Part of becoming successful is envisioning what success looks like*, and then figuring out how to get to the vision.
This holds true whether one is talking about individuals in pursuit of personal goals, teams in search of prominence, or corporations trying to attain mastery of their market niche.
In the case of corporations, niche mastery is important from two perspectives: the perception of potential clients, and sometimes more importantly – the perception of potential investors and market analysts.
This is not a trivial matter and involves inter alia how clearly a firm’s mission and presence is defined, how consistent its behavior is with the mission, and how “believable” the basic “story” is – market valuation can be dramatically different if a firm is placed clearly in one quadrant versus another and whether the “story” hangs together clearly to investors and influential analysts.
The impact of how solid the “story” looks can sometimes run to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and substantial multipliers of either the asset-value or the stock value.
A firm can wind up with a marketable value of twice its combined stock and asset value if the “story” looks good to potential investors.
So what makes for a compelling story?
One aspect is whether the firm appears to be focused on a value proposition that makes market sense, and another is how its intellectual capital and intellectual activities reflect the value proposition.
On one hand what the firm is thinking must be aligned with the niche it is claiming and the content must demonstrate thought-leadership in that space.
On the other hand the content must be visible and run deep and broad within the organization.
You can’t be a niche master for long if all you can show is a flashy CEO or a single brainiac – you must be able to leverage a broad array of experts with deep industry smarts from within the organization.
So what, from a Knowledge Management perspective, would it look like if your company dominated the market niche it has chosen?
Well firstly you would expect that the majority of articles, references, white-papers, expert opinions, blogs, tweets, seminars, presentations, etc. out there would be by your company or about it, and those artifacts would be consistent with the story and show evidence of subject and domain mastery.
Secondly, you would expect most of the innovation and ideas in that space to be coming from your own staff or your customers and partners.
Thirdly you would expect your organization to have a well-rehearsed and efficient production-line for ideas, and to be practiced at germinating ideas and moving them through a maturation and dissemination process.
What to do?
Each discipline and group in the organization should be thinking about what success of the whole organization would look like from where they sit in the company ecosystem. This ranges from the front desk to the seat of the CEO. Every group can show smarts that are specifically tuned to the market niche.
Drilling down into specifics, it means that you would build and display thinking on your specific product area, particularly with regards your core vertical markets. So if you picked up random white-papers on either your product area or market domain, you would expect to see that most of the time, it was to do with your company. Most speakers at seminars touching on those areas would be your staff, your partners, or your customers, or other people talking about your products or services.
Most references or citations would be to your publications.
The reason that this spells dominance is that it creates very high entry gates to new niche entrants, and raises the bar on competition in a way that sorts players into pole positions according to their best abilities to produce and display intellectual prowess and subject mastery. It allows you to determine to a large extent what the frame of reference looks like, and what questions and topics are seen as pertinent.
It means that the market niche ecosystem will stabilize around those abilities that you display, and although still vulnerable to disruptive innovation, most of the disruptive ideas will be coming from the leaders – and therefore your firm.
From an individual perspective, it means that you would have a great many people producing intellectual property, and be strategically displaying it, and enabling and linking the people who create it – It means using your people to succeed in an arms race of ideas and expertise, and to train and mentor them in how to display their thinking in public where the investors, analysts, and customers can see it.
To do that requires that you mobilize and train a far broader array of staff than previously, and to help them to develop the corporate-wide intellectual assets.
It also means that you must build an environment where they can practice internally, and then when ready, work in tandem with Marketing to dominate the intellectual terrain in your market niche.
Having a CKO to organize and orchestrate this is not a necessary precondition, but like having your own experts it would make things easier.
That’s my story, and I am sticking to it
* this deserves a big sidebar on neuro-psychology and the huge chunk of brain devoted to visual systems and why so many metaphors are visual
Matthew Loxton is the Outgoing Director of Knowledge Management & Change Management at Mincom, and blogs on Knowledge Management. Matthew’s LinkedIn profile is on the web, and has an aggregation website at www.matthewloxton.com
Opinions are the author’s and not necessarily shared by Mincom, but they should be.