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Winning Strategies in a Complicated World



Winning Strategies in a Complicated World

By Alastair Hartrup, Global CEO, Network Critical 

We live in a period of constant uncertainty fuelled by factors such as globalisation, worldwide economic challenges, climate change and much more. In fact, many businesses are struggling to stay aligned in what is increasingly being referred to as the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) nature of today’s global competitive business environment.

But today volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity have been amplified tenfold as we move towards a post-Brexit environment. The UK leaves the EU by mid-2019 and as that moment approaches so the debate is widening in terms of what this will mean for the UK and the wider global economy.

 To this point, hardly a day goes by without a headline proclaiming the ‘golden opportunity’ that Brexit represents, only to be countered by a gloomy prediction of economic decline, with some of our mainstay institutions reputedly drawing up plans to move their operations to other countries in the near-term. The truth is that no-one really knows how Brexit will play out, but what is self-evident is that the continued uncertainty stimulated by the current Brexit debate makes it tough for British companies to plan ahead and to compete. And, while we have heard some very encouraging reports about the performance of the UK economy, we do have to take seriously the central prediction of forecasters that leaving the EU will have a negative effect on the UK’s economic growth. Taken in this context, it is likely that UK businesses will face volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity at unprecedented levels.

Here at Network Critical we are a UK company with a global footprint and we are proud of the products that we manufacture which enable network architects and managers to better understand network traffic and protect valuable information and infrastructure. We also know all too well that competition is a fact of life in our world where we have limited resources. So how do we create a winning strategy and, gain and maintain market share in what is undoubtedly a complicated world?

It is Good to be King

The multi-billion-dollar mega-companies have some advantages that are difficult for smaller companies to address head on. The marketing and research budgets of these companies are larger than the total revenue of many of their smaller competitors. Their regional sales coverage is denser and the sales support resources likely deeper than smaller organisations can afford. By sheer force alone these companies will dominate their primary markets. They are likely also looking for new markets to attack as well. However, if you are thinking there is no hope for the little guy…think again.

The market leaders will lead primarily by force. The old IBM tag line, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” is a great example of how big guys win. They can bring products to market faster, forge high level relationships with the largest accounts and lock up large deals by the sheer scale of their operations. If you are king, you take advantage of your wealth, connections, reach and force. You crush little guys who get in your way by running them out of business or buying the pestering ones that will not go away.

If Not a King, A Guerrilla Be

The description above paints a pretty bleak picture for the peasants. They do not wield the power or have the wealth of the kings. However, they also do not have to support the palace infrastructure and they may have a better understanding of the needs of the commoners.

First, remember that many of the mega-companies started as small companies. They either created something disruptive that no one else had or they built and marketed something better than the kings of the day. They figured out how to survive and to grow.

Generally, a direct, head on competition between a smaller company and a mega-company will end up badly for the smaller company. However, there are many strategic avenues for small companies to carve out a niche in a market and thrive and grow. Strategy number one is: do not try to compete head to head with someone that has a bigger head.

The biggest and strongest mega-companies have markets/segments in their corporate portfolio where they are not as strong as in their other, more dominant, markets. This is where the smart guerrilla picks a target. Understanding the weaker markets/segments of your competitors is step one in devising a winning competitive strategy.

In parallel with understanding your competitor, it is also important to understand yourself. Look inside to understand where you are faster, cheaper, smaller, simpler, more innovative, more connected, smarter, more focused and/or just better than your competition. Then you put the pieces of the puzzle together and match your strengths with the weaker areas of your competition and that becomes the target for your success strategy. If you have a laser focus on this target and you don’t try to blanket all the outer rings of the target you can compete and thrive.

Remember, you don’t have to be big to be the best at what you do. Pick your targets and focus in order to be the best there is in your particular niche. A proactive mind-set and a willingness to listen and learn and take small steps to success will help to place your business in a positive position. Adopting systems and processes that help businesses make sense of the VUCA world that the Brexit process is creating, is crucial. This, in turn, helps to generate belief in the direction of travel for your business which generates confidence, which generates success.

