“Just because you’ve been kicking butt for years, don’t assume that’ll be the case this year. The moment you do, you’re dead meat.” –Jim Walton, president & CEO of public relations firm Brand Acceleration
I get a slick email newsletter from Jim Walton’s PR shop Brand Acceleration out in Indianapolis, IN, every two weeks or so, and whatever you think of PR guys, it’s worth giving what he writes some thought – especially for trucking managers trying to compete amidst one of the worst market downturns in recent decades, if not living memory.
“Under typical market conditions, leaders would always take a defensive posture while everyone else nips at their heels,” Walton says. “But in today’s economy, it’s a whole different game. Customers and prospects are expecting much more and even the market leaders have to play by a whole new set of rules. That’s not to say that leaders no longer have an advantage. They just need to understand that more players are being considered so every game is very super competitive.”
Market leaders should not only avoid complacency and arrogance, he believes, but they also need to follow a defensive and offensive strategy to compete.
“Everyone else is or should be fighting like crazy to move up,” Walton says. “Let’s be clear, you’re not the market leaders unless the customer sees you as the market leader. If you truly are the leader, you should constantly be looking for ways to be better, making it difficult to impossible for the followers to topple you. Market leaders should take a hard look in the rear-view mirror in order to understand their competitor’s strengths and weaknesses. If you thoroughly know the competition, you should be able to anticipate their moves and block them. And, if you’re on top of your game, you’ll be out front with a blocking move that will thwart their efforts.”
Walton is pretty used to the kind of “hard knocks” business environment we’re in right now, from several different perspectives. His agency has clients involved in economic development, architecture, engineering, construction, real estate, and motorsports so believe me, he’s no stranger to the type of rough and tumble world truckers deal with – be they freight haulers or construction fleets.
“These days, both market leaders and those in the back of the pack should aggressively go on the offensive. In today’s competitive environment, those further back in the pack may be getting looks that they previously may not have gotten,” Walton stresses. “Whether you’re selling architectural services or trying to attract jobs to your community, you’d better step up your effort. Hey folks, it’s really competitive out there. If you’re not fighting for the biz, you’re toast.”
What to do? Frankly, his recipe is no different than what any good NFL coach would do – go out and thoroughly evaluate your competitors in order to discover how to position your strengths against them. Yet Walton is adamant that this is in no way a clarion call to “go negative” the way many political campaigns seem to be run of late.
“Note I did not say to attack your competition. I do not believe in negative marketing. I do believe however, that a strong effort that points to your positives is certainly called for,” he explains. “Above all, don’t try to be all things to all people. If you have real advantages that are ideal for specific markets, then you should pound those markets to grow awareness and win the business. This is definitely not a game for the timid. Go get the business.”
His end point is clear enough in all this – don’t cut your marketing effort despite the downturn. “In tough economic times, it is not smart to short-change your organization by cutting your sales staff and marketing communications efforts,” Walton believes. “Step up, get aggressive and fight for the business. Your only other choice is to tuck tail and go home.”
Like I said, the guy minces no words. Whether you think his strategy is the right one is up for you to decide. In any event, it sure leaves one with something to think about.