As a sales team member at a semiconductor equipment company in 1990’s Silicon Valley, I read a lot of books. Books like Only the Paranoid Survive and Swim With the Sharks, and even a little book I still have called The Princessa, a Machiavellian knock-off geared toward women (admittedly, a little scary). So many of the sales and marketing books I read back in the 90s were hyper focused on competition.
Fast forward 20 years and one-upmanship appears to have died. Or has it?
Could it be that I’ve just grown up a little bit; now not so focused on myself and my own achievements? I know I can learn from others (even competitors), and I enjoy the mixing and mingling more than ever.
Nowadays, anti-competition seems to be a trend of sorts. But I’m not certain that this trend serves the best interest of our business, however professionally equitable and personally even handed it makes us feel.
Today we’re all about social friendliness and relationship building. We are friendly with direct competitors. Everyone we meet in our field is a contact, an extended part of our team. Industry secrets don’t exist so much with the possible exception being high tech and scientific fields. We share all and wear our hearts on our sleeves.
We share our lives, background and business details with customers; and people who may become customers in the future. Businesses are revealed on websites and at networking gatherings. We partner with similar business and those that complement what we offer.
Furthermore, some sectors Sam and I have worked with seem to be inbred to the point of being confusing for the customer, as if the industry has taken on a life of its own, separate from the client and her individualized needs. Certain industries have become like a family and the customer; the “in-law.”
Sometimes that’s a good thing, but only if your business has a very welcoming public presence. Those industries must work hard to extend a helping hand to newcomers.
But what about good old competition?
Is there a place for it? Or will we all just settle into our own little groove and trust that no one else can fill our niche. Should we just fall into the “family-and-friends” model? (Remember ATT? The first social marketers!)
Granted, you can’t always be looking over your shoulder; being paranoid 24-7 takes precious resources away from your company.
Here’s my point: A sense of competition is actually humbling, in certain cases. At best, competition drives us to do better. Perfecting your niche is good, but protecting your niche is practically the most valuable goal of your marketing team.
How do you use email marketing to show how
you differ from the competition?
Here are some ideas:
1. Search your competition on the Internet and scour their websites. Learn from them and see how they package their offerings. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How does your business compare to theirs on price, value, service, convenience, ease-of-use, etc.
2. Use your favorite keyword search site to find what your market is looking for online. Plug in your main words and see what other secondary keywords come up. This is a very illuminating exercise because these search results provide you with the most popular phrases surrounding your main keywords. You can see what subtopics are important to the market you serve. For example, say you provide a tree service. Within your own region, you’ll discover if, say, “lot-clearing” takes precedence over “tree diseases.” Then you can write your web content to address relevant topics and share that content in your email newsletter.
3. Once you know what your customers are looking for from your industry, you will be able to position your product to compete. If you truly have expertise in your field (you better have at least some!) then tell how your specialty prevails over the most common methods and features; OR how your way of addressing that problem is better in some way than the other guy’s way. If your service truly comes second or third to your competition, then find the way that you shine, and downplay the top (most common) search results.
For example: Today at the gym I heard a trainer tell a woman, “I understand you don’t want to be a bodybuilder; that’s one of the common misconceptions that women have about building muscle.” Then he went on to describe how long, lean muscle helps a body burn fat while at rest, etc. The trainer was well-versed in common rebuttals – a salesperson’s tactic, for sure — but email marketers can learn from this example. It shows how you can create email campaigns just by predicting/knowing what your customers main concerns are. When you are ready and prepared, you can deliver your best solution; not necessarily the one your customer expects.
4. Utilize your email campaigns to link back to informative pages on your website. (Don’t forget to test your links before sending.) Experiment with layouts of your email designs to see which links pull more visitors to your website.
5. If this next piece of advice flies right in the face of conventional wisdom, so be it; I believe it’s true. If your offering doesn’t serve a potential customer – if he or she would really be better off with a competing product – then tell them the truth. I promise you won’t regret it. Turning away business that really doesn’t fit with your model only strengthens your company and earns respect. You won’t be happy with a customer that expects something you can’t feasibly provide anyway.
6. Finally, remember that in today’s super saturated market, competition doesn’t have to be cut throat. The markets we all serve have very distinct personal characteristics. I sincerely believe there is room for us all.
Think of how all of these adjectives resonate with different people.
If your business can interject its services or products within that very special group, then you have a market. The very business-minded sometimes have to squint a little to see who exactly they “speak to” because it’s easy to get caught up in more practical (less creative?) details, but trust me, small businesses find the market they deserve in the end.
I maintain that while competition may be just below the surface, it is still a powerful force in the small biz markets today, no matter what your industry is. Don’t always be looking over your shoulder because there inevitably hulks a competitor that looks just different enough to scare the pants off of you.
But when you find what you do best, say it loud and say it proud. Your markets will hear you loud and clear.
Competition is a good thing.
Written by Jen McGahan