I’m going to start by stating something I wholeheartedly believe: competition in business is good. It’s good for the consumer because it affords them more choice based on price, service, quality, and fit. It’s good for the business because it prevents complacency, necessitates innovation, and drives teams and products toward continuous improvement. It’s good for the world because it gives us all something to aspire to, keeps us moving forward, and once again because competitive trade is good for the consumer–and we’re all consumers.
As with most good things, there are also pitfalls. At least once a week for as long as I can remember, an internal or external client has called me to insist on taking some action concerning a competitor. Sometimes it’s productive and worth pursuing but more often than not it’s born of jealousy and obsession or centered on retribution. It’s easy to step into the trap of believing everything we do is right and everything a competitor does is wrong. It’s also dangerous to believe that everything our competitors are doing is something we should be doing too.
With all of that in mind, I thought it prudent to share just a few important do’s and don’ts for how to handle business competition that I’ve learned through personal experience and in helping to guide hundreds of brands along their own journeys.
Analyze the Landscape
You can and should be learning from your competitive landscape. This should include paying attention to what product and service trends customers are responding to industry-wide, real-time data around what’s most resonant with target audiences digitally, and of course, what’s inspiring and attracting your landscape’s top talent. This important work can range from basic to profoundly sophisticated but keeping a birds-eye view on your landscape will help ensure you’re keeping up which is typically requisite to getting out ahead. Know your competition, stay current, and always be looking for opportunity spaces.
Connect, Support, and Build Relationships
Competitor relationships don’t have to be nor should they be adversarial. Competitors can learn from each other, support one another, and dare I say work together to make the world a better place. There are likely businesses who do what you do all around the world and you should connect with and learn from them too. But unless they’re competing in your market for your customers, they’re not really your competitors. Meet your market-level competitors and find ways to support one another. No two businesses are exactly alike so you likely both have little knowledge, product, or business gaps that you can help each other fill. Maybe you’ve experienced something they haven’t or vice versa. Opportunities abound to learn from and support one another and I’m saying that as someone with direct competitor relationships that deliver a balanced exchange of knowledge, connections, and even client referrals. Not sure where to start? Use a personal social account to tag and praise a competitor’s work that you admire–really put yourself out there. The positivity that simple act injects into the world is an amazing thing even if it doesn’t lead to any sort of immediate or measurable return. It breaks down walls and unites so I’m challenging you to find an opportunity to do it.
Differentiate Your Brand
If you’ve done a good job analyzing your landscape, then it should be pretty easy to recognize where you fall within it. Based on your unique goals, use that information to identify your unique value, build to serve customers better, and then market the hell out of it. Your competitors will take note and if they’re smart, learn and evolve so that means you’ll have to stay on your toes and continue evolving to stay ahead; to stay different. This has always been one of the more fun aspects of business for me and if you’ve got entrepreneur blood flowing through your veins, I’m sure you can relate.
Attack the Competition
I don’t care if you’re punching up, down, or across–don’t attack your competition. It’s a bad look. Don’t attack them in front of customers, on social media, or in the news. There’s a path to demonstrating your unique value without going low—take it every time. Is there a sycophantic crowd who will like, love, haha, and gleefully support your attacks? Always. Will true industry pros and potential high-value clients discount you until they finally start ignoring you? Definitely. It’s ultimately toxic, negative energy and most people run away from that. Rise above your competitors’ faults, create and communicate your own value, and for f*ck’s sake, be professional (tongue all the way in cheek here).
In business we all know people who obsess about their competition–if they’re not talking about their competitors they’re making reactionary decisions based on what they’re doing. In most cases, it’s reasonably benign but my advice to clients, friends, and anyone who read this far is that if you find yourself a little too fixated on the competition, then act like a racehorse and put your blinders on. Why? Because in the wild horses are prey so their amazing peripheral vision was nature’s way of protecting them from approaching predators. But as racing competitors, their trainers put those blinders on so that their nature can’t take over and lead them to be distracted by what’s beside or behind them but instead focus them entirely on what’s ahead. Without those blinders, that peripheral vision advantage they were born with would become a distinct disadvantage and they would run off course and quickly fall behind. Want to be out front and focused entirely on what’s ahead? Commit that perfect little metaphor to your memory and let it guide you the next time you find yourself thinking a little too much about anyone’s brand but your own.
Just because your client does something doesn’t mean it’s what you should be doing. This goes back to properly analyzing your landscape and looking for opportunities to improve be it through trends or gaps without stepping into the fairly obvious trap of becoming a carbon copy of your competition. You’re in business because you have unique value but unique doesn’t last long because it’s quickly imitated–continue forging your own path toward new points of value through constant evaluation and evolution.
Are there more business competition strategies you should consider? In the immortal and loosely paraphrased words of Balki Bartokomous, “of course there are, don’t be ridiculous.” But you’ve got some sound foundational advice here and I can all but promise that if you take it, you’ll sleep better and experience the right brand of growth.
About the Author
As president and co-founder, Joe is responsible for the development, execution, and success of client and company initiatives. With >20 years of brand and leadership experience, nothing puts a smile on his face like helping clients outperform their goals.
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