Thanos, from the Marvel cinematic universe, had been trying to collect all six Infinity Stones for years, and with his minions and allies failing to do so on his behalf, he decided at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron that he would go after them himself.
Why did Thanos want to collect all six Infinity Stones?
Thanos was from the planet Titan. His homeworld was in danger of being destroyed many years ago. They were running out of resources and were overpopulated, so Thanos advised the Titans that half the population be destroyed at random to save the rest.
The Titans rejected his idea. He was called a mad man and they exiled him.
But he didn’t give up. Once he realised that if he can get hold of all of the Infinity Stones he could control the entire universe – with the snap of his fingers he could correct the universe permanently by removing 50 per cent of life from it.
In order to restore balance, Thanos needed all six Infinity Stones to complete the Infinity Gauntlet, which would give him the power to warp time, space, energy, and the rules of physics and reality.
In other words, when Thanos got all the six Infinity Stones, he would become unstoppable!
So, Thanos spends most of Infinity War hunting for the Infinity Stones, all the while the Avengers are playing catch-up trying to stop him.
What is Strategy?
Thanos wanted to destroy half the universe in order to survive!
It reminds me of a scene from the film, Margin Call, where Jeremy Irons, playing as John Told, tells Sam Rogers, played by Kevin Spacey, that they will have to do whatever it takes to survive.
They look at each other to see if they understand each other.
SAM ROGERS: If you do this you’ve killed that market for years. It’s over.
JOHN TULD: (Nods.)
SAM ROGERS: And you are selling something you know has no value.
JOHN TULD: (cuts him off cold) We are selling to willing buyers at the current fair market price, so that WE MAY SURVIVE, Sam!
SAM ROGERS: You’ll never sell a thing to any one of them again.
JOHN TULD: I understand.
SAM ROGERS: Do you?
JOHN TULD: DO YOU!!! THIS IS IT SAM, THIS IS IT!
The rest of the table is taken aback and just watching them go at it.
Many business leaders pursue strategy, in order to SURVIVE.
But there are two sides to the strategy coin, not only do businesses pursue strategy to survive, but just like Thanos, as we later found out, Thanos wanted to destroy half the population to impress and win the love of Mistress Death!
So it is with business leaders, not only do they pursue strategy for survival but also to impress and win the love of shareholders which, in business speak, translates as “maximizing shareholder value”
The history of Strategy
Even if we to go back into history, and sit alongside Sun Tzu, and observe many battles. You would agree with Sun Tzu that strategy, or the “art of war” as he would call it, is really the “art of survival” – survival against your enemy.
War used to be about survival for Sun Tzu, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon in the past. It then became about expanding the empire and obtaining tribute as well as getting richer.
Survival became the metric of success of any given strategy.
We then skip to a time when the industrial revolution arrived. This involved an extensive re-organisation of many world economies for the purpose of manufacturing.
This time, enemies were replaced by competitors, and war booty was replaced by profits.
During this time, strategy was simple, whoever was first to market usually won!
First mover advantage was the strategy in vogue at the time!
And you stayed in pole position by monopolizing your industry, driving down prices to bankrupt your unworthy competitors, while using your economies of scale and secret deals to punish the small players.
Anyone remember Standard Oil?
First mover advantage is still a strategy being pursued today. As John Tuld, played by Jeremy Irons, in the film about the financial collapse, Margin Call, says: “There are three ways to make a living in this business. Be first, be smarter, or cheat. ”
We skip to a time when the business world was introduced to the SWOT analysis. The tool was more like a self awareness test for businesses. But, Michael Porter didn’t think it was rigorous or good at really giving managers and leaders an idea at what else could be eating into their profits.
Michael Porter, in Porter’s Five Forces, identified the different factors that affected profits and most importantly, concluded that strategy was all about coping with competition.
This explains why “existing competition” was the most influential force in Porter’s Five Forces framework.
The beginning of the assault on Competition.
