A friend mentioned recently that his CEO declared that he wanted the company to be leaders in digital marketing within their industry. When I asked what that meant practically, my friend chuckled a bit, because no one within the company really knew.
Aside from inviting a few digital marketing thought leaders to come present to the staff, not much has changed for this company in terms of how the team operates in their quest to be market leaders in this arena.
This is a common challenge many businesses experience. They want to perform at the top of their field. They want to be innovative. They want to be market leaders in a specific area. But they struggle with how to take an aspirational statement, into something tangible that rings true in practice.
Here are six practical steps to become a market leader, based upon the experiences of companies, organizations, and brands that have succeeded in doing it.
1. Declare your intention.
Michael Phelps is still the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals, 23 of which are gold. But it didn't just happen as a result of his physique and putting in a lot of hard work at practice.
Two years before the Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps told his long-time coach Bob Bowman, "I want to be the best ever." And from that point on, they made a distinct plan designed to help him reach his goal.
Bob Bowman talked about his response to the vision:
And when he said those words it was like a bomb went off in my head, about what I needed to do...I knew exactly where we were headed, I knew what were going to do, and I knew what kind of big mountain we were going to climb.
If you want to become a leader in your field, you've got to begin with the end in mind. Then you can build a roadmap for how you'll get you there.
2. Relentlessly focus.
One of the things that prevents a lot of companies from becoming market leaders in certain areas, is their attention is divided. Wal-mart has taken the opposite approach. They relentlessly focus on being a cost-leader. Everything they do, from where they locate their stores, how they negotiate with suppliers, to how they manage inventory is designed with one goal in mind: keep costs low.
And because the company is so disciplined in their focus on managing costs in every area, they've been able to consistently reap above average returns.
3. Be obsessed with your customers.
Amazon swears by this. They note their obsession with their customers leads them to innovate and continuously look for ways to add value for them. Jeff Bezos explains how this fuels their decisions at Amazon:
Even when they don't know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight your customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it.
4. Commit to improving your technique.
In The Mundanity of Excellence, Dan Chambliss presented his findings on what separated Olympic swimmers from the rest of the pack. A major point of differentiation was in how the elite swimmers approached their technique.
Through years of deliberate practice, they were able to significantly improve their performance in comparison to their peers. Chambliss notes:
"The styles of strokes, dives and turns are dramatically different at different levels...Not only are the strokes different, they are so different that the "C" swimmer may be amazed to see how the "AAAA" swimmer looks when swimming. The appearance alone is dramatically different, as is the speed with which they swim."
5. Create a culture that supports your goal.
Zappos aspires to wow through customer service. Everything they do, from the offering free returns, to staying on customer service calls for hours at a time, to the random acts of kindness are all ways that they've been able to wow their customers in practice.
They've even gone so far as to offer exit pay to staffers who wanted to quit after the company made changes in their management structure to better carry out their mission.
6. Be willing to take risks.
Beyonce's career seems to go to higher heights with each new album she releases. And over the last few years, she's abandoned tradition and stepped into uncharted territories with how she's launched them.
First it was by foregoing the usual pre-album publicity, in favor of releasing her entire album, a visual album on her website in 2013. And in 2016, her she released her album Lemonade, as a feature film on HBO.
You can become a leader in your field. But you've got to take specific actions over time to make it so. The steps above will help.