There’s a lot of talk about core competencies in the business world, but people often don’t understand what the term really means.
Some CEOs think their core competencies are the things that generate revenue, so they set off on a wild goose chase of looking for the next great thing in areas where they have no expertise. A true core competency is typically defined as having three general traits: It’s hard for competitors to imitate, it can be leveraged widely across products and markets, and it provides benefit to the consumer.
For example, at Smart Business Network, our core competency is content. We started off as just magazines, providing content tailored to CEOs and other senior-level decision-makers. But as the market started to evolve from analog to digital, we changed with it. Our core competency of content didn’t change, just the way we presented it. We moved into events (presenting content via live speakers), e-mail newsletters (presenting content on a certain topic to a narrow niche), webinars (presenting content via interaction with an editor and subject-matter experts), custom magazines (presenting content from experts to their constituents) and websites (presenting content in digital form.) The common thread among all of these is content.
Content for us meets the three components of a core competency. It’s hard for competitors to imitate what we do because we have a 20-year track record of working with some of the top CEOs in the country to provide insight, advice and strategy to other leaders. The popularity of our magazines with senior-level executives gives us the access that others cannot duplicate. As illustrated by the number of places where our content is delivered, it’s being applied across several products and markets. And finally, our content provides a benefit to both the buyer and the consumer — the buyer gets a professional message delivered to a specific audience, while consumers get information that helps them run their businesses better.
It’s OK to change your products, just don’t change your core competency. We evolved from a magazine-only approach to deal with changing technology. People were consuming information from areas outside of print, and we had to adapt to survive. But through all the incarnations, we never lost sight that, for us, content is king.
Think of your product the way Coca-Cola looks at its soda. If you want a Coke, you can find a vending machine and get a 16-oz. bottle. You can go to the grocery store and buy a 12 pack of cans. Or if you are at a ball game, you can buy a cup from one of the vendors. It’s the same product delivered in a variety of ways. Wherever the consumer wants a Coke, there’s a way to get it.
This is similar to how we have approached content. If you want it in print, we do that. If you want it digitally through a website, we do that. If you prefer e-mail newsletters or microsites, that’s not a problem either. Custom content? We provide that, too.
Now look at your product or service. Are you making it available in every way possible? Are there avenues where customers are looking for your service that you haven’t taken advantage of? Would Coke be as successful if the only way to buy it was in a can from the local store? No. Are you limiting your own success by limiting the ways your product is distributed?
And in a similar vein, are you going outside of your core competency? Coke is a beverage company. It has its flagship products and has added on flavored waters and sport drinks as consumer tastes have evolved. But those market changes were dealt with by staying with its core competency. When people started becoming more health conscious, the company found a way to provide healthier drinks; it didn’t start a line of health clubs.
There are many other examples of companies that leverage their expertise without deviating from their core competency: UPS applies its logistics expertise through consulting and management services for clients; Dunkin’ Donuts sells its popular coffee in grocery stores.
If you truly understand what you do best and can find ways to apply it across multiple markets, success will naturally follow. Just be true to who you are and stick with your core competencies.
FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.