Mark my words, this is exactly how small companies get to be big companies!


Want to serve your customers better? An effective online strategy is what financial institutions need 



Want to serve your customers better? An effective online strategy is what financial institutions need  1

By Anna Willems, Marketing Director, Mention

A strong online presence matters.

Having a strong online presence, that involves social media is now a crucial part of all business strategies. Whether they are retail brands, sports teams, libraries or even restaurants, most companies are investing more and more in developing their digital brand image and online presence – financial institutions are no exception.

When it comes to market trends and innovation, financial institutions are first on the line. After all, we — people and companies — trust them to manage our money to the best of their abilities. And even more so than any other market, we demand secure, trustworthy, fast and user-friendly services.

Reaching such high expectations is not a given. To this point, banks and other financial institutions have no other choice but to have a perfect understanding of their market, their audience, and their needs. What they need to get there is a fail-proof online strategy.

Gaining a deep understanding of your market

One of the best things about using social media to learn about your audience is that people give unsolicited opinions. They speak their mind and share their thoughts candidly.

This is the key to help any business to learn about themselves. They get to analyze their audience’s challenges and aspirations without having to ask them directly or serve them time-consuming surveys and polls.

UK-based Asto, a company that is part of the Santander Group, is committed to helping small businesses have access to financial and non-financial tools. Asto was looking for something that could help them discover what their target audience was talking about and find opportunities to add to the conversation. Mention enabled Asto to keep on top of reviews and customer comments, which has helped us provide a better service for our customers.

Which platform suits your offering the best?

There’s no point choosing to create campaigns on TikTok if your customers don’t use it – you need to think about who they are and work back from there.

You do this by automating the process using a social listening tool. A social listening tool will help you to view your market as a whole and identify where the key conversations are happening — and, therefore, where you should be. What’s more, you will never miss any relevant mention of your institutions, products, services, or competitors.

Handling a crisis

Financial institutions need to watch carefully for negative press – social media is the first place people will go to if they feel they’re not getting the service they need. In theory, rogue employees or unhappy clients can post anything they like online to try and hurt your brand. And if their messages gain traction, you’ve gone from one person saying bad things, to thousands.

That’s why listening needs to be part of any crisis management plan. Now, sometimes, there are crises you cannot prevent. And those usually hit pretty hard.

Power of influencers

For an influencer marketing campaign to work for your financial institution, partnering with nano content creators may well be the best way to go. They’re ability to play a part in how they shape your brand story can make a huge difference when it comes to engagement and reason to believe in your service.

Many financial institutions are already leveraging influencer marketing. It’s an efficient strategy to: Build trust and gain credibility, reach out to new audiences and share engaging stories.

The online review conundrum

94% of consumers check online reviews before they decide to buy something or subscribe to a service. They need what we call social proof. It says that the more people say they use your service, the more it will look like a good service. In short, you need to show how happy people are using your service. But not all online reviews are positive.

Having said that, we find that financial institutions shouldn’t ignore negative reviews. Instead, embrace them as an opportunity to rebuild trust in your brand. Less delicately put, take the bull by the horns and turn them to your advantage. Always respond to relevant complaints (and as fast as possible). Take responsibility for what happened. Be helpful.

And ignore trolls.

Learn from the competition

Over the last two decades, a marketer’s daily life has greatly evolved. Most importantly, we now can measure everything we do, including the consequences of our actions on our business. Having said that, you can’t evaluate how well you’re doing without comparing against


Truth is that 77% of businesses rely on listening to keep an eye on their competitors. What this means is that 4 in 5 of your direct competitors are likely watching each and every single step you take. And you should do the same.

Setting the trend

From staying up to date with the latest industry trends and innovations, to keeping an eye on the competitors’ newest services, to being the first to know of potential brand crises – tracking relevant online conversations lets marketing and communication professionals working for financial institutions to stay one step ahead in an industry that is leading change and innovation.

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Why the Boom is Long Overdue (and Here to Stay)



Why the Boom is Long Overdue (and Here to Stay) 2

By Roger James Hamilton, CEO, Genius Group

Virtually every aspect of our lives has been taken over by tech, so why is it that our schools, that are educating the business leaders of tomorrow, are still operating in much the same format as they did 100 years ago?

