September 5, 2019
Keeping Your Competitors in Check
Everyone has competitors, and most companies think they have a good feeling for where they stack up against their competitors via tracking sales, viewing data, and other metrics. However, if your company is winning your marketplace, do you know why? And, more importantly, do you know if your competitive advantage is sustainable in the long term?
It seems that either companies are so obsessed with their competition that they become paralyzed by following their every move, or they don’t really know who their competition is and then get blindsided when the competition disrupts the marketplace.
In today’s fierce environment, a company must perform the delicate balance of deeply knowing its true brand essence while also having an acute awareness of its competitors. Though a focus on consumers and having self-awareness of your company is most important, tipping the scale too far in one direction or the other will have negative consequences. You should know who your competition is, but you cannot become too myopic in your focus on them.
Use Data Wisely
The prevalence of data today across all areas can both help and hurt you, depending on how it’s used. Like fire, it can help cook your food, but it can also set fire to your home. So, while data can help you make strategic business decisions, it can also overwhelm you to the point of analysis paralysis or make you so focused that you’re missing other important elements.
Companies are often guilty of looking at data for a specific purpose, but not looking at it holistically and seeing the other points that are interwoven with the data. It can also create fire drills. Many a marketer has heard the call for, “Why are sales down here? Figure out why!” and off they run to focus on something else. Data is important to know what’s occurring, but you can easily overdo it. There is a delicate balance. It is important not only to sit back in an office and analyze data, but also to leave the office and talk with your customers.
The 3 Steps to Gaining and Sustaining a Competitive Edge
To truly understand where you stack up versus competition, and most importantly, how you can maintain a sustainable competitive advantage, there are three key things to keep in mind:
1.) Focus on the consumer wants and needs. How can we deeply connect with and understand them?
2.) Determine where you can bring unique value. How can you be more relevant to the end user than anyone else?
3.) Zero in on the competition. Where are they playing in your market? Where are you vulnerable to them?
1.) Consumer Closeness
To truly understand your customers / consumers and gain deep insights about them, you need to spend time with them. This means getting out of the office and observing them, talking with them, and asking about how they feel about your company / brand as well as the competition. Qualitative information gained from conversations with consumers and empathizing with them is as important as tracking quantitative measures.
2.) Unique Point of Difference vs. the Competition
Once you truly understand your consumer and gain deep insights about their true needs, you can use that information to strengthen your positioning. Ask yourself, ‘How can we uniquely provide value to the consumer better than anyone else?’ This takes time and is not easily understood. It is also important to not do this alone.
A team of diverse thinkers sharing and synthesizing information from various sources, including their own personal observation with the end user, is critical to honing in on your point of difference. One sure test is replacing your name with a competitor’s name, while holding your brand positioning constant, to see if it still is applicable. If it still works with the competitor, it is not an ownable point of difference and may need some more work.
3.) Zeroing in on the Competition
If your company has been strictly internally focused and forgotten about the competition, one way to mitigate this process is through Competitive Scenario Planning. Through this intensive process, you’ll get your employees together and ‘become’ the competitor. Who are they? What’s driving their strategy? Advertising? Sales materials? Digital? How are they presenting themselves?
To do this requires a lot of preparation work and getting the right people involved. You want to examine sales and share any data on consumer preference and satisfaction you can get your hands on. It’s great to have the formal market research data, but if you don’t, not to worry, as you can find a lot of information on social media, online ratings, and online reviews. Examine your competition’s marketing materials and how they position themselves.
It’s good to put all the information you’ve gathered on all your major competitors up in a room and share it with your team. Make sure to get different perspectives in the analysis, and completing a SWOT analysis and / or PESTLE analysis is always good. This helps you gain not only a good view of what you think are the competitors’ advantages and disadvantages, but also what other external factors may influence or impact you and your competitors.
So, in conclusion, you must make sure to balance your internal focus and understanding with that of your competition, while also truly understanding your customers’ needs and how you can best fulfill them in a different and ownable way versus your competition.
Michele is Aspirant's Director of Marketing & Innovation, and is a senior marketer and facilitator with 25 years of extensive experience in brand management, strategy development, Design Thinking, and innovation. She works with various corporations and non-profit businesses as a consultant to help them grow their business through strong strategy, marketing plans, and skills development. She has worked with companies in the Fortune 100 and Global 1000 as well as mid-sized companies in a range of industries, with a focus on healthcare.