Your rivals could offer cut-rate knock-offs of your products; they could implement the same systems and imitate your processes. Virtually everything can be commoditized. Except your knowledge. Most business leaders now view knowledge as a key asset – but they capture and act on only a fraction of what they know. Except you. You’re going to pull ahead by using knowledge management as a competitive advantage.

Putting Knowledge to Work

Your organization creates a real competitive advantage when it mobilizes knowledge to create tailored content services; you differentiate yourself when you talk to stakeholders in a way that resonates with them most.

Can something so simple – so fundamental – be a competitive edge? It’s Marketing 101. But the reality is that few companies take the time to step back and ask:

  • Who are our customers and other stakeholders?
  • Where do they live?
  • How much money do they earn?
  • What do they want?
  • What is their education level?
  • How much do they know about our products/services?
  • What are they struggling with, and what are their pain points?
  • What’s keeping them from being as successful as they want?
  • What do they want, value, and need?

Because few companies take the time to step back, they never get ahead. They can never leverage their knowledge to create and deliver messages that resound in the minds of their stakeholders.

Getting It Wrong

Too often, companies approach sales and marketing from a product- or service-centric standpoint. They talk about features, benefits, quality, and price – everything they want the market to know about them.

The problem is that it’s not what the market wants to know. As the old adage goes, “Features tell, but benefits sell.” Take BlackBerry, for instance: the once-dominant company focuses its messages on features and functions. This Classic ad, for instance, lists one spec after another. Good phone? Sure. Inspiring? No.

Contrast that with spots for the iPhone 6S. Apple doesn’t enumerate its features; it doesn’t ramble on about 3D Touch, the 12-megapixel camera, or the 64-bit A9 chip that delivers 70% more CPU performance. Why? Because no one cares.

What consumers do care about is what those features can do for them. Can it capture memories? Fuel adventures? Push them to improve? Make their lives easier by completing routine tasks faster? Can it help Cookie Monster pass the interminable time it takes for his cookies to bake? Yes.

Both Apple and BlackBerry know what their customers want and have designed features to cater to them. The difference is that Apple uses that knowledge to shape its communications and to differentiate itself from competitors.

Speaking To Your Customers

To speak directly and with relevance to your customers, you need to identify who they are, what they care about, and what they need to know in order to take the desired next steps (call, buy, request, etc.). The questions listed above will help.

Who will be a barrier to success? Who will be a champion? With this preliminary – yet significant – step complete, you can move on to:

  • Examining how well your product/service addresses their needs or solves their problems. How well does your product or service connect with these needs and desires? If it’s a direct connection, great. All you have to do is let people know about you and they’ll buy your product because it’s a better mousetrap.
  • But sometimes, you have to create communications that connect the dots more effectively between where the customer/prospect is and where you are. You might, for example, solve a problem, but it is low on their list of priorities. If that is true, then some of your communications might need to inject a greater sense of urgency.

    Say that you are working with a company and its payroll system is woefully outdated. It takes three spreadsheets and 20 hours to get payroll done biweekly. But it does get done; it’s not yet a crisis. Your communications might focus on the risks of having out-of-date payroll systems: overpaying, underpaying, exposure to legal action. This turns an annoyance into a big liability. You’ve connected the dots – and carved out a competitive advantage.

  • Find your customers. When you understand not only who your customers are, but where they are, you can communicate with them more effectively. They may hate emails, so you call. They may hate calls, so you email. They may hate both so you meet in person. Find them, and deliver your messages in an environment they prefer.
  • Develop customized messages. Often, you need to create different versions of the same message, depending on your customers’ needs and priorities. Do they care about price? Quality? Convenience? The information itself may be the same, but how you package it varies.
  • If, for example, your customers care about status, they want to see how your smartphone will help them achieve these goals and live up to that image. But if they care about price, they want to know they’re getting the best value. The phone may be the same, but the messaging is not.

  • Transferring knowledge. What knowledge do your stakeholders need? It depends on who they are and what they want. But the answer is, “Lots.” They need a lot of information on features, functions, mediums; they need a lot of opportunities to find what they need, where they need it, and when they need it to answer their questions.

Don’t summarize everything you know into a pithy elevator pitch or overgeneralize it to the point where it has little value. Instead, offer a variety of knowledge that makes it easy for them to find what they need. If they have to hunt around for a pearl of wisdom in a big pile of content, they’re going to move on.

When you know your stakeholders, you can start to connect what you do with what they care about. This enables you to invest in the right channels, with the right messages and materials, at the right time so your knowledge ends up in the right hands. This is your competitive advantage; it’s there for the taking.