Dutch companies have mainly distinguished themselves on the quality of their products and/or the services they provide for many years. This year too, over half of respondents indicate their company aims to distinguish itself mainly on quality. Quality was top priority in the past years. This year however, innovation proves an increasingly important way to distinguish an organisation from its competitors. In 2013, only 28% of respondents indicated they aimed for a leading edge based on innovation. This has shown a year-on-year increase to 50% in 2016. In some sectors, innovation is the new number 1 (financial services, trade & retail, industry).
Although sustainability is number one when it comes to social issues and also is a permanent topic on the CEO’s strategic agenda (although never at the top), it is not an element that companies use to make the difference. Only 16% of respondents indicates that they are aiming to distinguish themselves on the basis of sustainability. It seems that sustainability has become a licence to operate. If companies do not comply, it will harm their corporate reputation. On the other hand, as compliance is expected from all companies, it is hard to find a distinguishing strategy based on sustainability. This is not true for all sectors: in agrifood and construction, sustainability is frequently used as a distinguishing strategy. Price is clearly not a factor that companies aim to distinguish themselves on. Before and during the 2008 crisis, 14% of respondents indicated that price was one of the main ways to distinguish themselves. In 2016, this has dropped to just 2% of all respondents.
Service also dropped places as a possible factor for competative advantage. Up to 2014, service was in second place. Today, only 15% of CEOs indicates that they distinguish themselves on (customer) service. It seems companies are focusing on customer-driven production methods. Providing customisation and co-design are increasingly mentioned as ways to distinguish yourself from the competitor in the past few years.