How do you create competitive advantage? Elon Musk found the way, and the competitive advantage he enjoys makes his companies the best companies to work for today. Tomorrow may be a different issue.


Today we will look at three best companies, which together I will dub Elon Musk Enterprises. The reason these are the best companies to work for is that they are wonderfully independent of the uncertainties and vagaries of the free market.

Developing strategy is hard. Developing strategy that makes business news is even harder. One way to do it is Willi Robertson’s: work hard, look weird, and promote your brand relentlessly under god. Another is to possess the strategic thinking of Elon Musk.

Launching a new strategy is fraught with unexpected problems since consumer demand is always somewhat unpredictable. Oprah Winfrey can attest to that with her W network. Implementing a strategic plan, however, should be easier if the strategy actually has a coherent, consistent set of activities behind it. It helps further when the set of activities behind a strategy is simple and elegant.

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In an essay on the “shyness” of Finland, Professor Ira Kalb of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California makes a rather strong claim that brochures handed to him by his Finnish client were bad marketing because they did not focus on the benefits of doing business with Finnish companies. “Some good ‘things’ were in these brochures,” Prof. Kalb says, “but they were buried in the body text that most people (83.3% according to data) will not read.”

Behavioral economists have shown that specific claims, especially with precise numbers, are more convincing than general claims. So, I decided to bite. The word “data” in this quotation, following the suspiciously precise 83.3%, was a link. I took a deep breath and clicked.

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Ira Kalb is a marketing professor from The University of Southern California and a marketing consultant (Kalb & Associates). In a recent post on Business Insider, he describes his marketing insights after a trip to Finland. The heading of the post is “Finland has a shyness problem.”

The gist of Kalb’s insight is that many people do not know where Finland is, or they confuse it with Sweden or Denmark, and that hurts the ability of Finnish companies to compete in global markets. This confusion, advises Kalb, is the result of poor marketing on behalf of Finland. Sounds reasonable, right?

Not so fast. Kalb pulls a classic flawed reasoning described by Phil Rosenzweig in his seminal book, The Halo Effect. Kalb highlights Nokia, the most-famous and largest Finnish firm, which had a market cap of $250 billion in 2007, and last year was sold to Microsoft for peanuts and a bottle of mineral water. Why did Nokia fail? Here is a direct quote from Kalb’s post: “Nokia has been in business since 1885, but it hired its first CMO in January of 2011…While there are many reasons for Nokia’s sharp decline, experienced marketers know that Nokia had a great fall because it was a product-driven company dominated by engineers and a bureaucracy that missed the marketplace signals because of its lack of marketing expertise.”

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