The Case Against Copying the Competition

Yesterday we made the case for copying your competitors. If you have not read yesterday’s post, I recommend you do so and then come back to this one.

Here’s the case against copying your competitors:

  • If you know what they’re doing is not working, don’t copy them. This should be a no brainer, but too many companies will follow their competitors no matter what they do. Make sure you know something they’re doing is working before following suit.
  • If your plan is to take market share away from your competitors, you need to do something different or better. You are never going to steal customers away from your competitors by doing the same exact thing that they’re doing.
  • If you want consumers to view you as better than your competitor, you should not match every offer that they put out there. If the value that you deliver is better, than you can justify a higher price. Lowering your price just because your competition does is not always the answer, and will usually lead to further price cutting and loss of margin.
  • In today’s crowded market, companies that stand out from the crowd will continue to succeed. If you want to be different, you have to truly look and act different. That means that there is no room for copying your competition. Your competitors should want to copy you because you take all their customers away.

The Case for Copying the Competition

Last Thursday I posted about paying attention to your competitors. Some marketers and small business owners do, others don’t bother. I tried to make the case that you should always be aware who your competitors are and what they’re doing in order to position yourself for success.

Now there are two different ways to use the information you glean from this competitive research that will be the subject of posts today and tomorrow. You can copy what your competitors are doing, or do something different.

Here’s the case for copying your competitors:

  • If you know that what they’re doing is working, you should be doing it to. Maybe they’re making an offer that people are responding to. Maybe they’re targeting a group of consumers that you’re missing. Whatever it is, if you know that it’s working, you should consider following suit.
  • If your competitor does something that takes customers away from you, you should do it too. Maybe a new competitor in the market changes the way they price their offering, and your customers are drawn away. When that happens, you need to evaluate how you can compete with this new reality.
  • If you’re new to the market, you should fit consumers’ expectations. Established companies in your market have done a good job of setting expectations. And while you might want to disrupt an existing market, you should copy what you can about existing players’ models so that consumers can get to know your brand more easily.
  • If technology or other outside factors are changing your industry and your competitors are moving faster than you are, you should follow them. It’s better to be late than never when things change. Don’t get caught serving a market that no longer exists.

Who Are Your Competitors and Do You Care?

In my work, I meet two different types of business owners and managers. There are those that spend all of their time focusing on what the competition is doing, and there are those who never pay attention to competitors.

Which bucket do you fall in?

The people that focus on the competition are worried about losing customers. They are worried about special offers and promotions in the marketplace. They see changes in competitors marketing strategy or product offerings and react to them.

The people that don’t care about competitors claim there are no “real competitors”. What we offer is better or different, they say. No one does exactly what we do, and that’s why our customers choose us, they argue.

Which group is better off?

You might argue that the people in group one are being too reactionary, spending too much time worrying about the competition and not enough time building their own brand. You’re right.

You also might argue that the people in group two are a little naïve about their market and might miss something important that could affect their business. You’re right again.

In reality, you have to be a little bit of both, and somewhere in between. While it’s important to know who your competitors are, and what they’re doing, it’s also important to differentiate yourself and define your own brand. Customers are looking for a reason to buy from you and not them. You can’t give them a reason if you’re just copying what your competition is doing, but you also can’t give them a reason if you don’t know what your competition is doing.

Succeeding in a competitive environment means knowing what other companies are doing, and offering something better. What value do you provide your customers?

Next week we will be digging deeper into the competitive landscape in two posts designed to offer conflicting views of how to deal with the competition. Stay tuned!

Steal This #4 – Samsung’s Attack Ads


Welcome to the latest edition of my new weekly blog series, Steal This. Each week I’ll highlight a marketing activity that a company is using and suggest ways that you can model it and make it work for you. Last week’s topic was – Zappos VIP Service.

Today’s topic is: Samsung’s Attack Ads

Over the last year, we’ve all grown familiar with Samsung phones through their advertising campaign. If you could put yourself in the shoes of the ad team at Samsung before it all started, I wonder how you’d feel about the proposed direction of the campaign. Going directly at Apple, a company held in high regard by a large number of consumers, seemingly untouchable in many ways, was a big risk. Certainly there is a long list of companies who have advertised directly against a market leader and lost.

But now, looking back on the last year, knowing that Samsung’s market share in the smartphone industry has grown significantly, we can consider the ads a success. They have the fastest growing smartphone. They have not only taken a bite out of Apple’s market share, they have changed the way people look at Apple and the iPhone, opening the door for increase competition moving forward.

So how can you steal it?

Samsung’s success was helped in part because they launched a multi-billion dollar attack. You are not likely to have the same resources at your disposal. But you can “call out” a competitor in the same way they did.

Whose market are you after? Where is their weakness? How are you better?

Those are the questions you have to answer. Get into the mindset of a customer. The brilliance of the Samsung ads are that they “attack” Apple for some of the very same things that Apple fans love their products. They question things we’ve taken for granted. And make light of them.

As always, tell me what you think of this week’s idea and suggest other marketing programs to “Steal” in the comments below.


What Should Apple Do?

It happens to many strong companies. A competitor comes along and starts to “call you out”. Right now, Apple finds themselves the victim of ads from Samsung. And here’s the bad thing for Apple, they’re working.

You would have to be crazy at this point to say that the opposite is true, that the ads are not successful. Samsung has gained share in the smartphone market, and have picked up momentum in sales compared to the iPhone.

Apple and their advertising agency might say publicly that it has no affect on what they’re doing, but internally, trust me when I say they’re taking notice.

So what do you do in a situation like this?

Here are your options:

  1. Respond. The downside of this is that it may be seen as a concession. An industry leader acknowledging a smaller competitor can help the competitor more than it helps the leader. The plus side is that you can address the “claims” being made against you.
  2. Ignore. The downside here is that you continue to lose ground, the competitor continues to find success, and the gap between you closes. The plus side is, at least you don’t help them.

But I think there is a third option here for Apple. Take some of your own advice and “Think Different”.

The style of Apple’s advertising has not changed in many years. It’s time to get the most creative minds in a room and come up with something new. Don’t call our Samsung, but don’t sit on your laurels and expect glory days to come rolling in.

And if you’re Apple and you’re reading this, I’m available to consult you on this transition.