Turning marketing on its head: The rise of Predatory Marketing

Predatory MarketingAll of us want our message heard. All of us want our message to impact our customers’ lives. All of us want to drive sales and boost profit margins.

But the brutal truth is, more than often, our messages are ignored and our perspectives – no matter how valuable — are being missed. Australians are bombarded with thousands of ads and calls-to-actions a day and the fact is: people are becoming desensitised by information overload.

Predatory Marketing is the answer to being heard above the noise. It’s a development that challenges any preconceptions we may hold about how organisations can expand their client base. To get a better understanding of how Predatory Marketing is helping companies, we sat down with 2015 TEC Speaker of the Year, Ashton Bishop, Head of Strategy at Step Change, to learn how his new tool is affecting the way companies communicate.

The new marketing reality

The way marketing is taught has followed a typical pattern for decades now – that it’s about meeting the needs of customers. But this is changing.

It’s no longer enough to assume that your target audience has needs that require fulfilling. The business world is advanced enough that most of your target audience is likely to be at least satisfied with the goods and services they already have access to. Today, the only predictable need that customers have is a need for less corporate ‘noise’ – communications that are overwhelming customers with too much information.

The challenge is now for business leaders to stop thinking about simply meeting customer needs and to target the weaknesses of their competition (more on this later). In other words, companies need to embrace Predatory Marketing.

Predator or prey?

Now that companies can no longer think solely about satisfying needs, they have to start asking, “Who has my money?” It’s a zero-sum game that businesses are operating in, and organisations now have to tailor their marketing practices to ensure they accommodate this new reality.

Failing to keep up with these changes will ultimately make it harder for companies to grow, especially as their competitors actively start trying to poach customers from their brand.

Cutting through the noise

In Australia, we spend roughly $13.3 billion on marketing per annum – translating into around a million branded messages that each of us see every year. That’s 3,000 every single day.

Of those 3,000, we will only notice 80 and react to 10. And of these 10, we instantly treat half as unwelcome intrusions into our lives – leaving only five messages a day we actually notice, react/respond positively to and absorb.

When crafting a message that can qualify as one of that handful, you also have to remember the five-ninths law. This law states that five-ninths of marketing messages will be misattributed to the leader of a market segment, rather than the company paying for the message.

For organisations that aren’t in this leadership position, they are essentially cementing the position of their leading competitor with their own marketing budget. Overcoming this gap, and crafting messages that actually move market share away from competitors is therefore key to building a successful Predatory Marketing campaign.

What does Predatory Marketing look like?

Whenever we work with clients who are looking to embrace Predatory Marketing, there are four key steps we advise them to take:

Step 1) Identify where the money would go if your company didn’t exist

Imagine your business didn’t exist – where would your customers’ money go? A competitor? Or would customers spend it on a completely different offering?

Asking these questions is the foundation of a competitor analysis. From just asking these questions, you’ll usually identify four or five competitor organisations that are offering a comparable product that your customers would gravitate towards.

From there, we are looking to narrow down the list to find a target. This means identifying a competitor that is very large or is perhaps a little lazy and isn’t meeting the needs of its customers. If you can find one of these, then you have the starting point of your Predatory Marketing campaign.

Step 2) What are the strengths of the opposition?

Now that you have a competitor lined up, you need to objectively evaluate their strengths. To do this, put yourself in the shoes of a customer or consider why a third-party would recommend them.

What you are looking at here is the natural language around what the company’s offering, rather than a slogan grounded in marketing jargon. When you can express in simple terms the strengths of your competitor, the next step is much easier: weaknesses.

Step 3) Find the weakness that comes from the opposition’s greatest strength

Within every strength is a hidden weakness. The challenge with Predatory Marketing is to find the specific weakness that arises from a particular strength and then explain it to the customers. The reality is that customers won’t necessarily notice this weakness by themselves, nor will they know that you can address this weakness – unless you tell them.

Step 4) Where are you strong?

The final step is to build your strengths to address this pain point and then convey this value to customers. You can be explicit here when communicating with prospective clients – acknowledge the strengths of a competitor before honing in on the weaknesses that your products and services can address.

Many business owners won’t have taken this step. They don’t to really understand where the value lies in their own product offering and how these match the weaknesses of their competitors.

Tailoring a Predatory approach to the market

These four steps represent the core of a Predatory Marketing campaign, but it’s also important, to tailor this offering to the specific market conditions that a firm is operating in.

For example, a firm that already occupies the dominant position within its sector usually shouldn’t be applying a Predatory Marketing approach towards its direct competitors. Instead, it’s generally smart to be using these same tactics to grow the market and bring customers into their category.

