Strategy
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Strategy

It all starts here.

Highlands has a proven track record of working collaboratively with the world’s best brands. Together, we create, develop, and implement strategic plans that are actioned quickly and cost effectively. Working alongside your leadership team, we will maximize the short and long term success of your brand. And, because we actually help deliver the strategic plan, we make sure it’s something that really works - in the real world.

Experience tells us that no program is identical to another.  Therefore, we don't offer a cookie cutter, one size fits all solution for our clients.  Rather we promise to have robust and repeatable processes to help work things out.

At the core is our REPEAT process.  Together, it guides us, keeps us on track and drives us towards the best possible outcomes.

Research - Evaluate - Plan - Engage - Apply - Track

Articles
Elephant-Room

Suggestions for the Future

August 7, 2017

My last blog addressed the “At Work” elephant in the room - that much has changed and managing through this is brutally difficult.  Whether things calm down is unknown.  To me, these are Darwinian times where strength is not determined by size, but the ability to leverage deep expertise with extraordinary agility.  The following suggestions should help set the stage for evolutionary fitness.

  • Provide a well-thought consumer journey.  First, you must understand what, where, why, and how customers buy products.  Thankfully, it’s not hard to collect and analyze data to determine these drivers.  Then, leverage this insight into powerful programs that boost sales and margin.  The more you can help distributors succeed, the more you become invaluable to their broader success - and your volume.
  • Think Mobile First.  We all understand that catalog, in-store and online must be aligned so offerings are priced accurately, branded accurately, and easily purchased.  Many forget to customize their online presence to be smartphone and tablet-optimized.  According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 26% of online purchases in 2017 will be done on a mobile device.  While online sales have grown by 95% over the last five years, sales from mobile devices have grown by a massive 362%!  If your site isn’t optimized for smartphones or tablets, you’re probably losing sales!
  • New products and new markets.  Smart companies make their products obsolete before their competitors do it for them.  Continue to innovate and expand on what sells, and ration what does not.  And look beyond your borders and traditional routes to market.  Changing buying patterns and technology gives you the opportunity to compete and address new audiences.   
  • Be Social.  Today’s younger workforce spends untold hours posting on snapchat, Instagram, you name it.  If your content is worthy and well-placed, it will be found and shared - all of which drives traffic to your site!
  • Consider in-store technologies.  NFC (Near Field Communications) and in-store digital helps drive online sales while shopping in-store.  Augmented Reality is the next big leap in human interaction with technology.  Explore how this might work for your business.

Those that have incorporated some or all of these recommendations are seeing positive results.  That said, integrating these new processes was not without fear.  Departing from the tried and true is uncomfortable.  It’s also required.  The key is a willingness to try, and to fail fast should they not deliver.  

To us, staying the course and waiting for positive results imperils your future as slow and lumbering only makes you a target for extinction.  

Bob_Ogara
Bob O'Gara
CEO

Sales and Marketing

Sales vs. Marketing

July 18, 2017

We’re asked the difference between the two all the time. Ask a salesperson and they’ll say, “it’s everything that goes into convincing a customer to buy. Great product, competitive pricing, compelling story, support materials, online portal, customer service - everything. Ask a marketer and they’ll likely say the same thing.

So, what’s the difference?  

To me, marketing is about converting mindsets while sales converts wallets. Effective marketing deploys programs to convince a prospect that there “just might be something to this product worth a second look.” Once that altered mindset enters the store, it’s up to sales to close the deal. How the tasks get divvied up doesn’t really matter - just that they’re deployed in a unified, compelling manner.

To answer that question more thoroughly, marketing leverages research to create a brand story, conceives programs to create awareness and induce trial, and then executes supporting materials. Sales leverages relationships, deploys support materials, and actively presents product benefits and pricing programs to the prospect to secure the deal. This process is very effective within growing, robust markets like technology, wine and spirits, commercial construction, etc. where customers are willing to pay full price. Unfortunately for categories suffering decline or major transformation - like Office Products - this process is not working any more. 

Why? Because product benefits within mature categories are often similar, which makes price a key differentiator. When price wars erupt, someone else is always cheaper and the consumer has become trained to shop for a better deal. This kills margins, encourages consolidation, and eliminates innovation.  The only way out of this dysfunctional whirlpool is to change how you sell, not what you sell.

To us, a successful program can never be about price. Ever. It’s about value. At

Highlands

, we apply a rigorous process we call IPEO.
  • Insight
  • Plan
  • Execute
  • Optimize
While I won’t give away our proprietary steps within each process, the output provides a clearer picture of the audience, how to best reach them, aligns with objectives, invests in the right programs, and measures results so we can optimize for even more success.  

In time, all programs eventually lose efficacy as competitors are not lazy. They’ll adjust to our efforts to stem our successes. That’s when we must start anew - develop a better product, consider new distribution channels, discover new audiences, deploy better programs, leverage technology more effectively.  