After Porter, strategy became about getting rid of your competition since competition posed a threat to survival and maximising shareholder value!
Then came Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim with their Blue Ocean strategy, at its core the strategy was all about making the competition irrelevant while creating your very own uncontested market.
The Blue Ocean strategy is reminiscent of Thanos’ plan to wipe out half the population of the universe – wipe out i.e. make your competition irrelevant in order to survive and thrive.
Then came along Peter Thiel. He famously said “Competition is for losers” in his book “Zero to One”. He encouraged start up businesses to pursue monopolies, or as Kim and Mauborgne call it, pursue uncontested markets.
The flaw in most business strategies
Most strategies, just like the strategies of old, see competition as the enemy, the enemy that must be got rid off.
The very existence of competition is perceived to be a constant threat to the survival of the business.
There is this weird belief that the business world should be a zero-sum game i.e. in order for one business to be profitable, another has to make a loss or cease to exist completely.
When Peter Thiel says competition is for losers, this is from the perspective of a capitalist driven business seeking the maximum profits for its shareholders BUT from the customer perspective, competition means more choice, and customers will always want to have a choice, whether that is in politics, life, food, etc.
People always want choice, so when the blue ocean strategy people say make competition irrelevant they are basically saying make choice irrelevant, when Peter thiel says competition is for losers he is basically saying choice is for losers!
“There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer… Because it is its purpose to create a customer, any business enterprise has two — and only these two—basic functions: marketing and innovation…”Peter Drucker
You start a business, whether a small business, or a tech startup, or an internet business with one purpose in mind, to create and serve the customer.
Let me illustrate this by borrowing a passage from the bible.
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Before the breath of life, Adam was merely a body, made of dust. It is only after the breath of life was breathed into his nostrils, did he become a living soul.
Customers are what breathe life into the business, therefore, the soul of any business or organization is to serve its customers well i.e. create value for them in exchange for profits.
Customer’s are the breath of life for any business or organization!
This is what Peter Drucker meant when he said, there is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create (and serve) a customer.
Most business strategies are focused on either coping or getting rid of competition.
But, competition and customer choice, are in essence, two sides of the same coin!
What business leaders and managers consider competition, customers look at it as having choice.
The idea of getting rid of competition is what has contributed to some terrible business strategies with terrible consequences for society and the world at large.
When one business intentionally drives down the price to pressure their competition, yes, innocent customers are happy with the low prices at first. However, they do not realize that, when that competitor goes out of business because they can’t compete, it creates unemployment as they have to get rid of employees. The competitor also stops contributing to the economy via taxes and most importantly, customers will pay the price as there will be no longer have a choice.
This is always the underlying danger with internet services that are free or charge low prices at first: They hook the consumers in, all the while making it impossible for others to compete. Once dominant, they start to raise prices, and customers are left with no choices. (Looking at you Netflix!)
What Really is Strategy?
I would define strategy as, having to innovate for your customers in light of changes in the business environment, in order to survive and thrive.
You innovate to give customers more choice and value.
Have you ever wondered why Hitler was defeated at World War II?
Because the rest of the countries united to save the world from tyranny.
It was easy for Churchill to motivate young British men to sign up and go die for their country, in light of the potential threat to their freedom and lives!
The same thing happened in America, when they were attacked on September 11th.
It was easy for the young men and women to sign up to go fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, in light of the attack on their country!
The business world is no different!
In order for businesses and organizations to stay relevant, they have to continually innovate and give customers more value, in light of changes in the business environment.
Strategy, in essence, is about uniting resources (employees, suppliers, shareholders) for a common cause: to create and serve customers well, in light of changing circumstances.
I keep emphasizing, the words “in light of changing circumstances” because, the other way to look at strategy is this:
When someone asks you, what is your strategy?
They are asking you what your next move is for your customers given the changes in your business environment.
Your answer is your strategy – and it would be weird to reply, “to make my competition irrelevant or copy my competition.”