Challengers who aren’t in that dominant position will instead be looking for the competitor or class of competitor that is currently occupying that dominant position. In a very fragmented market, or one that is very generic or confused, it may even be that would be competitors are best to band together to shift a certain audience mindset.

Regardless of whether the target of a Predatory Marketing campaign is a single business, a group of businesses or potential customers, the process is relatively consistent.

Lastly, a Predatory Marketing campaign has to change with your business and with the market. Just as context is key to a great strategy, so too is it central to a Predatory Marketing campaign. If a Predatory Marketing campaign is so successful that a company has become the dominant force in their category, for example, the techniques that got them there may no longer be relevant.

It’s time to get Predatory

Customers don’t have needs anymore; their needs have been filled. We need to arm ourselves with new tactics that can help us rise above the noise of our competitors and ensure that our message is the one being heard. Predatory marketing is the best tool to disarm your competitors and will ensure your company is in a position of strength and ultimately boost your profits.

Apply Ashton Bishop’s Predatory Marketing to your business and ensure you are always ahead of your competitors and in your customers’ minds. Take action today and subscribe to Step Change’s blog to keep up with all the latest thinking around marketing, strategy, tactics and business insights. If you have any questions surrounding your own business strategy and how you can best incorporate Predatory Marketing, you can send them your enquiry here.

Is narcissism a good leadership trait?

It is not uncommon for leaders to be narcissists – their talent for self-promotion and innate confidence means they are not afraid to throw their hat in the ring for powerful positions.

However, are narcissists reaching senior roles because they are inherently good leaders? Or does natural charisma cover some of their negative traits?

A recent study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) found that narcissism seems to have a limited impact on leadership skills. Instead, extremely narcissistic people tend to be poor leaders.

The academic institution examined previously unanalysed Hogan data, which revealed correlations between very high and low levels of narcissism and job performance.

Emily Grijalva, lead author of the study, said the findings clearly showed that narcissism is best in moderation.

“With too little, a leader can be viewed as insecure or hesitant, but if you’re too high on narcissism, you can be exploitative or tyrannical,” she explained.

Positions of power

The research supports a similar study that was conducted in 2008 by Ohio State University (OSU), which revealed there is limited correlation between narcissism and good leadership.

According to the university, narcissists are typically self-centred, overconfident in their abilities and lack empathy.

One study involved placing people into groups of four and provided them with a scenario where they had to imagine being shipwrecked on an island with no contact with civilisation.

They could pick 15 salvageable items from the wreck to bring ashore to help them survive until help arrived.

The results revealed narcissists quickly take control of a leaderless group, ruling discussions and making decisions. They often saw themselves as the leader and were also considered the leader by other team members.

However, when each list of items was analysed by a survival expert, teams led by narcissists performed no better than other groups.

Assistant Professor of Psychology at OSU Amy Brunell said the outcome is hardly a surprise.

“[Narcissists] like power, they are egotistical, and they are usually charming and extroverted. But the problem is, they don’t necessarily make better leaders,” she said.

Spotting image over substance

Clearly, some narcissists are benefiting from leadership development opportunities largely because of their ability to talk the talk.

Peter Harms, assistant professor of management in UNL’s College of Business Administration, claimed narcissists typically make a very good impression when you first meet them.

“Narcissists are great in interview situations – if you can reduce a leadership contest down to sound bites, you will give them an advantage,” he stated.

Despite this, the charisma will eventually wear off and colleagues tend to become aware that their overly confident colleagues aren’t quite as good as they think they are.

“At the personal level, they can be jerks. At the strategic level, they can take huge gambles because they’re so confident they’re right. They’re either making a fortune or they’re going broke,” he stated.

According to UNL researchers, the study should act as a warning to employers. They may need to examine their current hiring and leadership development practices to ensure they don’t unfairly play to the strengths of narcissists.

However, they also said people with very low levels of narcissism may not necessarily make better candidates either.

Can narcissists be reformed?

One of the key problems of narcissism is a lack of empathy, which could lead to poor treatment of employees in the workplace from those in senior positions.

New research from the University of Surrey and the University of Southampton could help organisations to overcome this issue and encourage narcissists to empathise with colleagues.

The institutions split people into two groups: ‘low narcissists’ and ‘high narcissists’. The participants were read a vignette describing a relationship break-up to gauge their reactions.

As expected, narcissists showed little sympathy for the subject, even when the scenario was fairly severe – for example, when the individual suffered depression due to the split.

