Chapter 5 Playing the Game Hallmarks Imitation, not innovation Personality Strengths Weaknesses Sustaining growth Marriott
Typical Game Players American Airlines Barnes & Noble Black & Decker Boston Chicken Marriott MCI (post-Bell break-up) PepsiCo Procter & Gamble Starbucks Toyota Xerox
Game Players excel at: - Acquiring market share - Growing faster than their market - Creative imitation - Continuous improvement - Excellent customer service
Game Players organizations are: - Sales and marketing driven - Incentive-rich - Fast and adaptable - Structured around markets and customers - Built around processes, not functions - Made of many self-contained units - Decentralized - Energizing places to work
The Game Player's persona - Competitive athlete - Tough fighter - Loyal team player - High energy - Everybody's friend - Perpetual optimist - Likes to be liked - Finds rules useful - Facile changemaster - Quick borrower - Stays trendy - Bends with the wind when required
Game Players stumble when: - They assume a product's growth will go on forever - Sell customers too much of what they don't need - Encourage "gray markets" - Purchase their suppliers - They give more attention to the "sizzle" than the "steak" - Run the business solely by the numbers - Fight over turf instead of market share - Overly depend on outside advisors - Violate legal and ethical standards Game Players sustain growth by: - Staying alert for new trends to ride and new market needs to meet - Growing "share of customer" as well as "market share" - Spinning-off slow growth businesses - Partnering with and acquiring other Game Players PREVIOUS chapter
Playing the Game
Excerpt from Go For Growth
By Robert M. Tomasko
We all know the drill.
Study the customer with a high powered microscope. Use market research, questionnaires, telephone interviews, focus groups to get under their skin. Find out what makes them tick, what they want, what they don't want.
Then take what is learned and reflect it in products or services planned to exceed all customer expectations. Make certain the products do not merely fulfill needs, but add something extra, something that might even bring expressions of delight to the faces of jaded consumers. Then produce the goods with processes that conform to TQM, ISO 9000, and all other relevant best practices in factories laden with MRP, lean production and flexible teams.
Finally, put the results of these labors into the hands of customers through the efforts of a high power sales force, spurred on by charismatic marketing leadership and the best motivational cassettes available - and rewarded by a scientifically planned blend of bonus cash and incentive trips.
These practices combine into a formula for growth that has propelled the fortunes of many Fortune 500 companies. While Rule Breakers create desires in the marketplace, these companies - which we will call Game Players - excel in satisfying them. A Rule Breaker's genius lies in uncovering hidden needs or discovering new ones. Once these are out on the table, once the features and benefits - the basis of competition - are apparent, a different type of company is required.
Hallmarks of a Game Player
Rule Breakers are often very attached to new ideas, and the products that embody them. Game Players are more attached to what they can do with, or get from, these ideas.
Rule Breakers compete to survive, Game Players are in business to win. Some Game Players seem to thrive on competition for its own sake. A subtle distinction, possibly, but one that requires a very different corporate form to successfully bring it about.
Game Players thrive in go-go, rapid growth markets. The rougher and more turbulent the environment, the better. Game Player-markets tend to be growing faster than the economy as a whole, but not at the triple or greater pace common in industries populated with Rule Breakers.
Game Player's natural markets have the potential to sustain this pace of growth for a number of years, but it is relatively easy for competitors to enter, and market share stability is often more of a hope than a reality.
Market, not vision, driven
These are companies that act as though their life or death depends on a few points of market share. Their reality, though, is just the opposite. Most of the risks they take are small. Loosing one sale is unlikely to derail a career; one new product flop seldom destroys the company. Coca-Cola survived New Coke, Procter & Gamble never made much money in the orange juice business. Game Players get feedback quickly from the marketplace. Missteps are usually caught and corrected before serious damage is done.
Their corporate cultures fit the work hard/play hard mold. They are fast-paced, action oriented places to work. They have to be. The environments in which they thrive are dynamic, growth markets. The worst thing that can happen in these situations is to stand still. Resting on your laurels is a natural human tendency, one that Game Players combat daily.
