Successful businesses know precisely who their customers are, what they need, and how they want to receive their product or service. They also need to choose the correct strategy to maximize their value to the market. In The Discipline of Market Leaders, authors Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema suggest that

“No company can succeed today by trying to be all things to all people. It must instead find the unique value that it alone can deliver to a chosen market.”

A company must take its “why” and choose the competitive strategy that best helps it offer its unique value. Treacy and Wiersema propose three primary competitive strategies, operational excellence, customer intimacy, and product leadership.

Operational Excellence. Operational excellence is used in high-volume, transaction-oriented environments where fulfillment is standardized, and product differentiation has slight advantage. A primary focus is automation and speed, whether in manufacturing, distribution, or work process. Customers who buy from operational excellence companies seek commodity products or services, low prices and high availability. Operational excellence companies include Wal-Mart, Netflix, and FedEx.

Customer Intimacy. The customer intimacy strategy focuses on the customization of products and the personalization of service to meet the customer’s individual needs. Success in this approach requires deep market and particular customer knowledge, including insight into their processes and their desired outcomes. Customers seek customer intimacy companies for high personalization and efficacy solutions, low risk, and are willing to pay a higher cost. Companies using a customer intimacy strategy include Starbucks, Home Depot, and Chick-Fil-A.

Product Leadership. Product leadership aims to offer superior value through their products continuously. Innovation, high quality, and status are the attractions for their customers – and they are willing to pay a high price and endure limited availability. Product leadership is the strategy for those companies bringing new product categories or “bleeding edge” technologies for early adopters. Examples of these include Samsung, Disney Parks, and Tesla.

The Discipline of Market Leads is now over 20 years old, but the observations of its authors are timeless in matching markets and expectations. Knowing who you are and choosing the appropriate strategy to emphasize your value is foundational to becoming a market leader.

If you are interested in discussing this topic further, a Zoom meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, November 17th at 1 pm CST. The agenda includes the three competitive strategies, how to choose your strategy, and leverage it for performance. To register for this discussion, click here.

Or, if you’d prefer a one-to-one conversation to pick my brain, choose an open day and time on my schedule by clicking here.


“Winning doesn’t always mean being first.
Winning means you’re doing better than you’ve ever done before.”

– Bonnie Blair, Multiple-Time Olympic Gold Medalist

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