The truth is that sales and marketing are best viewed as tactics that emerge from a strong, insightful, strategic plan. Without a plan, and highly coordinated sales and marketing tasks that emerge from it, it doesn’t really matter if you define either one. Because in immature categories, those standing apart or unwilling to adjust will have far more to worry about than titles or job descriptions.


Gordon-Christiansen-1
Gordon Christiansen
Partner. SVP Marketing


change_or_fail

What Can We Learn from our Past?

July 5, 2017

“The one constant in life is change”
 
Versions of this quote go all the way back to Heraclitus (ancient Greek philosopher), and that truth shines vibrantly today.  Those unwilling or unable to embrace change will be passed by those who do.  Interestingly, this truth is at odds another familiar adage:
 
“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”
 
This implies we should replicate past successes -- and avoid past failures -- to assure a secure and profitable tomorrow.  But if the only constant is change, how do we smartly leverage the past when tomorrow’s rules are different and constantly changing?
 
It’s potentially a paralyzing conundrum.  “Old school” leaders rely heavily on experience and past success to guide their path forward, which works great when category fundamentals have not dramatically changed (e.g., construction, trucking, hospitality).  Granted, each of these categories has added new products and technologies into their business models, but you still go to hospitality - it does not come to you.  Distribution and delivery of construction materials has not changed, though online ordering is common.  Since end-user purchase patterns are not significantly different, these business evolutions simply add speed and convenience to an existing model. 
 
That’s not the case with the ‘At Work’ space.  This has suffered through seismic change because end-users have dramatically changed how, what, and where they purchase.  No longer do they all show up at the same location, at the same time, to fulfill a day’s work.  At Work is now a melting pot of the gig-economy, outsourcing, work-from-homers, computers/laptops/smartphones, which has led to massive consolidation.  Add-in high-speed Internet, e-commerce and social media, and it’s an entirely new paradigm that mandates a new business model.
 
So, what can we learn from our past?
 
First and foremost, make sure you’re going forward from a sound base.  Just like your predecessors, you must fully understand the basics - clarity of purpose, customer first, what are the drivers, where do margins exist, etc.  
 
Going forward, which technological advances and business models best serve today’s new workforce realities?  I firmly believe the future is an extension of what we used to do - but with dramatically different strategies and tactics.  If we imagine it more complex than that, moving forward becomes paralyzing.  We simply leverage valuable expertise and experience AND embrace the discomfort of new.
 
My next blog will discuss some future-forward suggestions we’ve found helpful in today’s dramatically evolved market.  It’s not as daunting as you might think.

Bob_Ogara
Bob O'Gara
CEO
Aligning-for-growth

Aligning for Growth

June 12, 2017

Sometimes market conditions change, sometimes you have to change the market conditions.  Regardless of which form of market transformation you face, successful navigation through choppy waters requires alignment.  That’s a broad term, so what do I mean by ‘alignment.’

In one sense, alignment is a go-to-market term.  Alignment of tactics and message across all touch points.  Making sure your point-of-sale programs are aligned with your online efforts.  Making sure your email campaign syncs up with your Groupon programs.  Making sure price points and product assortments are optimized across all platforms.  Tactical alignment is critical, but that can fall apart if there is not alignment of mindset.

Mindset alignment means those developing the strategy and isolating the opportunity fully grasp the reality.  It also means those on the front line (sales) can accurately explain the needs of the market.  The more you align mindset, the better the chances for success.  Those that are truly aligned and share the same vision can adjust to unforeseen situations with near flawless clairvoyance.

In business, going against a large player with a traditional approach is a recipe for disaster.  You’re walking right into their trap as they are massive and built their success on size and scale.  That doesn’t mean they cannot be beat!  To win, you must commit to a changed approach and align to it.  

In our experience, smaller players have a real opportunity as their business model is not predicated on massive in-store traffic.  Buyers have not stopped buying.  On the contrary, they’re buying more than ever.  It’s just that they’ve changed their buying patterns to include a healthy dose of online.  The mega retailers are too committed to their historic approach to adjust.  Much like an aircraft carrier; it takes a long time to turn.

Speaking of naval history, the Battle of Trafalgar is a great example of aligning to a new strategy against a much larger opponent.  That battle pitted an outnumbered British fleet commanded by Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson against the combined French and Spanish armada.  Rather than line up and blast away at each other (where success always went to the larger fleet during this battle of attrition), Lord Nelson saw an opportunity to change market conditions.  He explained his plan to his supporting captains, who then implemented the tactics that forever changed naval warfare.  

Lord Nelson split his battle ships into two parallel lines and T-boned their opponents in two spots, breaking their ranks and leaving them open to their soft spots.  In the end, Lord Nelson sunk or captured 19 enemy ships and lost none and over 13,000 enemy sailors were killed or injured compared to 1,500 for the Royal Navy.  This battle forever sealed Britain’s naval superiority and protected the homeland from imminent invasion from Napoleon.

Sometimes conditions change.  Sometimes you have to change the conditions.  To win in either scenario, alignment of mindset is the first condition that must change.

Bob_Ogara
Bob O"Gara
CEO 
Highlands