The strategic narrative

Reactive mode predominates amongst Gauteng mid-size manufacturers

Strategic planning is key

Recent visits with the CEOs of mid-sized manufacturing companies in Gauteng revealed some startling responses:

  • Despite the poor economic conditions, all the companies were still in existence, albeit at a lower intensity and slower pace than in the past.
  • Most companies were not applying any meaningful attention to their longer term and strategic needs. In fact, most companies had never compiled a strategic plan for the business.
  • There was little evidence of the companies deploying any marketing activities with real purpose and intent.
  • The overall impression was that most of the companies visited were in reactive mode. They were prepared to be battered by the volatility of the market, not taking the responsibility for their own sustainability or success.

This assessment may appear to be unnecessarily harsh on these local companies, but this appears to be a world-wide phenomenon. Mid-sized companies, particularly second-generation owned firms, do not apply adequate strategic thinking and have poor, ineffective marketing initiatives.

Sense of purpose

Very few of the companies could articulate why they were in business. Does the business have a clear purpose that is understood and believed by employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders?

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins found that one of the most important characteristics of the companies that stood head and shoulders above their peers was the existence of a well-defined and understood purpose. This applied particularly during massive market turmoil.

Such a purpose was beyond themselves, not defined by power, but by impact and contribution. This  purpose answers the question “What are you in business for?

Marketing and brand promise

It is unthinkable that a business owner could expect that the sales pipeline will always be full, without making the effort to create new leads to fill the pipeline. This endeavour is called marketing.

Marketing has as its foundation the brand and the brand promise. The brand promise is that which the company cares about, something that matters, something that the company will stand for, at all costs.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says that in ancient times, warriors first made themselves invincible, then watched for vulnerabilities in their opponents.

Before your company can consider the launch of a marketing campaign, it needs to articulate your own identity very carefully. This must be believed and lived by all of your employees and include answers to the following questions:

  • Who is the company?
  • Why is the company here?
  • How is the company unique?
  • How can the company make a dramatic difference to all stakeholders?

Once purpose and brand promise have been determined, as a business leader, you are now able to develop your unique branding standpoint. However, you need to consider that:

  • Branding is about meaning, not marketing
  • Brand is a verb, not a noun – it must be lived by all employees and experienced by all customers
  • Real branding matters, and centres on the uniqueness of the company and the dramatic difference that is delivered to the customer
  • Real branding is about passion and emotion
  • Real branding can’t be faked.

The owners of mid-sized businesses are encouraged to tackle this strategic narrative with urgency and gusto.  2016 was a tough year for South African companies. Indications are that 2017 and immediately beyond will be even tougher. The time to start your strategic planning is now.

“The best time to plant a tree is 40 years ago. The second best time is today.”  Chinese proverb



Leon Theron

Leon Theron



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