How to Outsmart the Competition

Beyond your direct competitors, who or what is your business competing against? Once you know the answer to that, you can develop a marketing strategy that works.

Sometimes it’s easy to identify and combat your competition, but let me point out to you a few scenarios you may not have considered when sizing up your competitors and formulating your strategy. You can classify competition into three general categories: direct competitors, indirect competitors, and what I call the dreaded “inertia.” I’ll use a common product to illustrate these three kinds of competition. I’ll use a weight loss product.

Let’s say you’re marketing an all-natural weight loss product that a person takes in the form of pills that metabolically “melts” fat away. Remember: there are three categories of competitors – direct, indirect, and inertia. Who are your direct competitors? First of all, the other 50 to 100 products on the market that are pills that metabolically melt away fat. There’s a ton of them. You could also include similar products like weight loss shakes, weight loss skin patches, similar products that you drink, and things like that. These are all products that the customer could buy instead of yours that at least claim to do the same thing.

What about indirect competitors? Indirect competitors are products that the prospect could buy instead of yours that aren’t the exact same kind of product, but that offer the same benefits and results. So, ask yourself this question: What is the end benefit of using your product or service? Then ask yourself, what other kinds of products offer the same end benefit? Those are your indirect competitors. For weight loss, there are tons of them: Since the end benefit you’re promoting is weight loss, think of all the other products that can do that – including weight loss clinics like Weight Watchers & Jenny Craig, books, audio & video tapes, personal trainers, doctors, chiropractors, acupuncture, health food, fitness equipment, sports equipment, membership gyms, and some options that don’t even cost money, like exercising at home. These are all things that your prospect could do or buy instead of buying your product. These are your indirect competitors.

And what about this thing I called the “dreaded inertia?” This is a tough competitor to combat. It’s called “DOING NOTHING.” Your prospect could just not do or buy anything. In the case of our diet aid, it means staying fat; taking no action whatsoever. That’s a tough competitor to beat because it costs the prospect nothing and it’s really easy to do. Plus, it’s already proven that he’s really good at doing it.

Related: Get Customers to Choose You Over the Competition

So why do you want to know your competitors? Because then you can design your marketing and advertising strategy to address and combat them. And the advertisements would be different, depending on the competition. Now that we’ve identified each of the three kinds of competitors for the weight loss pill, let’s determine how that would effect our advertisements. First, if you were selling against direct competitors, you’d have to articulate all the reasons why your formula was superior…whether that means better or more scientifically proven ingredients, higher doses of certain nutrients, cheaper prices, it has to be taken less often, the pills are smaller, the supply lasts longer, less side effects or whatever. I don’t know what the specifics would be, that’s up to you.

But what if you were advertising and competing against indirect competitors? First of all, your target audience better not be all that familiar with the direct competitors or your message won’t carry much weight. They’ll hear your comparisons against indirect competitors and wonder why – or if – you’re any better than the other pills on the market. It would be like advertising that a BMW is better than a bike. True enough, but people would be wondering why it wasn’t being compared to another luxury car (a direct competitor) rather than a bike (an indirect competitor). But for the weight loss, you could talk about how much easier the pills are than going to the gym or how much cheaper they are than buying an expensive piece of exercise equipment that you’ll hang clothes on then sell in a garage sale in 2 years. You could talk about how much cheaper the pills are than going to Weight Watchers and how it’s far less painful than going to the acupuncturist. And so on.

RELATED: Understand Your Business’s Competitive Advantage

And think about what your strategy would be if you were selling against inertia…or in other words, doing nothing at all? What would you say? What would your slant be? First, you’d probably talk about the benefits of being thin, then you’d compare the benefits of your products against INDIRECT competitors; for example, easier, cheaper, less work, etc. Why? Because the reason that they’re doing nothing is they perceive all their options to be too hard, too expensive or too time consuming. So you’d be introducing a way to lose weight that overcomes all those problems. You probably wouldn’t even need to mention direct competitors.

Let me give you a real life scenario. We have a client that sells a franchise-like business opportunity in the e-commerce industry. So let’s say that you’re going to write and place ads with the intent of finding people who are interested in investing in starting their own business. Who do you compete against? Direct competitors? Indirect competitors? Inertia? Do you know? Are you still awake? The answer is that it depends on where you advertise.

One place that people who are in the market for buying or starting a business go to find ideas is Entrepreneur magazine. There are tons of ads in there for businesses – over 300 different opportunities, in fact. So in this case, advertising in Entrepreneur magazine, they are competing against direct competitors – or in other words, all the other business opportunities vying for the business. So in this case, we hit the prospects head on with a headline that said, “The 3 Biggest Reasons Why You Should Immediately Grow and Safeguard Your Business.”

On the other hand, we also do a lot of radio advertising and fax broadcast advertising to find people who are interested. In this case, however, we would be competing against inertia. Someone who’s listening to the radio probably isn’t doing it so they can hear an advertisement about a wonderful new business opportunity. Someone who picks up a fax at the office probably isn’t thinking, “Oh, I hope this one’s for a business opportunity. I sure would like to drop 20Gs on something today.” No, they’re not thinking that at all. In this case, we’ve got to create the interest from scratch and turn them on to the idea of making more money by getting involved in a business. We have to say things that get that fuse lit just a little bit. We can’t just say that this opportunity is superior to other opportunities and here’s why. It wouldn’t make any sense. Could we say those things to the Entrepreneur magazine crowd and have them make sense? Absolutely. But not to the radio audience. See how that works?

Now I know you’re not selling a franchise and I know you’re probably not selling a diet pill. The point, though, is to identify your competition. Ask yourself the questions I just went over and make a list of these things: 1) Who are your direct competitors? 2) Who are your indirect competitors? Remember: you find those by asking first, “What is the end benefit of using your product or service? Second, what other kinds of products offer the same end benefit? And finally, 3) Does the prospect have the option of doing nothing, and if so, what would you have to say to get him to take action? I’ll give you a hint on this one: it needs to be really low-risk. Remember what I told you about the furniture store and the Inventory Update List? There’s a great example of competing not only against other furniture stores, but also against inertia. Think about it – it’s easy to not go to any furniture stores at all. Remember how the solution involved offering the low-risk option of signing up to be on the update list? Can you apply this into your business?

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