Three
fundamental changes, demassification, shrinking distance and
collapsing time – are reshaping the world marketplace.

These changes
are creating an entirely new competitive environment, which
offers opportunities of previously unimagined magnitude, but
at the same time, imposes unprecedented demands. The enormous
promise of this new global environment, and it’s equally
enormous pressures, demand nothing less than functional excellence:
superior performance across the board, in every major functional
sector.

Functional excellence
means marketing creativity, a continual stream of innovative
ideas for brands, products, packaging, inventive new advertising
and promotional programs.

Second, the winners
in this era will achieve excellence in the management of their
supply chains, all the way from raw materials to the retail
shelf. Companies whose supply chains are not only efficient
and cost-effective, but also innovative and responsive from
top to bottom, will enjoy a competitive advantage. Where in
the past we’ve known marketing wars, in the very near
future we’ll be seeing supply chain wars! For example,
consider what its global anchor bottler system does for Coca-Cola!

Third, success
will demand excellence in field sales execution, delivering
product package, price point, merchandising and consumer support
that focus on the needs of every individual retail customer.

New, winning
concepts and solutions won’t arise in the classic, top-down
big company command mode. They come from real, first-hand
immersion in current, day-to-day practice in the field –
the new product lab, the manufacturing floor, the marketing
duel, the face-to-face sales dialogue. Strategy can’t
be handed down like the tablets from Mount Sinai – it
has to grow organically from the body of the organisation
itself.

The corporate
environment must become an open and a learning environment,
top to bottom, stimulating and welcoming new insights, new
concepts, new solutions. All its people must feel not only
the freedom to say, openly and honestly, what they see and
think, but must be encouraged to do that, and rewarded for
it. Today, the most important job of senior management is
to find, facilitate and reward creativity, on all levels in
the organisation, so the company can keep adapting to the
rapid-fire change that will characterise the marketplace.

When my colleagues
and I at Beverage marketing do our industry studies, we keep
hearing words like: The things they’re doing at that
company are really cutting edge! …… They’re
way ahead of the rest of the pack! …… These guys
are the best! We find that the people in those companies know
they’re leading-edge; feel good about it, and fight as
hard as they can to keep that edge. Among them we find a small
number of companies that have moved even further; they are
clearly superior to competition in key areas of excellence,
and everybody recognises that they are. For example, the way
Heineken manages its containerisation and shipping programmes
– way ahead of the field.

There is a term
that people are starting to use to describe companies that
have clearly achieved functional excellence: Zen Masters.
You don’t have to be the biggest; the key to becoming
a Zen Master is to achieve superior functional excellence
in your chosen sector. That could be a local market, a niche
product or brand, or it could be a global brand competing
in the whole worldwide arena.

You choose your
battlefield. Then you battle for top functional excellence
in that area. When you get there, it will be evident; you
won’t even need to mask your moves or your intentions.
They will know it, and so will you.