Whatever business you are in, you are going to have competition, and leading the competition should be one of your business goals. You may think that no one else does what you do or offers what you offer, but even if your product or service is truly unique, there is bound to be at least one other company who offers or does something similar that could easily capture the same customers you are targeting.
Business owners either don’t want to think about the competition or they are obsessing over them. You definitely want to know what they are doing, especially if what they are doing is reaping success, but you want to carve your own path to success and not be a copycat. The goal is outshining and leading the competition, so while it may make sense to emulate what they seem to be doing right, you want to determine what works best for you and attracts your target customers.
Conduct Competitive Research
Every marketing plan should have a market analysis that looks at the competition as well as the prospective customers. You want to research every aspect of these companies, including their history of success, the number and types of customers, product and service lines and marketing approaches. You want to look at their website and any marketing materials you can get your hands on to find out how they are positioning themselves and what messages they are conveying. Are they “the premier provider” or “the exclusive service”? Are they focused on customer relationships or providing on-time delivery? You need to figure out: who are your competitors (the other market players) and how do they position and market themselves?
As you conduct your market research, you need to make sure you also look beyond your “direct” competitors and consider those companies who offer an alternative product or service that your target customers could choose instead. For example, if you own a carpet cleaning company, your prospective customers could decide to go to an equipment rental company, rent a steam cleaner and clean their carpets themselves. Therefore, you would want your marketing to focus on your professional training, skill and years of experience, your state-of-the-art equipment and any guarantees you offer of good workmanship.
Once you know who your competition is, you can be strategic and figure out how you are going to position and market your business. Again, you don’t want to copycat — you want to separate yourself from the competition.
Determine What Differentiates You
With marketing, it’s important to focus on what makes you unique that will resonate with your customers. You want to position yourself as the best and create the perception that you are the leader but also answer the number one question all prospective customers have about what you’re trying to sell them: What’s in it for me? To answer that question, it’s critical to identify what distinguishes you from every other company out there that does what you do or offers what you offer. You can accomplish this by developing what I call your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and your Unique Value Proposition (UVP), both of which I discussed in my article, “Figuring Out What’s In It for the Customer,” and other previous articles.
Your USP is a clear statement of value pertaining to your uniqueness and what you bring to the table and should basically be your whole argument for what you offer and why customers need it now to solve a problem or address a situation they have. Examples of USPs include the Federal Express tagline, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” and the M&Ms slogan, “The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”
Your UVP is a set of statements around company values that would most resonate with target customers and convey what they get by doing business with you. The UVP statements ultimately become what I call the company’s “core messages,” which should be woven into all external communications and marketing content — the website, sales materials, press releases, social media, etc.
Establish Your Leadership
One of the best marketing tools for establishing your leadership and positioning your company as a market leader is public relations. Press releases announcing your product or service launches and upgrades convey you as an innovator and concerned with customer satisfaction, while releases reporting your annual growth or customer wins and successes demonstrate your viability and potential for market staying power. If you are a technology company, you can get market leadership validation by doing analyst relations — talking to industry analysts, such as Gartner, who do reports and analyses identifying market leaders and their characteristics.
Of course, to be competitive and get to the point where you are leading the competition, you need to start by making sure you have the best product and offer superlative service. Then, once you research your market (your customers as well as your competitors), develop the market positioning and messages to address them and get those messages out to the marketplace, you’ll eventually find your company leading the pack.