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Is your competitive advantage sustainable?

Last week, we examined competitive advantage, its key components and what it means to your business. We concluded that many companies strive to attain a competitive advantage, as it is like the icing on a cake to a business. To a large extent, many businesses may claim to have achieved competitive advantage, however, the question is: ‘how sustainable is it’?

The term sustainable refers to the ability of a business to meet social, customer and economic needs for a long-term. Analysing sustainability in terms of competitive advantage refers to the period a business is able to meet its obligations to its customers while attaining superior performance. This is easier said than done, as research found that the average period a business can enjoy sustainable completive advantage is about five years, within which competitors will be trying to replicate and surpass that business advantage.

At any given point in time, there will always be more than one supplier of a particular product or service. This is as a result of competition. What differentiates each supplier is the ability to create value that customers desire in the foreseeable future while utilising minimal costs. Therefore, we can deduce two key areas for businesses to achieve competitive advantage: differentiation and cost. We will examine these key areas in-depth in subsequent blogs.

While attaining sustainable competitive advantage might seem difficult, we have identified some factors that may ease the process in the long run assuming the company has indeed discovered its competitive advantage.

  • Knowing your customers - This is the starting point for developing a sustainable competitive advantage. Customers will always be available, but the trick is do you have what it takes to attract them consistently? Studying customers’ behaviours, such as buying patterns, usage of a product, value attached to a product and establishing an emotional connection, can offer insights on the type of innovative product or service to offer that will satisfy and solve customers’ needs.

  • Maintaining brand consistency - Consistency goes hand in hand with sustainability. Therefore, as a business, being consistent entails striving to provide more value to customers, being innovative to accommodate their changing needs, improving processes, strategies and communication.

  • Flexibility - While being consistent, a business must also be open to changes (both internal and external) that may affect its sustainability. For instance, when it comes to trends, a business would have to identify trends that will boost its advantage.

  • Understanding the market - Finally, to achieve sustainable competitive advantage, a business has to study and understand its competitors coupled with the knowledge from customer insights to position itself as a provider of differentiated product/service which cannot easily be replicated or substituted within a short period of time.

Here are some mistakes to avoid when trying to achieve sustainable competitive advantage:

  • Competing based on price - In the long run, a business may be unable to sustain the lowest price, except if it combines several strategies to supplement its decision to sell at that lowest price.

  • Rigid specialisation - Some businesses believe sticking to one particular product or scope of services will give them a competitive advantage, but many businesses with this school of thought have been left behind due to their inability to innovate or try other things.

  • Making promises they cannot possibly deliver to their customers.

  • Depending solely on promotions.

In summary, careful consideration must be given to ensure the sustainability strategy of any competitive advantage, and thus avoid a waste of resources and effort into crafting it in the first instance.

If you are not sure whether your competitive advantage can stand the test of time, please email us at: for a free consultation.


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