Never stand still
Group identity is important to Game Players. Team work and team spirit are vital in companies whose performance derives from many relatively small wins - no one player is all important, but the business' growth is highly dependent on the cumulative impact of these mini-victories. Sales volume is the key, and ongoing contests, clubs and incentive trips are significant drivers of the frenzied activity that produces it.
This frenzy, at least in the short haul, produces high morale. Employees are spirited and confident. Even in periods of adversity, he cup is usually always seen as being half full.
The home of multi-functionality
They were early adopters of the matrix form of organization. Game Players frequently construct global organizational matrices that attempt to manage the multiple tradeoffs necessary among the competing demands of customers and countries, products and markets.
The focus of attention in these companies is not so much on earth shaking new product development, but on taking something good and running with it. This frequently leads to the creation of decentralized divisions, and - as the market starts to mature - an ongoing mapping of the emerging customer segments in the marketplace onto their organization structures.
Alfred Sloan used this approach to build General Motors - have a specific car brand available for each socioeconomic strata of car buyer. With some updating, Sloan's method is still practiced by Honda, Nissan and Toyota. It also works for Procter & Gamble and Pepsi.
Competing by being different
Reorganizations may be frequent, but most have a similar purpose: to surround the customer with employees of the Game Player attuned to meeting their most pressing needs of the moment.
There's more money in imitation
Schnaars butresses his argument by citing research that shows that 84% of new consumer products (and about 70% of new industrial goods) are destined to fail. He also studied case examples of new product development across 28 industries. In two-thirds of these, a large company came along in the wake of an industry pioneer, and was able to seize control of the market.
Perhaps the American folklore about the heroic pioneer has made it difficult to publicly admit that those settlers who followed also made a contribution. And many did much better than those who came first.
Watch and wait
Few remember the first seller of the handheld calculator (the Bowmar Instrument Corporation of Fort Wayne, Indiana). Most of us associate the product with companies such as Texas Instruments, Hewlett Packard and almost every Japanese consumer electronics maker. Bowmar filed for bankruptcy protection a mere four years after it entered the market. The "late-comers" all thrived.
The British airplane maker, DeHavilland, was the first to take the World War II-developed technology of jet propulsion and apply it to commercial aircraft. But a series of well publicized crashes of its Comet airliners opened the market to Boing and its late-developed 707.
For many astute Game Players, being second is less a matter of fate and slowness, and more a studied practice. They are the watchful waiters of the business world.
When the imitating is completed, attention at Coke shifts to the real competition - Pepsi. This rival also follows the Game Player philosophy. A Pepsi executive once expressed the view that "stealing ideas" was one of the most honorable ways of making money. Leaving ethical considerations aside for a moment, this approach permits both soft drink juggernauts to compete on the battlefields they know best (national advertising, bottler promotions and trade discounts), rather than in the product development labs.
Imitation is just as common among the stores that sell their soft drinks. Supermarket competitors watch each other like hawks. One chain offers home delivery, another quickly follows suit and does its rival one better by accepting credit cards. Soon the cross-town competitor also honors plastic forms of payment, while quietly planning a double-coupon promotion to steal more market share.... Legendary Game Player (and sometimes Rule Maker), Sam Walton, admitted in his autobiography that almost everything he has done was copied from somewhere else.
Fight to make the industry bigger
Game Players nourish themselves and grow through well matched combat. Where would Avis be without Hertz, American Airlines without United, the Amtrak Acela without the air-shuttle?
Game Players benchmark as a way of life. This long-practiced technique of ongoing monitoring of industry's best practices was elevated to an art form by Xerox, now a classic Game Player. (Remember Xerox acquired rights to the Xerox technology. It didn't invent it. Likewise Microsoft's first product hit, DOS, was bought, not created.) If Rule Breakers are poor marks for consultants selling industry surveys and market research, Game Players welcome these services with open arms. They know how to make their investment in this kind of research pay for itself many times over.
