Philie Group Blog

Your Competitive Advantage in This New Environment
By Mike Philie

Your competitive advantage is your secret sauce. Michael Porter talks about competitive advantage as creating and sustaining superior performance. How would you have defined your competitive advantage prior to March 2020, and how has it changed this past year?


Over the years, many print establishments sought their competitive advantage through diversification, and adding products and services. This allowed them to grow overall, and to gain a larger share of wallet from their existing customers. This also lead to stickier relationships with those significant and strategic customers.


On the other end of the spectrum, other print establishments differentiated themselves by becoming specialists. They sought out a product, or market niche, and worked at becoming the best at their targeted market. They used technology to drive out inefficiencies in their operations and in the way they did business. They became product experts and trusted advisors to their clients. And of course, many carefully straddled the middle of these two extremes. Which one were you?


As you evaluate your current market conditions, one question to ask is what has changed within your environment? Will you go to market playing offense or playing defense?


Customers, competitors, capabilities and commodities. We’ve seen a wide spread in the rate and pace of print customers re-engaging with their customers. Some behave as if nothing ever happened, and in fact are thriving. While we see others that may take a long time to return to the good old days.


And how about your competitors, have they been sitting still or working to retool, and reimagine their business? Have they changed their approach to the market in a way that either threatens or enhances your existing position? For an industry under pressure, it certainly seemed like businesses continued to invest in new equipment and technology this past year.


Recent price increases for substrates may hamper the ability to raise prices overall. While delivery delays to certain segments of the mail system in 2020 has impacted the confidence of direct mail in several markets. So, what has changed within your environment?


No doubt, there will be “triggering events” that should open the door to new business. The big question is, at what level will you participate in capturing these new opportunities?


For some printers, it will be business as usual. For others, they will need to evaluate their market conditions, work to understand the current state of their customer base, and their teams’ ability to capture that pent-up demand. They should be cognizant of any changes in how their customers want to do business. Let’s face it, this last year has changed everyone’s expectations and perceptions of what can and can’t be done in both our personal and business lives.


Your competitors in this new environment may be the same usual suspects as before or they may be ghost competitors — ones that you never see. Print aggregators and online print solutions seem to have expanded their reach in many markets. They provide the infrastructure and technology solution that captures large segments of business and funnels projects out to their print partners in a distribute and print model. Keep your eyes open for these both as opportunities, and as potential threats to your current customer base.


This is the time to examine and re-frame your competitive advantage for today’s market place. Be clear on how will you keep your existing clients, get new clients and how will you keep them. Have a plan on how you will adjust and align to any new customer expectations and with those who are now working from home. Have a plan to re-build your workforce as well. As you may have been able to retain most of your experienced staff, many are finding it difficult to add people to their workforce. 


Make the time to carve out your unique strengths. Your competitive advantage is your secret sauce. Make sure that it is crystal clear to everyone on your team, and relevant in today’s new environment.


Mike Philie can help validate what’s working and what may need to change in your business. Changing the trajectory of a business is difficult to do while simultaneously operating the core competencies. Mike provides strategy and insight to owners and CEOs in the Graphic Communications Industry by providing direct and realistic assessments, not being afraid to voice the unpopular opinion and helping leaders navigate change through a common sense and practical approach. Learn more at, LinkedIn or email at


Originally published in Printing Impressions



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