The global pandemic put digital learning in the spotlight and an Edtech boom has ensued, with companies like Coursera, Quizlet and Udemy seeing unicorn style growth. And the market is not slowing down. The education technology (Edtech) boom will continue.

Resilience and Growth

Unicorns are defined by rapid growth. Traditionally, these companies are not overly concerned with early profitability, long-term sustainability or value creation as much as with putting their competitors out of business.

But something different is going on in the Edtech market. The unicorn has lost its appeal. When learning platform Quizlet achieved unicorn status this year, CEO Matthew Glotzbach was keen to play down the moniker reserved for start-ups valued at $1 billion or more, preferring to liken his company to a camel.

Unlike unicorns, camels are real, hardworking beasts. Respected for their adaptability to various climates, resilience, and abilities to survive for long periods without sustenance. These are all traits much better suited to weather the economic storms created by the pandemic.

Despite their considerable abilities to adapt to challenging conditions, the climate is looking particularly sunny for camels within the Edtech market. In fact, all creatures great and small have the potential to capitalise on unprecedented growth in this sector.

The nature of education makes it a traditionally slow-moving area, which renders it unattractive to some investors. Yet, the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent surge in remote learning this year triggered a flurry of uptake in e-learning platforms.

We’ve seen the adoption rate for new technologies be accelerated by events like this before. For example, the SARS crisis of 2003 contributed to the boom in China’s ecommerce industry, as quarantines lead consumers to shop online. Of course, this market trend did not slow down once quarantine restrictions were lifted. Ever since, global online sales have risen exponentially. The same is set to happen in the Edtech market.

Providing a Solution

As with ecommerce in 2003, the demand for Edtech in 2020 was already there. It has been there for years. For the past decade at least, there has been a notable need in recruitment for qualified talent in data science, coding and digital. Edtech can bridge the skills gap, not only within formal education but also for adult learners upskilling and reskilling for today’s digital world.

Similarly, the financial crash of 2008 had the effect of fast-tracking the rise of the gig economy, requiring millions more to learn entrepreneurial skills. The idea of a job for life is now a distant memory. The Edtech sector can deliver the tools to equip students of all ages with the skills necessary for creating their own opportunities, as well as exchanging knowledge and collaborating in a digital economy.

Rising unemployment, as well as competition for jobs and government furlough schemes has seen interest in digital learning courses for adults also soar during the past few months. Figures show that the corporate e-learning market is set to increase by as much as $3.09 billion between 2020 and 2024.

Roger James Hamilton

Roger James Hamilton

The Edtech boom kickstarted by the pandemic is just the beginning in a paradigm shift in how we view education and work.

Over the next 10 years, with the rise of artificial intelligence, automated technology, and augmented reality, traditional, manual and customer service based roles will diminish and there will be less need for a large workforce when computers and machines can do the role equally well.

The need for a truly 21st century education system that reflects the needs of the job market is long overdue. Edtech companies are offering solutions to many of these issues that have troubled the economy for the past decade or more.

A Different Animal

Enter the zebra (back to our animal analogies). These types of Edtech businesses will be the ones to watch within the sector. With zebra companies, there’s a sense of community and collaboration, rather than competition. They understand that there’s room for more than one superstar in a market. Zebras are herd animals after all. The zebra believes that competition is healthy for everyone involved—something to watch and use for motivation and growth. It closely observes consumer trends and continually strives to solve new and developing problems for those consumers.

For zebra companies, profit margin is vital because it is necessary for steady growth and sustainability. Revenues hover between $5M and $50M, it serves customers within a specific niche, requires annual growth capital of $100K to $1M, and generally has more than four streams of revenue.

Zebras are both black with white stripes and white with black stripes – they have a fluidity in their approach and are camouflaged at the same time. This creates a double bottom line: Zebras want to conduct real business, by solving a pressing problem in a sustainable way, whilst reacting to contemporary challenges. This too could be said of the Edtech industry as a whole.

