OP-ED: Proactively dealing with competition can aid firms in achieving success

Competitors. Every company has them. Every athlete worries about them. Certainly, it is a prominent area of concern for politicians.

Competitors. Every company has them. Every athlete worries about them. Certainly, it is a prominent area of concern for politicians.

Even children keep an eye on the schoolyard bully. While some competitors are aggressive, some are not. Some are smart. Or lucky. Or big. Or small. And so on. We know intellectually that they are a necessary evil. Competition is a key component in a capitalist society - it is fuel. As with athletes, the competitive spirit furthers the corporate drive for success. It leads to innovation. Competition expands our freedom of choice. But we also have an emotional side that fights this necessary evil. Who likes having competitors? Wouldn't you rather have all the revenues for yourself? Wouldn't you rather come out with your next product when you are good and ready? Of course. But fairy tales rarely come true. So... what to do? First, you need to get smart. Companies can (and should) take matters into their own hands. Don't wait for the future to unfold before you decide if you want to react. First off, prioritize and focus on the top one or two competitors. Then, get to know thine enemy - utilize research to find out what competitors are doing and saying. Next, compare that to what you are doing and saying. When you have facts and data, you can identify the gaps between your reality and that of your competitors. For example, you can identify where you are better and what the competition lacks. Seek input from your sales team because they live and breathe comparisons to competitors daily and can provide critical customer input. Being informed will allow you to make decisions about what should be done next. The second thing you must do is act smart. You will need to change old habits in order to trump the competition. (And you can't just talk about changing; you'll really need to do it.) With your newfound knowledge of the competitive landscape and how you are vastly better, you need to act. You actually need to do something with that information - the industry needs to be educated and made aware of what you have to say. Create an industry issue. Challenge conventional wisdom or draw attention to it. Commission research studies. Create comparison checklists or charts and graphs. Create whole campaigns. Meet with industry influencers to see if they agree with you. Pitch customers. Create sound bites, sales tools, promotions, press releases, pitches, white papers, ads, speeches, or newsletters. The point is, do something. And expect that your competitors might come back at you. Be ready for that. Don't panic when it happens, plan for it. Sometimes you might want to respond, but other times it's best to stay quiet. Know what outcome you want from each action, and you will know what success looks like when it happens. Finally, lather, rinse, and repeat. Be proactive with any and all new competitive information. And be quick about it - everything in today's world changes fast. Refresh your research as often as budgets allow. It is important to have something to say about related competitive issues, but it must be based on fact, not speculation. Be visible. Take a stand on an industry issue or a customer advantage that you offer that others don't. Be the one who starts the discussion. Then keep the discussion going. And there you have it. There are, of course, in-depth and intense ways to practice this. Imagine full-scale political campaigns, and you might begin to get the picture - politicians are masters at depositioning their rivals, shaping public opinion in their favor, and creating issues to rally around. By integrating competitive intelligence and actions into PR and marketing activities, you will always keep your competitors on their toes. You will have a better sense of public opinion and industry issues. And you will help to hone in on what truly makes your company different and better than the rest. Building on that will fuel success. Hey, maybe dealing with competitors isn't such a bad thing after all?
  • Jan Lawlor is an SVP at Brodeur Worldwide's Boston office.

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