Many degrees of freedom
- Bringing a "new" product into a market they already "own" (making use of their existing distribution system, advertising clout and customer credibility to give a "free ride" to their latest hope for growth).
- Lowering their cost to produce a product, allowing them to lower its price, and thus gain market share
- Globalizing a product: taking something that has done well in one geographic region, and adapting it to sell well in others
- Holding back a good product until the market is most receptive to it. This strategy takes cunning, careful timing and self control- and an ability to closely monitor market trends.
- Offer near-blatent imitations of someone else's successful product, ensuring the knock-offs offer better value to the customer (either a smaller price tag or more bells-and-whistles). This is how Compaq Computer first challenged IBM.
- Forget the special features all together, and just turn someone else's success (IBM's personal computers, for example) into a near-generic commodity (the many Asian PC-clones).
- Leap-ahead technologically. In Silicon Valley, pioneering companies that produced WordStar and VisiCalc found themselves left in the dust as Lotus, WordPerfect and Microsoft seized the market with products attuned to the latest technology standards.
Many tempt skillful Game Players. What kind of corporate psyche can best take advantage of them?
The Game Player's personality
Friendly extroverts. Game Player-like people tend to judge themselves, and their successes, in relation to others. They want to belong, to be liked, to please. If the Rule Breaker is the oldest child in a single-parent household, Game Players are middle kids in families where "father knows best." They tend to be extroverted. Game Players come alive in their relationships. Decisions are made by talking things over with others.
Getting with the program. Game Players are strong and tough, but they're not rebels. They identify easily with authority figures. Rules are things that makes Game Players' lives easier, not obstacles to be gone around. Game Players avoid ambiguity. They want to be clear about expectations, the goal, the game plan, and the rewards. Then they follow the plan, they get with the program. They are relatively easy to incentivize.
Easy innovators. Game Players like new techniques. They are receptive to other's ideas and innovations. Game Players don't have to make something to enjoy it. They are early adopters of new technology; they upgrade their software frequently.
Trend followers. They also try hard to walk their talk. When they can't, at least the talk is current. Words like empowerment, delegation, and participation roll easily from Game Player's lips. They are global thinkers.
Team players. At times they may be called militaristic, but this is only partially true. Game Players embrace the team spirit, the camaraderie of a platoon in the field, but they have little patience with the bureaucratic "mickey mouse" that too frequently defines peacetime armies. Game Players make excellent team mates. The best have really grasped the idea that the victory belongs to the group; to win as an individual means to be part of a winning team. Game Players are seldom hung up over pride of authorship. Loyalty is important. At times they may be indifferent or even hostile to their chief executive; the real ties that bind Game Players to the company are the personal ones they have with their close colleagues.
Flexible. Game players show a lot of flexibility. They are sometimes accused of bending too much with the wind, leaving their colleagues asking: "Just where do you really stand?"
Strengths of the Game Player
Game Players win these battles with more than a sales force in perpetual overdrive. Just consider the bra market, for example. When the Sara Lee Corporation introduced its trendy Wonderbra into trial markets rival apparel maker, VF Corporation, stayed on the sidelines until it was certain the innovative design was a hit. Then VF moved like lightening.
Its state-of-the art distribution system put VF's version of Wonderbra into stores across America almost half a year ahead of Sara Lee's "original." VF has its own special version of the computerized automatic reordering systems the supermarket industry is moving toward. Its computers talk directly to Wal-Mart's and Penney's. Orders are taken without the use of paper, or the time-lag inducing intervention of salesforces and purchasing departments. Playing the game this way has allowed VF, who also makes Lee and Wrangler jeans, to sell more of these than Levi Strauss, the inventor of denim pants.
For all the tough, macho talk heard around Game Players, many actually take the least-risky path to growth. VF has turned the apparel business from an art into a science. By allowing others to take the lead, VF has been able to avoid the missteps endemic in the fickle business of fashion. Sidestepping the financial gyrations that plague the industry, VF has managed to grow both sales and profits at almost 20% a year.
