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!

Why Entrepreneurship Needs to Rebrand Itself

Merriam Webster defines an entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risk of operating a business or enterprise”. Sounds right to me.

You start a business, you are an entrepreneur. But here’s the problem:

In today’s world, we are so over-exposed to the wonderfully successful tech entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and those with companies acquired by the likes of Facebook and Google, that when most people here the word entrepreneurship, all they think about is the tech scene.

And I think that’s a problem. Here’s why:

Ben Casselman, writing for Five Thirty Eight, detailed the slow death of entrepreneurship in America. And while this is not a new problem, it’s a problem that most people can’t see because of the success of a very few “lucky” technology startups.

I’m not trying to discount the work of those in the tech space, all I’m saying is that by glorifying their work over other fields, we don’t expose would-be entrepreneurs to ventures that might be right for them. And we don’t make people aware that the rate of entrepreneurship in this country is going down when we spend so much time thinking about how successful a small number of entrepreneurs have been.

And so, at the end of the day, we end up raising a generation of people with fewer and fewer people who end up starting a business. That means fewer new businesses, which make up a big chunk of new jobs every year.

We used to be a nation of entrepreneurs. And in many ways, we still are. But less so than ever before. And that could spell trouble for the economy of today, and even bigger trouble for the economy of the future.

It’s not all about tech. But it is a little bit about tech. Thanks a lot Zuckerberg.

What Promise Are You Keeping?

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In my book, Branding for Bloggers, I quote Kristin Zhivago when she wrote:

“Branding are the promises that you make. Your brand is the promises you keep.”

So what promises are you keeping? Is there a disconnect between what your marketing and advertising is telling people, and what they are actually experiencing when they decide to become a customer?

If so, watch out. Because people will eventually know you by what you do, not by what you say.

Your brand is the promises you keep. It’s in your control, but it’s not just how you market yourself. As marketers, we need to take a more active role in all facets of the organization so as to ensure that the promises we make are kept. If anything, we want to exceed those promises in the quality of our product and the way that we treat our customers.

As an example, let’s consider the for-profit school industry. Over the last several years, many large schools have taken a beating from regulators and the press for “over-promising”. Their marketing makes claims that they cannot keep. They promise students certain results and then get in trouble because they can’t deliver. And the damage a few companies have caused have affected the entire industry.

Of course as marketers we want to be able to make claims about how terrific and life changing our products and services are. But we need to be extra careful to make sure we can back up those claims. Otherwise, your brand will suffer.