To some extent, Michael Porter did sum up strategy well when he said Strategy is all about differentiation, but I would add, strategy is about differentiation i.e. giving customers more choice given changes to the business environment.
Take for example, the Apple iPhone, it was was an excellent alternative to the blackberry smartphones which had qwerty keyboards covering half the screens, no apps or music.
(show blackberry next to apple)
Improvements in technology, and the internet, allowed Apple to innovate and give consumers an alternative to the Blackberry and Nokia.
Their strategy was simple: to create and design the best iPhone using the best technologies available at the time. This was not about getting rid of Blackberry by making a cheaper and bigger phone with more buttons; their relentless focus on the customer resulted in ousting Blackberry from the market. They gave customers a very good alternative to the Blackberry smartphone.
Have a look when IT made its way into the corporate world.
When IT came about, the question asked was “now that there are new technologies, how will you increase the value to your customers?”
Enter the strategic alignment model (SAM). The strategic alignment model was all about how how business leaders will adopt and embrace technology to improve the value offering to customers.
Take, for instance, insurance companies.
Some, who were focused on being cheaper than the competition, decided to carry on processing insurance claims manually. But this meant that claims would take almost a month or longer to process – which was much slower and hurt the consumer.
On the other hand, some insurance companies, who were focused on giving value and choice to consumers embraced IT and aligned their company strategy with the IT approach. This resulted in claims being processed swiftly and effectively, which benefited both clients and businesses..
As Heraclitus famously once said, “change is the only constant in life,” so it in the business world, change is the only constant – thereby we always need new strategies to cope with changes in the business environment.
It is now old news, but, for many businesses it has not sunk in yet – The Internet is going to change the way we do business forever! And yet, how many businesses have come up with new strategies in light of the changes in the business environment brought about by the Internet?
How do you create value on the Internet?
If I were to adopt Peter Drucker’s quote in light of the impact of the Internet on the business environment, it would be:
“There is only one valid definition of business purpose on the internet: to create content that creates a customer… Because it is its purpose to create a customer, any business enterprise has two — and only these two—basic functions: digital marketing (or content marketing) and innovation in their products/services in light of advancements in technology.”
Before you can sell your product/service on the internet, you need to establish trust. The best way to create trust is to offer something of value to internet users, and the best way to do this is by creating content. For example, it could be a video, or a long form how-to article.
On the internet, instead of sales and profits we talk about clicks and conversions.
First, the customer has to get value from your content after they click on your content. Then, once they trust you, they convert, i.e. make a purchase, sign up with their email, etc.
During web 1.0, businesses first to get on the internet benefited massively. Those who could afford to pay for an internet connection were merely receivers of content from businesses.
During web 2.0, people participate in content creation, hence the term “content creators.” With increased content, also came the content aggregators – the Facebooks, TikToks, and Google’s of this world.
Web 3.0 – despite the hype, will see bots/machines create content too, using Machine learning and AI. In fact, it is already happening; just that it has not gone mainstream yet.
But throughout the evolution of the internet, content and internet users have been the common denominators.
The Internet is a Battleground for Attention
“If you invested your time, money and effort in creating content and it had no clicks (views, shares, engagement), then you would consider your efforts wasted, wouldn’t you?”
You create content, in order to get attention!
Unfortunately, attention on the internet is taken for granted, especially by the big corporate companies.
They still think that they just have to copy and improve upon what their competition is doing.
As a marketing executive at a global company, I once sat in a meeting where I was told to cut my marketing budget by half and move it to Facebook, because all our competitors were also advertising on Facebook!
It was never to do with our customers, it was because our competitors were doing it too!
There was no guessing that we reluctantly agreed, because our jobs would be on the line if we ignored the top brass, but all our social media marketing efforts were all ‘zombies’ (according to Simba’s Content Matrix, a zombie, is any digital marketing activity or campaign that gets zero or low number of clicks and conversions) And we watched helplessly as money quickly went down the drain on Facebook.
