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June-July  2004

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Mastering MSE
Honing Your Marketing and Strategic Engineering Efforts
by John Matukaitis

Few people think of engineering relative to marketing and strategic planning. Most people have heard the phrase “reverse engineering,” which usually implies a thorough analysis of a competitive product. In other words, taking it apart, examining each component, determining how and why it is different than your offered product, and finally determining if the competitive product does indeed demonstrate a tangible and significant advantage or feature that your product does not.

You should also consider doing the same type of analytical and planning activities via marketing and strategic engineering (MSE). Regardless of the size of your company, from “mom and pop” to major international manufacturing firms, you need to establish a benchmark to compete against your competition effectively and efficiently. 

Consider the Competition
In any marketplace you need to know your business rivals. You need as much information as you can obtain. This forms the basis for MSE. Consider your top ten competitors and their practices, and compare those standards of practice to your activities.

So, how do you collect and analyze this pool of information? Most MSE efforts include primary and secondary research. Basically, primary research involves face-to-face efforts; i.e., interviews with customers using competitive products as well as your product, what they like or dislike about each, talking with those who are connected in the industry, talking with suppliers, etc. Secondary research is purely a paper chase, reviewing industry surveys, articles and information in industry publications and from Wall Street, etc. Another option is to use a market research or consulting firm, both of which are usually more cost-efficient and objective.

The research activities allow you to identify industry challenges, begin to quantify and qualify data, identify strategic opportunities and to begin making strategic plans. This also helps you learn how to monitor the market once your plans are implemented. Usually your results will allow you to identify past problems the competition has faced and the major challenges they now confront, as well as opportunities that may be present.

Measuring the Data
It is critical that quantifiable measurements be established. Simply stating that an objective, as a result of your research and planning, is to increase market share, is not truly meaningful. You must quantify the measurement by a specific and realistic percentage or dollar volume, over a specific period of time in a specified market segment, etc. This allows you to communicate easily the intended action needed to attain the desired results to others in your company, and measure whether the results are being attained. 

It is important to remember that MSE is proactive and not a reactive endeavor. Because the system monitors competitive activities, companies are able to make proactive decisions rather than reacting constantly to competitive actions. You can also expect to benefit by identifying growth opportunities, as well as spotting opportunities where competition does not exist.

The key to MSE is the ability to use quantifiable data in a pragmatic manner. Anyone can compile hundreds of pages of numerical data. What is vital is the ability to transpose the numbers into meaningful facts and assumptions, to ascertain the guts of what is driving the actions versus just measuring them. The masters of the MSE endeavors are those who can look past the things the competition is doing and, more importantly, identify why they are doing them.

The real purpose of MSE is to allow you to set trends, and not follow them. A window company executive recently told me that MSE permits his company to go into the market, and by knowing their competition, develop strategies that truly shake up the market, and makes competitive entities react to them. He said, “the rewards in the marketplace have been nothing short of extraordinary.” 

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