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5 Sustainability Lessons That Are Crucial For Business Success



5 Sustainability Lessons That Are Crucial For Business Success 3

By Michael Stausholm, founder of Sprout World (

Sprout World is the eco-company behind the world’s only plantable pencil, with over 30 million pencils sold in over 80 countries. Michael has also advised the likes of Nike and Walmart on how to implement more sustainable production practices, and in addition to running Sprout World, mentors green start-ups as a board member of Greencubator.

  1. Making money shouldn’t be a taboo

As a mentor, I’ve met countless passionate souls who feel so committed to change the world with their business that it’s a taboo to talk about profit. But this can be fatal for your company.

How are you supposed to develop, produce and sell your product or service if you don’t make any money? There’s an expectation that green entrepreneurs have bigger hearts than others. That we are all in the game to make a difference for humanity and the planet. That making money is not important at all, and if your business is making good money, it’s better to keep your head low and be a bit ashamed of it.

But growing a company is costly. Focusing on your income is a must if you want to survive the first year. After all, if you are not making money, you won’t be able to develop a long-lasting business, and then you can’t make a difference. It makes absolutely no sense to talk about sustainable business, if the business is not making any money and has to shut down. So, the takeaway is that making money from the beginning might not be your priority, but it shouldn’t be a taboo either.

  1. You don’t need brand new ideas to be successful

Good ideas are like gold. People spend their whole lives chasing a good idea. But often, people use it as an excuse for not launching their business and remaining stuck in the same unfulfilling routine. But here’s the thing: good ideas are overrated. You don´t need to reinvent the wheel to create a successful business because an idea is absolutely nothing if you don´t act on it.

The world is full of good ideas. We all have them now and then, some even repeatedly. But what matters is what steps you take to implement it. There are plenty of companies that achieve great things not because they had a great idea, but because they are taking products or services that have been around for ages, and just making them better. So, don’t wait around for divine inspiration for your next great idea because you might be waiting forever.

  1. It’s OK focus on the money with potential investors

Growing a business often requires external funding from investors, loans, or possibly even crowdfunding. And this is where it might get difficult for you to get help from investors. If, for example, your focus is merely on the environmental benefits of your product or service, it’s simply not attractive for an investor, who typically has profit as a measure of success.

A study by Warwick Business School showed that green entrepreneurs must balance “what is important to me” with “what is important to them” if you want to attract capital and create a successful business. The researchers of the study followed six green startups for four years, and the conclusion was that entrepreneurs had to balance “what’s in it for them” higher, to achieve success.

Even though it can be frustrating to focus more on profit and less on being 100% sustainable, it has to be done. Making your business economically sustainable will allow it to be more eco-friendly – and hence make a difference – in the long run.

  1. There’s no need to go all-in on purpose and sustainability from Day One

Setting ambitious goals are important if you want to improve and move your company towards a more sustainable path but goals can be so overwhelming that they prevent you from acting. Instead, break your goals down and into small steps. Ask yourself: what is the first thing we can do right now to be a bit eco-friendlier?

The problem with sustainability and being purpose-led is that the issues and challenges can be overwhelming, even for large corporations. For this reason, it often ends up looking like greenwashing, because the goals are so enormous that it can seem impossible. It’s best to set partial goals on your journey and to improve your standards step by step.

  1. It’s OK to hire someone for their mindset, not their CV

If you don’t have a team with the right attitude, your ideas and goals are worth nothing. One of the most important things I’ve learned when finding the right person is their mindset. Finding someone who shows a genuine interest in your mission and purpose is helpful but more importantly, hire team players, people who are always willing to help across the board. A great rule is to hire only people who you can see yourself spending 8 hours on a flight with and enjoying the conversation.

And ensure the hire is a good culture fit. Make sure that everyone is motivated and enthusiastic about their role because they feel the job is never boring, and their colleagues are great to be around. This is especially helpful during these particularly tough pandemic times when your team needs all the support they can get. People say that culture eats strategy for breakfast. This isn’t true. Culture eats everything for breakfast, lunch and dinner too.

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