Coping or getting rid of your competition is not a strategy! The internet is a battlefield for attention, so you have to do whatever it takes to get that attention.
Digital Marketing is Content Marketing
Content on the internet creates a magnetic force of trust as internet users browse the web and enjoy your content; the magnetic force becomes stronger as more people enjoy and share your content, and shortly after you experience strong demand for your product/services or content.
But what strategy can you use to create content that gets attention on the internet?
At the moment, the majority of content creators and marketers lack understanding of the internet forces at play.
Why does a silly cat video attract millions of views while a video about Covid-19 barely gets noticed?
And when it’s not clear how to overcome the internet forces, businesses do what they do best – they throw money at the problem!
Because someone said that content is king, businesses and content creators have gone into overdrive to create more content.
Yes, in order to get internet attention, content is required – but there is also a demand for a framework, a guiding principle, or an approach that can assist marketers and businesses in producing content that provides value to internet users while also benefiting the company.
What is Simba’s Five Forces?
Inspired by Porter’s Five Forces, and adopted for the Internet, Simba’s Five Forces is a model that identifies and analyses the five forces that can help or hinder your value creation efforts on the internet (digital marketing activities)
The Attention your content will get depends on these five forces:
- Threat of New Content
- Threat of Different Type of Content
- Direct and Indirect Competition
- Power of Content Creators (Influencers) and Content Platforms/Aggregators
- Power of Internet Users
#1 Threat of New Content
Since the beginning of the internet, the volume of information has been growing exponentially. There is a Content (Information) overload. Forbes estimates that there are 2.6 quintillion bytes of data created each day.
Thanks to the lower cost of smartphones, laptops, and internet data, more people around the world have access to publishing platforms than ever before.
Nowadays, it is easy to publish stories, videos, songs, or even video games online. Just a couple of decades ago, you would need to go to school to learn how to do that and have access to a lot of money in order to get your own video or recording equipment.
If you wanted to be in the media, you needed to work in the media. You had to find a company that could help you get your work out there. Companies like publishers, game developers, and record labels were important for writers, game developers, and musicians respectively.
Now those traditional content gatekeepers have been replaced with a much more insidious one – Algorithms!
To get attention on the internet, you now more than ever have to somehow beat everyone else in the pile who also has access to the internet and same content creation tools as you do. .You are not just competing against other publishing companies or movie companies or big brands – you are competing for attention against millions of Content creators.
What it means for your business?
This means, within your industry or niche,the threat of new content displacing yours is high.
Like we already have mentioned, all that is needed really is an internet connection and a smartphone or laptop, and anyone, from anywhere in the world, can create content that competes with yours.
While you spend money on graphic design, advertising on Social Media etc, there is a person with a phone and some data, who can press the ‘LIVE’ button and go viral!
Another example regards the Covid-19 pandemic. Back in early 2020, there was not much content about Covid-19. But now, in 2022, going through the 4th wave, try to create new Covid-19 pandemic and see if you will get any attention?
Topics that are popular or trending usually attract the most new content, making it difficult to gain attention for your content.
There are some topics (niches) that are no longer popular and, as a result, have less competition but they also get less attention.
How to stop or deal with the threat of new Content
Create branded content, that is, unique content that any person can easily identify your brand or business.
Creating content demonstrating high Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness (E.A.T.) will attract attention and get help from content platform algorithms to rank high in the search results and people’s social media timelines.
In some industries/topics (niches) such as the health, unless you can demonstrate E.A.T it is difficult to gain attention on the internet.
In the USA, WebMD and NIH (National Institutes of Health) have high levels of expertise, authority and are trusted, therefore their content gets more attention versus new content. In fact, when you are a trusted expert, despite new content, people will come back to you for new content rather than go elsewhere.
This type of content is usually created by individuals (i.e., influencers, content creators), who create unique content for their audiences, and this cannot be copied and replicated elsewhere.