The groups were then shown a video of someone experiencing domestic violence, but this time they were instructed to take the perspective of the victim. Specifically, they were prompted to imagine how the victim felt.

Narcissists reported significantly higher levels of empathy in these circumstances, with physiological evidence – such as increased heart rate – supporting this.

Lead researcher Erica Hepper said: “If we encourage narcissists to consider the situation from their teammate or friend’s point of view, they are likely to respond in a much more considerate or sympathetic way.”

The results could have significant ramifications for the business world, implying narcissistic leaders could be developed into more sympathetic, team-focused members of staff.

Having an egotistical person in charge can quickly create a toxic workplace environment, leading to poor productivity, high employee turnover and – in worst-case scenarios – accusations of bullying or negligence.

If your organisation has self-centred individuals impacting the workplace, perhaps consider coaching or mediation sessions to improve their performance and enhance staff morale.

Breaking bad: Are you approaching change management the right way?

Maintaining business success is impossible without change.

Whether it’s advancing technologies, shifting market conditions or a stuttering economy, there are many factors that can make or break an organisation in today’s rapidly evolving commercial landscape.

However, many leaders are guilty of a common misstep when approaching a change management project. They fail to identify and eliminate negative behaviours in the workplace.

While senior executives are keen to spread best practices and streamline existing processes, these efforts are often undermined by destructive influences.

An expanding body of research is showing that the first step in any change management project should be to curtail these damaging factors before embarking on organisational improvements.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Effective change management can achieve excellent results, but CEOs may need to dig deep and uproot legacy issues that are contributing to disharmony.

This can be an ugly process, and can even highlight failings at the upper echelons of management. Behaviours such as jealousy, laziness, dishonesty and fear are not only destructive at an individual level, they can spread like wildfire through an organisation.

A recent American Management Association study showed colleagues heavily resent employees who dodge their duties. Furthermore, nearly 70 per cent of respondents claimed this laziness damaged overall performance.

What is more worrying for senior executives is that 44 per cent of respondents said it diminishes engagement in the workplace. Half said it reflected a lack of shared responsibility.

Sandi Edwards, senior vice-president for AMA Enterprise, said: “Employees understandably become resentful when they see co-workers shirking responsibility without accountability – in such a situation, organisational morale and, ultimately, performance cannot help suffering.

“A culture that tolerates ‘passing the buck’ alienates those employees who give everything to their job on a daily basis. A few shirkers can snowball until the dominant culture becomes one of risk and responsibility aversion.”

These types of working environment spell bad news for any business implementing a change management project.

Ways to stop the rot

Once you have decided to target negative influences, there are several ways of breaking bad habits and promoting a positive atmosphere in the workplace.

This may involve dealing with problem employees, revitalising out-dated processes or re-adjusting unrealistic expectations. Here are three tips for approaching change management the right way.

1. DO sweat the small stuff

Even relatively minor problems can become major headaches if left to fester, as the “broken windows” theory suggests.

This popular proposition put forward by criminologist George Kelling and political scientist James Wilson in 1982 suggested that in neighbourhoods where a single window on a building is left unrepaired, other broken windows and structural damage soon follow.

The idea is that even a small unresolved issue indicates a lack of care and attention, eventually leading to widespread apathy and escalating destructive behaviour. The premise has been supported by several studies.

Business leaders should take note. Identifying small, yet persistent problems within your organisation can drastically improve productivity, boost morale and keep workers engaged and motivated for change.

2. Separate bad apples

Every company has bad apples and if your business is big enough there could be several. As a CEO or director, the temptation may be to leave the task of dealing with disruptive employees to line managers or department heads.

However, what if the problem is company-wide or involves the line managers themselves? Coming up with a solution may require a cross-departmental strategy that is outside the scope and responsibility of individual managers.

One approach is to collect all of your bad apples into one or multiple teams and assign them new leaders. There is likely to be a few big personalities involved, so they will need to be headed by strong managers who are up to the challenge.

Channelling their negative energy towards a common goal could have surprisingly beneficial outcomes. Even if a team continues to underperform, the damage will be limited to one area and other employees won’t be affected.

3. Build an effective change management team

Who you assign to a change management team is vital. The leader of this team needs to be high in the organisation to indicate the importance associated with the task.

However, seniority is not the only factor. They must also be well respected and have a good relationship with employees who, ultimately, are the driving force behind effective change management.

Getting popular staff members on side with a change initiative can drastically improve its chance of success. But recognising these employees can be difficult for directors who have little contact with personnel outside of senior management.

CEOs and directors should take the time to do research, improve communication and be objective when building the best change management team.