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Unconscious Conditioning Can Make or Break Your Business

As I finish my review of Vistaprint, I wanted to provide a link to the Vistaprint executive briefing webinar I held a couple of weeks ago. By uncovering some of the key strategies that this printing giant has employed, I aim to encourage other business leaders to come up with new approaches to outthink their competition. To view the webinar, please click here.

As I finish my review of Vistaprint, I wanted to provide a link to the Vistaprint executive briefing webinar I held a couple of weeks ago. By uncovering some of the key strategies that this printing giant has employed, I aim to encourage other business leaders to come up with new approaches to outthink their competition. To view the webinar, please click here.

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Wrapping up the examination of Vistaprint, I am reminded of an old Chinese fable thatwarns against climbing a mountain to fight a lion because a lion’sconditioning, its complex network of habits and responses, are finelytuned to fighting among rocky mountain tops. Instead you want to lurethe tiger out of the mountain. This turns his instincts intoliabilities. Keep reading below to see how Vistaprint beautifully applies this strategy.

Challenge them to leave their stronghold

We grossly underestimate the extentto which unconscious conditioning – the beliefs, habits, andperceptions we collect through experience – plays on our behavior.Cognitive scientists and linguists estimate as much as 98% of ourthought is not conscious. Buddhists have developed several methods andframeworks that help us appreciate how little of our thought is conductedin view of our conscious. We are literally operating on autopilot mostof the time, unaware of how our subconscious guides our actions.

Since advantage dependson a company behaving differently than the competitors, it becomescritical that leaders who wish to build an advantage understand andleverage the 98% of thought that is guiding their people’s behavior.

Vistaprint seems to useconditioning intentionally to build differentiation and advantage. Wecan see this clearly in how Vistaprint views itself. When I asked Wendy Cebula, Vistaprint’s president of North America, to characterize her company, she immediately replied, “At the heart we are really a technology company. We start with what is important to our customers and look at how we can use technology to help them do that.”

This claim is supportedby data. I analyzed the last five years of press releases and annualreports of Vistaprint and its closest competitor Consolidated Graphics.By reviewing 2,400 pages of text, I looked to see how often eachcompany used words like customers, consumer, user, buyer, or purchaser.By comparing the two companies’ language, we can look into the internalculture of those businesses and see how they really see the world.

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My research found that Vistaprintis clearly and measurably more customer-focused and lessprinting-focused that Consolidated Graphics. While the two companiestalk equally about technology and efficiency, Vistaprint talks aboutthe consumers or clients twice as much. Vistaprint talks about printing less than one third as often.

By examining Vistaprint’s messaging, we see that it thinksabout the customer twice as often. Consolidated Graphics talks aboutprinting three times as often. Vistaprint is a consumer-focusedcompany. Consolidated Graphics is a printer.

So how does thatresonate and provide a tangible competitive advantage? BecauseVistaprint sees the world differently (technology and consumerfocused), it naturally acts differently. Its people make thousands of little decisions every day that make sense for a consumer-services company. Those same choices may be counterintuitive for a printing-focused business.

Thus Vistaprint seeks to differentiate itself a thousand times a day from its traditional rivals.

Vistaprint has wiselystayed out of Consolidated Graphics’ stronghold, choosing instead tooccupy terrain on which a printing company’s condition offers no advantage. This forces Consolidated Graphicsto choose between two losing options: come out of its stronghold andrisk losing or stay in its stronghold and watch Vistaprint grow.

Vistaprint sticks toits stronghold because it does not seek out to hire printing experts.With the exception of workers who actually operate VIstaprint’smachines, almost none are industry experts. As Wendy Cebula says, “We hire smart people who know technology and are willing to be audacious.”

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Ask yourself thequestions below to see how you can lure your competitors from theirstrongholds or force them to let you expand uninhibited.

1. What is my stronghold? What do we do differently?

2. What is our competitor’s stronghold?

3. How can we expand our stronghold while avoiding stepping into theirs?

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About the author

Author of Outthink the Competition business strategy keynote speaker and CEO of Outthinker, a strategic innovation firm, Kaihan Krippendorff teaches executives, managers and business owners how to seize opportunities others ignore, unlock innovation, and build strategic thinking skills. Companies such as Microsoft, Citigroup, and Johnson & Johnson have successfully implemented Kaihan’s approach because their executive leadership sees the value of his innovative technique.

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