Direct competition is bad business. You can see it every day, and probably could name at least three businesses operating in your own industry that are guilty of its excesses. Positioned the same, targeting the same customers, providing the same product, priced at the same level: in a world of increasingly diverse tastes, needs and resources, there are few more reliable ways to ruin your business than to busy yourself in offering up more of the same.
Direct competition destroys value. Eliminating significant distinctions between you and the next guy only guarantees that you'll compete on price, which always turns into a race to the bottom - and a dash to see who can go broke first. On a grander scale, that destruction of value takes a serious toll on quality, markets and people.
When we perform our initial customer interviews, we always ask for a good story. What really turns you on about this business? What gets your blood going? What makes your business - your industry, your unique contributing value - so fascinating that it's worth marketing?
When the response is, "Nothing really, everyone in this business does pretty much the same thing," then we have a problem. That's direct competition. If plenty of other vendors offer exactly the same thing your business does, then why should anyone bother with you? Someone out there is sure to be able to provide your service for less money. Why shouldn't they take your customers?
That question knocks them back a bit, and after a minute we start getting through the assumptions. That's when we hear about the attention to custom detail that no one else really does the same. Or how they're starting to move into a market that few others are considering. Or how a new, recently completed facility means that our client can turn around product faster than anyone else in North America.
Now we're getting closer. Now we're breaking the gaze of direct competition and starting our way down a productive road. Now Load Bearing Creative can help.
In most industries today, the marketplace has never been more competitive. It's brutal out there. We want to help. And we can. But first, we need to know what makes you great.
And believe it, something does.
How are we building - not simply delivering - value? Anyone can fill a useful place in society. The tougher job is building new useful places, creating value that didn't exist before. Is your business simply filling a gap somewhere in the economy, or is your product or service contributing to the rise of stronger, more efficient, more successful businesses?
How are we doubling down on our best customers? Not all customers are created equal, and some simply are better fits for your unique brand of value than others. What are you doing right now to identify those customers and increase your ability to provide richer quality of service for them? How are you focusing your more precious resources where they will do the most good?
How are we taking the battle into the country? Walmart didn't succeed by going up against big city department stores like J. C. Penney and Sears. Instead, they extended their reach into small towns and rural areas, places deemed unprofitable by the established chains of the day. When suburbs rose and people began leaving the cities, Walmart was there waiting for them - and never looked back.
How are we staying ahead of the trends? As Wayne Gretsky said: "A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be." Every industry today is undergoing fundamental change - even transformation - and will offer very different competitive playing fields in coming months and years. How are you getting ahead of that change? What inside track does your business have to leverage that change early and effectively?
Why do we matter?
That's a tough one, because most people react by taking the question personally. What do you mean, why do we matter? Are you saying we don't? Of course we matter!
Okay. But why? It's an important question, because it gets at the heart of the direct competition problem. If you're more of the same, just another name on a vendor list, then the truth is that you don't matter. And we know that's not where you want to be - or who you really are.
Because no, everyone in your industry doesn't do the same thing. It may seem that way, but they really are all different. Your mission is to be something else - a different kind of different. Because that's what matters. And because that's the bedrock that sound strategic planning depends on.
But most of all, because it's what your customers truly value the most.