Lines in the sand
MCI dedication to the game playing ethic enabled it to "think outside the box," to imitate the competitive strategies of other Game Players, rather than be trapped by the prevailing mentality of the old telephone industry. MCI borrowed from consumer products companies the tactics of branding and brand extension to add sizzle to what had over years become a commodity: long distance calls. The result was a stream of marketing coups such as Friends & Family, Friends Around the World, and "1-800-COLLECT," all designed to attract AT&T's customers and put the former long distance monopolist in an ongoing reactive mode.
Clear line of sight to each customer
To ensure executive had a chance to understand at least one customer's needs in greater depth, many of Xerox's major accounts were also "double teamed." In addition to the account management provided by someone from the marketing department, another executive - with regular responsibilities in another functional area such as manufacturing or personnel - would meet regularly with the customer and jointly plot selling strategies.
Weaknesses of the Game Player
The full speed ahead, damn-the-torpedos, attitude of some Game Players is bold and heroic. Their managers all share a theory about how best to compete; most of their attention goes to managing the business within the confines of this theory.
Some Game Players discount the value of long range planning. They feel the need to move so quickly when a new product reaches the market that there is little point to developing detailed plans that will only be discarded late on.
At Compaq Computer, a Game Player that rebounded from a series of planning missteps, a complex computer simulation model is now used to plan the exact timing, features and pricing of each new product introduction. The model is an industrial strength equivalent of the popular game program SimCity. It is a vital necessity in a market that Compaq manager Kevin Bohren describes as one where once every new product once could expect six months of uniqueness. Now, he laments, a long weekend in the sun is the best a new PC can hope for.
The wing-it mentality
When sales targets and production volume become the key driver of a business, it is easy to loose sight of quality and cost. The selling activity, especially, can become a dangerous end into itself. All the company's creative efforts may be directed to inducing customers to buy, through special deals, rebates and prizes. These usually mirror an impressive array of sales incentives and rewards used internally to encourage the sales force to sell. Overemphasis on these artificial stimulants can -in the short term - lead to customers buying what they don't need, more than they need, or both - often at the wrong time. Eventually a backlash is created, and customers look elsewhere.
Teaching customers the wrong lessons
The net result of all this game playing: uneven production runs for manufacturers, profits for middlemen, and higher prices for consumers. This is the system that some rule breaking, information systems-armed food retailers are working hard to reform.
Equivalent forms of market perversion occur in other growth industries - the well known "gray markets" for blue jeans and personal computers, for example.
Nice theory, but difficult to pull off. Eventually all the diversity this approach creates requires the imposition of layers on layers of financial controls. Financial measures of performance, while important, are by necessity abstractions. Over-reliance on them reduces the number of corporate decision makers with direct customer contact and an intuitive feel for the marketplace, or factory floor.
Another dangerous hedge for many Game Players is backward integration - using profits generated by a growing business to purchase a key supplier. This is an attractive-sounding management dogma: take advantage of a secure source of raw materials and profit by being your own supplier. Unfortunately the need to focus on managing the economics of the newly acquired supplier can easily take the company's eyes off the needs of its real customers. Attention is directed at selling what the supplier likes to makes (to keep these newly bought plants busy earning money to justify investment in them), not on keeping current on what the external customer wants. Companies as dissimilar as General Motors and A&P have suffered the consequences of this kind of rear-view mirror management
Loosing the edge
Mediocre products proliferate in Game Players with this affliction. Plans to "blanket-the-market" or create a full line of products are driven - just under the surface - by a need to maximize internal career opportunities. Brand distinctions become meaningless and confusing. Eventually strategic focus is lost and managers - now hopelessly out of real touch with their customers - resort to running the business solely "by-the-numbers."
When a business looses its focus, heated conflicts - always present within Game Players - revolve more around internal squabbles, and less about conflicting views of market trends. Dividing the pie becomes more important than growing it. Winning a department political contest offers more rewards than besting a marketplace competitor. An accurate organization chart of such a troubled Game Players will group employees into baronies and fiefdoms, not business units and divisions.
