The only long-term sustainable competitive advantage

Do you agree that change is inevitable? If so, then per definition the ability to adapt, learn and develop is the only true long-term sustainable competitive advantage.

So, what are you going to learn in marketing next week? Tomorrow? Today? What did you learn last week? If you’re not intentional about your own and your organization’s learning then the risk is that you won’t learn as fast as your competitors are doing, which at some point will have a negative impact on your business. When private equity companies asks for my thoughts on how they should do a due diligence from a digital point-of-view I always begin by saying “Ask the CEO what their learning plan looks like. If she has a clear thought about learning that’s a very good indication.”.

So what can you do to learn as a person and as an organization?

Starting with you as a person, three examples of things that you can do:

1) Work for a couple of days for free at someone that is great at what you want to learn – I personally do this at least once per quarter and it’s truly an immersive experience where you also learn some things that you didn’t know that you would benefit from learning. So, think about which capabilities you want to build and where you could work for free to build them rapidly with real experts.

2) Get an external mentor – Mentorships is one of the most underused opportunities in businesses today. It’s not really hard to ask someone to be your mentor, and the reward is normally way beyond what you can imagine. A lunch or video conference call (pending location of your mentor) every 6th week will add a lot of learning to your life.

3) Write a 1-pager – Einstein said that it requires more effort to simplify something that to make it complicated. Set out to write a 1-pager summarizing an area in marketing, for example programmatic or perhaps marketing in its entirety. Then you really would have to learn some new things, talk to various people etc if to get to the essence of what should be in that 1-pager. If you are a CMO, would you be able to summarize marketing in a 1-pager?

As an organization there are also things you can do to learn continuously. Three examples of many:

1) Have a learning plan – If you are intentional about what to learn you will learn things faster and more efficient. As a starting point, a learning plan can be as simple as a shared document across the company outlining what you want to learn. The CMO should personally be responsible for the learning and learning plan within marketing.

What we want to learn Owner Timing
What impact online video has on our offline sales Byron Sharp Dec 1
How to best organize ourselves for dynamic creatives Marc Pritchard Nov 25
If we need an in-house creative production unit Lorraine Twohill Nov 22

2) Set up your budget in a test-and-learn way – Split your budget according to the table below and stick to it throughout the year. The innovation trials can be of two sorts:

a) Bigger and more transformative tests – This can be anything from trying out a new organizational design, to a new creative concept

b) Incremental A/B tests – To have a rolling A/B testing approach for optimization is a hygiene factor for all companies these days.


Share of budget For what
70% Qualified marketing plan – Your qualified marketing plan, including all marketing and media activities
20% Scaled innovation trials – Taking well-working innovation trials and scaling them across a major part of the business, still monitoring them closely
10% Innovation trials – Experimenting on a limited part of the business, doing things you haven’t tried before

3) Company-wide Monday morning routines – One great way of learning is to always take the outside-in perspective to your business. Every Monday morning you can have as a principle that everyone from the CEO down should spend 15 min browsing around with their phone and experience your business as many of your future customers will experience it online.

If you believe that things will always change, then it should be a top-priority to take learning and development seriously for any CEO/CMO as learning things faster than competition is the only long-term sustainable competitive advantage. The great news is that it doesn’t have to be difficult, but you need to start.


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