time went on, the champion of the day was no longer predictable. It could be Chris or Allan or me.
The success factor shifted from ownership of unique skills and unique resources to individual determination.
Aspects, which were difficult to copy such as personal drive, ambition and persistence, became the key success determinants.
Once in a while access to a new rubber would give competitive advantage to the one who had the new resource but the following week all of us will be having similar rubbers.
This would erode any competitive advantage. Last week I was fascinated by cars which were parked at Westgate Shopping Centre.
At first it appeared as if they had been parked in a manner that was meant for me to compare them.
On the left was a Posche Cayenne followed by a Volvo S90, a Hyundai XI 35, Mercedes ML, BMW X5, VW Toureg, Chevrolet Captiva, Kia Sorento and Audi Q7.
I repeatedly passed through all of them with the hope of noticing major differences but could not find major ones.
The shapes of these cars appear similar. I doubt whether there are serious differences in performance say if all have four-litre engines.
However, in the minds of consumers of these cars, they are totally different. The only major difference I noticed were their brands.
Listening to the latest songs from Vabati vaJehova and other Apostolic sects, they are taken from Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist and other reformed churches.
This therefore means differentiation based on church hymns is getting narrower.
Going through most of the supermarket shelves I could not help noticing the serious similarity in both product design and even packaging. The only major difference appears to be labels on the brand.
From the analogy above, it is clearly demonstrated that best practices, shapes, and designs will be copied by competitors and cannot be sustained in the long term as a source of competitive advantage. Lack of competitiveness can lead to business failure.
Our cultural approach to business failure
In our African culture we say “zizi harife nemhepo kufa kwaro pane chariuraya” (There is always a major cause for the death of an owl because it can’t die naturally).
We do not believe that our businesses can decline or die naturally if there are strong brands or strong linkages within its value chain.
Some entrepreneurs end up seeking advice from prophets or n’angas when their businesses fail.
The solutions provided by either prophets or n’angas are similar. In most cases they identify “mhepo dzekumusha” (evil spirits), or “midzimu yakatsamwa” (unhappy spirits) as the cause of distress.
I have yet to hear about a prophet or n’anga who bothers to diagnose the cancer that is afflicting their products or markets.
It is never to do with our brands but it has everything to do with our relatives (either living or dead).
It is never anything to do with a business models that have outlived their usefulness.
This disease affects businesses, political organisations, religious organisations and other voluntary organisations. Many leaders treat symptoms and not the root cause of an organisation’s failure.
What then is going to be a source of competitive advantage in the future?
The future lies in our brands
Delta Corporation could not have been far from the truth when their slogan says “The future is in our brands”.
Their recent good set of corporate results is a clear testimony of their brand’s strength and equity in Zimbabwean market.
However, it will be folly to think that any of Delta’s brands cannot be imitated in Zimbabwean market or anywhere throughout the world.
The colour and taste of all their beverages can easily be copied over time (even the shapes of their packaging). The future of any organisation is going to be determined by the strength of their brands.
As earlier on alluded to the future of the automobile manufacturers is to be determined by how powerful their brands are instead of shapes.
This therefore implies that brand building and nurturing must be the focus of any company.
The advertisement of its brands such as Coca-Cola, Castle (to name but a few) has catapulted Coca-Cola and Castle to epitomise soft drinks and Castle with beer.
In addition to building brand equity, Delta is also committed to staff development.
Over 200 of its staff have gone through the success motivation international (SMI) training over and above other staff development programmes.
Delta to a great extent is a learning organisation. Accordingly Delta was awarded the SMI of the world in California recently, which is a befitting farewell to Mr Joe Mtizwa, the leader par excellence.
Over the years Alick Macheso (Zimbabwe’s sungura king), distinguished himself through his “Borrowdale” dance.
Most musicians copied it and made it a standard dance. He later came up with the “Zora Butter” dance which is now the standard dance at football matches, parties, and even in churches.
At the independence gala, he differentiated himself by playing his guitar with his teeth and elbows, which I have no doubt will be imitated soon.
His good lyrics coupled with his continuous innovative stage work is his unique selling appeal.
Long time ago change management was just a one-off event because the rate at which competitors rushed to copy and adopt competitors’ products was relatively slower.
Nowadays, thanks to the cyberspace and rapid technological changes, differentiation based on shape, size and other specs is going to be extremely difficult to maintain in the long run.
In 80s and 90s Japanese led the automobile innovation with their total quality circles.
Today that is no longer a source of competitive advantage because most automobile manufactures copied it and adopted it to suit their requirements.
Total quality circles are now a standard for the whole industry. This implies that for the Japanese to stay ahead they have to continue coming up with new innovations.
Because of the ability of competitors to quickly copy innovations, pressure to change/modify products/or to follow market trends is going to higher.
This therefore means only companies whose employees have been psyched up for change and innovate faster than their competitors will comfortably swim along or ahead of the tide.
The writer is a managing consultant at CLC Training International. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org