Drift has plagued once stellar Game Players such as General Motors and Sears. In a thirty year period GM's number of car models increased sevenfold - but many of the models were so alike that customers fled to more market-attuned Game Players like Toyota and Ford. Sears meandered from an integrated retail store and catalog business into an array of brokerage, insurance, speciality retail, home repair, and even management consulting enterprises. Both companies are now in the long process of recovery - and offer excellent examples of sins to avoid.
Keep the eye on tomorrow's customer
Some Game Players maintain the discipline to avoid drift, but fall into the trap of complacency. At this point, many begin to loose their competitive edge when they willingly settle for less than their fair share of a market. Attention shifts from today's battles to yesterday's victories. Expectations of future growth are diminished - regardless of how much potential awaits them in the marketplace. Complacent Game Players are driven more by enrichment than expansion.
Eventually they become cannon fodder for a more aggressive Game Player, or a victim of a Rule Breaking upstart competitor.
Crossing the line
The remedy: successful Game Playing requires an ethical as well as a strategic compass. According to Baruch College's Professor Schnaars, the key is to avoid copying too closely , especially when an industry giant is using its muscle to crush a weaker competitor. Remember the New Rules of Competition: victory seldom requires vanquishing an opponent. Imitation succeeds best when accompanied by a measure of original innovation. Licensing, joint ventures and outright acquisition are tools well used by the best Game Players.
As markets mature, Game Players frequently restructure their efforts to give them sharper focus. Ralston Purina's chief executive, William Stiritz, keeps a wooden sculpture of a just-barely-balanced tightrope walker in his Checkerboard Square office. It serves as a reminder of the need to continually shift weight around when trying to move forward in difficult circumstances. Stiritz spun-off his Ralston cereals and Beech-Nut baby food businesses, leaving him freer to concentrate the company's marketing talents on Purina pet foods and Eveready batteries.
The secret to sustaining a Game Players' growth is rapid adaptation of its outward form to changes in the market - while never deviating from the core philosophy upon which the business was built.
Image can be very important
Image was a big part of the problem. The Black & Decker name had become associated with tools for do-it-yourselfers and sold in mass marketers' stores, such as K-Mart. Regardless of product quality, it was the last thing a building professional wanted to be seen carrying to the job site.
What was Game Player Galli's solution? A new color (yellow) a new brand name (DeWalt), and a massive marketing program. A fictitious "DeWalt Industrial Power Tool Co." was created, complete with its own 800 number, service vehicles, and marketing staff. And the new product line was sold only through stores and distributors that professional builder respected.
These "innovations" have resulted in a major market share gain, but they were not created out of whole cloth. Yellow is a color that signifies caution and safety in industrial settings; DeWalt was the name of a nearly defunct brand that Black & Decker acquired many years ago.
Regardless of coloration and nameplate, the tools were as identical to the existing Black & Decker professional line as a Ford Taurus is to a Mercury Sable. But, most important to a Game player in a maturing market: all the profits ultimately go to the same place.
Marriott's formula for growth
Through a combination of imitation and acquisition Marriott has properties reflect the broad range of market segments that have emerged in the hospitality business: Fairfield Inns for the budget traveler, Courtyard for the business person, Residence Inns for the multi-week stayers, and Marriott's for the full service customer. Soon after all-suite hotels became popular, Marriott rolled out its version.
Marriott's core philosophy revolves around the provision of a consistent high level of service, over a broad range of price points and market segments. This is driven by a rare form of organization. It is one that balances a headquarters staffed with analytic types skillful at identifying emerging markets, and a field operating organization with a disciplined approach to service that is unrivaled. Marriott is a Game Player exceptionally well equipped to roll with the punches.
What next? When your business grows to the profitable point where all overnight stays are at guest-pampering Ritz-Carlton's, don't be too surprised to find the concierge receiving a paycheck from Marriott, and Bill Marriott's portrait hung next to Cesar Ritz's.
Good Game Players are never too proud to associate with other's successes.
© Robert M. Tomasko 2002