Between the two of us, Theron and I have about 40 years of marketing experience. And I’m willing to bet that the one thing we’ve heard the most in all those years is, “We should be doing [some idea] because our competitor is doing it”.
These ideas—the things the competitors are doing—range from “heck, that’s not such a bad idea” to “what in all the marketing gods’ names are they thinking”, but they all have one thing in common: the sense of gut-wrenching urgency from the requester.
We have to do this thing, now, because otherwise the Other Guy will get ahead.
Hey, I get it. We’re all competitive. Heck, I’ve been self-banned for life from playing board games because I’m just a wee bit too competitive for it to be fun for me or, frankly, the people I’m playing with. And there’s something about seeing your chief competitor step out with a new marketing campaign that gets right to the core of that competitiveness—and our insecurities.
That said, let me be the person to tell you, right now, that as a small business owner you really need to filter out whatever your competitors are doing when it comes to advertising and just do you. Oh yes, I said that.
First, except in rare cases, you actually don’t know if the marketing your competitor is doing is actually working to pull in customers. They may be just hemorrhaging money right and left without seeing any results. Unless you have it on really good authority that their marketing effort is actually working (and by “good authority” I mean actual performance metrics rather than hearsay) why would you copy it?
Second, the best way to NOT stand out is to blend into the crowd. You see it happen all the time: one business in an industry puts an ad somewhere, and then suddenly that platform is packed with ads from their competitors. The problem with this is that now you have to compete with them to get your customers’ attention. People don’t flip through a publication carefully looking at each ad and reviewing the merits of each company. They just don’t care that much. What you really want is to get your ad in front of them someplace where you’re the only business in your industry. In a flock of sheep, be the llama in the next field.
Finally, focusing on your competition wastes your time and keeps you from putting good, creative thought into your own marketing strategy. And pretty much guarantees you’re never going to do something truly innovative that gives you a market edge. Think about Apple and the packaging of the first iPhone. If they had been spending all their time watching their competition and copying what they did, would they have revolutionized package design as brilliantly as they did? Absolutely not.
Now, don’t for a second think I’m saying you should pay no attention to your competition at all. Heck no. One of the most important first steps for any new business or startup is a thorough competitive analysis (which should be periodically refreshed). This is not, however, so you can imitate their marketing plans, but because you absolutely need to be able to answer what makes you different from your chief competitors. Why should people buy from you, not them? How will you succinctly explain to people what sets you apart and makes you awesome?
Of course, you’ll notice I’m suggesting that you take a look at your competitors so that you can focus on how to differentiate yourself. Yes, it’s still all about you.
Don’t be a sheep. Have faith yourself and your own abilities, and kick butt forging your own trail. History is never made by the followers.
Happy small business marketing,
Katie & Theron
At Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. we offer marketing advisory, strategic planning, and services for small business and startups. Our goal is to make high-quality marketing possible for every business, no matter the size. Think of us as your outsourced marketing department, strategic marketing adviser, or even your phone-a-friend marketing lifeline. We specialize in building efficient marketing programs to grow your business without blowing the bank.
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