Evergreen content is content that continues to be relevant and fresh for readers (or viewers or listeners) over a long period of time. Its the type of content that continues to be relevant long past its 1st publication date. Examples of evergreen content include How To Guides and product reviews.
High Production Costs
Some content is free and cheap to create, i.e. writing a blog posts using WordPress or Google’s Blogger, creating memes using meme generators, etc., while other content is expensive to make, i.e. creating a video documentary, or a short film, etc.
Creating Content at scale (using AI and Tools)
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now making it possible to create Content at scale. Only large organisations can afford to leverage AI and latest Content creation tools to scale their Content production.
#2 Threat of Different Type of Content
There are at least 100+ types of Content including: videos (long form, short form), Articles, listicles, audio, blog posts, case studies, ebooks, e-courses, infographics, newsletters, memes, podcasts, presentations, promotions, and so much more.
For example, your business could hire a writer and he/she will produce a 10,000 word (long form) detailed and comprehensive article and yet, some other content creator or another organisation can turn that 10,000 word blog post into a list or meme and gain more attention (and go viral) than you!
This is the reality of the internet – there is more than one way to skin the content cat!
Another example, is that you could be one of the best sports journalist in the world, and write the most beautiful glowing tribute to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on the sport of football, and yet a youtube compilation video of Messi vs Ronaldo would attract millions of views.
In the business world, airlines have substitutes in cars, train, ferries and the railway.
On the internet, your content faces threats from other types (formats) of content – it could be a beautiful infographic that better presents the idea and concepts than your article, or a meme, that captures the essence of your article better than your 10,000 word article or a video that tells the story better and is more engaging than your article.
How to cope with the threat of different types of content
Content repurposing: Reusing all or elements of existing content in order to expand that content’s reach is known as repurposing content. Repurposed content is typically transformed into a new format i.e. a different type of content for example, turning a blog post into an infographic or a video.
The benefits of content repurposing include getting attention from a completely new audience, while it improves your visibility on the internet.
#3 Direct and Indirect Competition
The internet is a battle for attention, and on the internet there are no boundaries – i.e. not only are you competing with marketers and businesses from the same industry, but you are also competing with indirect competition.
Usually most organisations know how to track and compete with their direct competitors.
What about indirect competitors?
Indirect competitors are individuals or organisations that create content for topics (or niches) that matter to your target customers but with different aims.
They are a bigger threat, because they do not have the same business goals as your organisation – i.e. you could be creating content to generate sales while your indirect competitors could be creating content for the fun of it! Or for Fame (clout)!
An example of this is let’s say the Zimbabwe tourism industry, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) will consider other tourist destinations e.g. South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, as direct competitors.
However, they have bigger competition for attention on the internet from indirect competitors such as TripAdvisor or individuals but very popular bloggers e.g. Nomadic Matt (a blogger) or Instagram Influencers or Travel vloggers.
If the competition is intense, it will reduce the attention your content gets, diminish the value of your content, and ultimately affect your ability to sell your products/services on the internet!
How to deal with Direct and Indirect Competition
- Be an authority/expert or trusted source of information within the industry/topic(niche). Google has placed emphasis on content from organisations or individuals who have expertise, authority and are trusted (E.A.T) to create content for a particular topic (niche). These are topics that could affect a person’s life in a significant way. I recommend you read Marie Haynes’ article about E.A.T for more information.
- Create branded and evergreen content e.g. Forbes Rich List, is branded and evergreen content.
- Create unique content. A lot of digital marketing strategies end up being a re-wording or re-creation of popular content, albeit with a slight twist. Be warned, internet users cannot be fooled!
#4.1 Bargaining Power of Content Creators (Influencers)
Content creators are individuals e.g. PewDiePie that create content for a living.
Content creators usually have a captive audience which trusts them.
And Influencer marketing is how organisations pay Content creators to access their captive audiences.
The less Content creators available or the more fans/followers they have, the more power bargaining power they have over organisations. For example it becomes more expensive to access and market to their captive audiences.
