Stronger than your weakest link

Guest writer, Kyle Barthelson, Vice President of Direct Marketing at Alliance Defending Freedom.

On April 4, two friends from Masterworks — Allen Thornburgh, VP of Strategic Innovation and Mark Neigh, Sr Product Developer — and I will be facilitating “Innovation That Works” at CLA’s Outcomes conference. This will be a highly interactive session to help you understand and apply the proven disciplines of strategic innovation — not just as theory, but specifically to your organization.

Yesterday, Allen talked in this space about competition. Today, we’ll look at how your organization’s weaknesses can be turned into strengths.

Paradoxes have always challenged me. The first shall become last. He who finds his life will lose it. Live in the world but not of the world.

Outside of spiritual application, these can be clichés.

However, I recently found an exception, in which Under Armour created a competitive advantage over their foes by making true the adage, when you’re weak, you’re strong.

Here’s what happened…

Never having owned a pair of Under Armour pants — and being a proverbial “tweener” (34” waist half of the time, 36” the other) —purchasing a pair of their trousers online was a serious friction builder. Then I noticed their site had a helpful new size chart function.

Through the simple process of selecting the brand and style of my favorite pants (Gap jeans) and entering the size that hugs me right, Under Armour told me which of their sizes will fit me best.

In a world where businesses are scratching and clawing to build brand loyalty with stellar customer experiences, Under Armour made a distinct statement. They acknowledged that their weakness — namely that I was likely more familiar with one of their competitors’ sizing and fit than I was of Under Armour’s — could actually be used to their competitive advantage.

So what?

Here are two questions you should ask about your non-profit’s situation (even if you’re not a tweener):

1. What are your competitors’ strengths? This question is tough to answer without compromising your own identity and value proposition (and no one really likes a copycat, anyway). It’s a healthy exercise for organizations to use competitors as a point of reference to help energize, develop and fuel their own competitive advantages.

2. Do you own your weaknesses? More to the point, do you even know your weaknesses? Strengthening them can be difficult, especially if you’re blind to them. But Under Armour cleverly embraced their weakness, knowing that many of their customers have strong brand loyalty elsewhere. In this case, recognizing that weakness didn’t diminish Under Armour’s value proposition.

And it doesn’t have to for you, either.

So, in the realm of paradoxes, at least one can have value for you: your weakness might be your strength. And knowing what your organization does well, and not so well, can help you innovate in ways that grow your impact and bring you new sources of both donors and income.