Creating success in your business requires some knowledge about what your competition is up to. However, too much focus on the competition will work against you. You don’t need to know everything they’re up to. You only need to know what’s relevant to you and how it will help you better serve your market.
Entrepreneurial giant Richard Branson checks out the competition on occasion, but doesn’t obsess. “By doing market research on your competitors, you can work out exactly how to provide a product or service that is superior,” he says. “This is the reason that I sometimes fly on other airlines – often, great ideas are sparked when you notice a problem that a competitor faces and try to find a good solution yourself.”
Is your competition really competition?
To beat your competition you need to establish that you do, in fact, have competition. Sometimes businesses with similar products and services have different markets. If you don’t share a market, they’re not your competition. For instance, two Facebook marketing companies selling the same services aren’t competitors if one works with creative artists and the other works with corporations.
If you do share a market with another business, the following tips will help you get a jump on your competition.
1. Continually ask your customers what they want
Your business will thrive when you give your customers what they want, even if it means changing your products. One way to accomplish this is to continually perform market research and directly ask your customers what they want. If you can find out what they’re not getting from the competition – and provide it – you’ll be ahead.
In an article written for The Guardian, James Caan explains why understanding your market helps you stay ahead of the pack. “Throughout your journey developing your business and product or service, make sure you ask your customer what they think at every stage,” he says. “You should be led by what they will buy, not by what you think they will want without proving to yourself that your basic assumptions are right.”
Be open to changing what you offer your customers if they express additional needs, and let that current carry you downstream.
2. Avoid trying to reverse engineer their marketing strategy
It’s nearly impossible to truly reverse engineer someone’s marketing strategy. What you see them doing – posting, publishing, advertising, etc. – isn’t going to give you an accurate picture of what their plan is. Besides, there are components you’ll never see in full, like their email marketing and PPC campaigns.
Dissecting how and when brands post on social media is reverse engineering their editorial calendar, not their strategy.
3. Employ time-saving tools so you can focus on market research
The amount of time needed for market research is often undervalued. Condensing your daily operations as much as possible will free up more time to focus on researching (and reaching) your market.
If you don’t have an in-house website developer dedicated to maintaining your website, one of these website builders for small businesses will serve you well. For businesses without a full-time tech staff, the easier it is to edit and maintain your web assets, the better.
If your website is currently built on a complicated platform like Joomla, Drupal, or Umbraco, move it to a simpler CMS like Wix or Webs as soon as possible. When you do, any of your staff members can make updates for you, whether or not they have technical skills.
4. Don’t try to beat your competition – stand out from your competition
The mindset to “beat” your competition will keep you focused on performing tasks. Aiming to stand out from your competition brings your focus inward, where you’ll get better leverage.
Global brand consultancy expert Karl Heiselman explains that standing out from the competition begins by knowing where you want to go as a business. Defining your purpose is the foundation that provides the roadmap for the ride ahead. You need to identify what your business stands for and the role you play in people’s lives. Knowing the impact you want to have on the world is the first step in defining how people experience your business.
Heiselman pinpoints the success of any business as creating the customer experience, not outdoing the competition. He explains, “Brands are defined by the experiences they create and curate. Better experiences help businesses attract new customers, keep them for longer, and stretch into new areas to create value for them.”
If you’re going to do something better than your competition, create a better customer experience. That’s where you’ll get the leverage to make your competition irrelevant.