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Is your competition the competition?

Do you really know your competition?

One thing I notice often in my work is a huge misunderstanding around a brand’s competition. Sometimes I feel businesses don’t appreciate who their competition actually is. This post is all about asking the question: Is your competition the competition? The real competition. The actual things your brand is competing about. Does this make no sense? Read on.

Most of my projects always begin with a discovery phase. Typically there is always the question of who a brand's competitors are. I ask for a list of these at the start of most projects and usually, I get a set of businesses my client feels are their competition. But are they?

The problem is this: businesses often look at competition from their own perspective. They see themselves in established market places and eco-systems. But they forget that this is their perspective. The perspective of people who have an in-depth knowledge of who else offers something similar to them.

Who (or what) is the real competition?

The dictionary has this as a definition for competition:

"The activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others". (

The question, of course, is what are you competing over?

The problem is that we fail so often to put ourselves in the shoes of our ideal customers. Let me explain. 

When a customer has a goal or a challenge they begin to search for solutions. These solutions become considerations. Some of the things that enter this mental consideration list may not be what you typically consider as your “competition”.

The truth is is that your competition is anything a potential customer considers as an alternative to you. Anything other than you which helps them achieve what they want to achieve. Of course, ideally, you want to be THE ONLY option they consider - that's the gold standard. But for now, just recognising what those alternatives are is a key to understanding your true competition.

A cement mixer example

For example, if we took a hypothetical brand that lends out cement mixers. They might typically look at their competition as other tool hire companies. They might do their research around these hire companies BUT miss some huge opportunities because these “competitors” would only make up a part of the things competing for a place in their audiences “consideration list”.

Think about it. Some of the things a consumer might be considering, on top of wondering if they should hire a cement mixer could include:

  • could I do this job without a mixer - maybe by hand mixing using a spade?

  • could I buy a cement mixer outright?

  • could I buy pre-mixed wet cement and have this pumped into place?

  • should I use cement at all or maybe should I use another material?

Do you see what I mean? The perceived competition of the other hire companies might not be the actual competition. They might not even factor into the customer's mind - yet they would appear as competitors in businesses competitors list. 

When you layer into the questions above other potential consumer beliefs and behaviours (such as whether they are likely to travel far from their locality) you can see the question of what this cement mixer hire company is really competing against.

A relevant retail example

Let me give another relevant example. Currently, retailers are really struggling. People are not going into high-streets or shops. Why? Because they feel safer buying online. The physical shops are not competing against themselves (typically they might all have each other on their competitor lists!). Who are they competing against? They are competing against the feeling of safety as well as the ease of buying online. So, by putting yourself into your ideal customer's shoes you then have to think strategically around how you can address these two things:

  • How do you make people feel super safe in your retail store?

  • What reasons are you giving your ideal customer to come into your store? What can they get from being physically present to buying online? What experiences are you designing and wowing them with?

Put yourself in the shoes of your tribe

Why is this important? Because when you position your brand you need to help consumers make a brilliant decision. You need to know how your offer adds value in a different way to the other things which may have found their way onto the “consideration list” in the consumer's mind. Without this, you may fail to appear relevant to the consumer.

So - how is this done? The trick is really a branding 101. You need to walk in the shoes of your ideal customer. To do that, you need to first identify them - your tribe - the people you are here to serve. You then need to spend time with them. On an ongoing basis. Researching what they want. What they need. What their goals and challenges are. What other things are finding their way onto their consideration list. You need to ask why your offer is different or better.

Truthfully it makes no difference who you, as a business, think your competition is. It matters what they, your tribe say it is.

My challenge to you then is - do you know your competition? Your true competition? If not - get yourself in the shoes of your customer and learn. You’ll be amazed at what you discover.

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