Guest post by Tim Elliott

I’ve never been one to put much weight in competitor analysis when it comes to marketing outside of AdWords & SEO based research. So, when I was recently asked to give a lecture on ‘Defining & Understanding Your Competition’ to a bunch of business & marketing degree students, I had to take some time to really examine my thoughts on the area. These thoughts are what I want to share with you in this article.

If you google “what is competition in business”  you will get a whole bunch of results all telling you about competitive pricing, how to beat someone who sells the same product and service as you and this game of business we are all expected to compete in.

But, competition is deeper than that, and it all starts with understanding your customer.

Your competition isn’t just the people who sell the same stuff as you in the same locality, it’s actually every other possible solution to the problem you solve for your customer.

Let me give you an example. For many years I have worked with a pub company with around 100 pubs in the group. When I first started to work with them there was an obvious focus trying to beat the pub across the road – they were vying for business on a pint to pint basis with a direct competitor. Over time that perception changed, they started to understand their customer. They weren’t just choosing where to have a pint, they were choosing what to do with their time and the money they have to spend on ‘leisure activities’. 

The pub’s competition was actually every other way to spend free time and leisure activities  – the gym, the cinema, picnics, going for a walk or a bike ride, the weekend food shop, having a BBQ – the list goes on.

This fundamentally changed the way they market themselves and position themselves in the marketplace. They stopped worrying about the other pubs and focused on understanding and providing a compelling experience for their customers.

People don’t buy what you think you sell

Simon Sinek

A couple of takeaways

My first takeaway is to start to understand your competition – ask your customers. Ask them what else they considered before buying from you? What other products and services are out there that fix the problem you do? Why did they choose you? And why did they NOT choose the other options? 

The second takeaway starts with the question: who do you have in common with your competition? 

Just like asking your customers, you will get massively valuable insights into your marketplace and competition by asking suppliers, clients and other such organisations you have in common with a competitor. Your common connections will have a different perspective on the market you inhabit, the customers you serve, how they decide to go one way or the other and even the trends in behaviour and technology coming down the line.

The third takeaway I want to share is take all that great information you have learnt from your customers, your commonalities and the stuff you knew anyway and pop it in the internet.  Search for your competion by name, product title, search for the CEO and key people by name.

Run Site: search on Google. Do the same in the social media channels you inhabit – every social channel has an awesome free search function somewhere, maybe focus on the people employed by your competition who have the most customer touch points – customer service staff, sales people & delivery drivers –  what are they sharing and commenting on?

These three things should give you a great view of the macro and the micro competition in your marketplace and then you can decide what to do with it.

You now have to decide if you want to position yourself against your competition or differentiate yourself from the others. Are you playing the finite or infinite game? 

Let me end this post with a video from one of my favourite speakers and thinkers on the planet – Mr Simon Sinek speaking about the infinte and finite players in game theory.

Tim Elliott

@timelliottuk on all the socials