Some topics (niches) have very few experts/authorities so even though they charge high prices, the content they produce will get you attention in the relevant niche/industry.
Ideally an organisation would want to have Content creators in-house i.e. within your own organisation, so that you have competitive advantage via leveraging their expertise.
#4.2 Bargaining Power of Content Platforms
Any place on the internet where you can post or share your content for a fee or for free is what is referred to herein as a content platform. Social networks, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, are such examples. They do not create their own content, but they help you create and distribute your content.
Content platforms, unlike Content aggregators, also give Content creators tools and knowledge to help them create Content. (This is why Content Creators and Content Platforms are seen as two sides of the same coin or force, they need each other to survive!)
Content platforms use algorithms i.e. sophisticated methods of determining which Content gets the most attention at any given moment. These algorithms determine how long, how popular your content can be while on their platform.
Algorithms can help your Content get attention e.g. ranking number 1 on Google search for a commercial search term (Did you know Page 1 of Google captures a whopping 95% of all search traffic?) or can starve your Content of attention by relegating your Content to beyond page 1. (There is an SEO joke that the best place to hide a Dead Body is page 2 of Google, Why? Because no one ever goes page 1 of Google, unless you are desperately desperate!)
Google is constantly changing and tweaking their search algorithm, so one day your content could be in the top ten search results, and the next, it’s dead and buried beyond the first page!
Another good example how an algorithm change can impact the attention (and traffic) you get is that of a popular Facebook page, Little Things – They were a popular Facebook page which was getting a lot of attention and internet traffic to their website, and one algorithm change later, they lost almost all of their traffic (attention) overnight!
In essence, Content platforms, like Google and Facebook, are Content marketplaces – a place where Internet users come to exchange their time (attention) for Content (entertainment, education etc).
The best way to deal with this force is to invest in your own Website, and use content platforms for content distribution. And always be encouraging internet users to come to your website for content than for them to consume it on other content platforms.
#5 The Power of Internet Users
On the internet, words such as Traffic, Internet Users, Users, Customers, Consumers, are used interchangeably. They all mean the same thing – internet users.
Content and Internet users are what make the internet tick!
This is the most powerful force of them all.
All your content marketing strategy (and efforts) should be focused on the needs and wants of your target audience.
The reason why this force is powerful is because of word-of-mouth.
It is the people who will help you cross the internet chasm i.e. help your content reach mainstream (or go viral) by sharing it with friends, colleagues and family, therefore helping distribute your Content and brand.
Attention on the internet is a zero-sum game.
There is so much content on the internet that internet users have so much choice! And when internet users have so much choice, they have so much power! While one organisation or individual gains attention for their Content, on the other side of the Internet there is plenty more Content left with no attention.
For example, this phenomenon plays out in the Google search results, where over 92% of search traffic is concentrated on the 1st page only.
Furthermore, attention spans on the internet have decreased due to the large volumes of content on the internet. An article titled, “Global attention span is narrowing and trends don’t last long, study reveals,” by the Guardian newspaper, shows that internet users, wherever they are in the world can no longer to give your content too much time of the day.
This makes it even harder to get and keep people’s attention on the internet.
You see the power of internet users via customer reviews, testimonials, social proof and other means.
One of the best ways to utilise this powerful force is by turning your customers into brand advocates and ambassadors.
A study conducted by Nielsen showed that, “92% of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising.”
Furthermore, a study by McKinsey & Company showed that, “ advocacy can have a significant impact on business performance: companies with the highest percentages of brand-loyal customers achieve, on average, a 27% premium in terms of gross margin compared with their competitors.”
Simba’s five forces is a useful for any organisation that conducts its business over the Internet.
It’s a strategic tool.
Digital marketers (and Content Marketers) and Content Creators use Simba’s five forces framework when choosing a Content Marketing strategy i.e. what Content to produce, how to best promote it, etc.