Competitors Are Not The Competition

Competitors Are Not The Competition


WTF? No, it’s not just another example of semantics or conflation of language, it’s another example of misuse of terminology that got swept up into the lexicon of marketing language and is now – unfortunately – used interchangeably. And while you might think that they are interchangeable terms, or that ‘everyone’ knows what you mean when you use either one, understanding the difference can make a significant difference when you’re crafting your brand positioning, and the messages you use to convey that positioning when you’re out looking for new business, and when you’re strapping on to take on the competition… er, or is that your competitors?

Let’s Find Out

If you’re an SEO and I ask you: “Who is your competition?” you might well tell me “It’s those other SEOs and SEO agencies that are getting the clients I want”. But here’s the rub: those other SEO agencies aren’t your competition. They are your competitors.
What’s The Difference?

COMPETITORS are other businesses who offer the same kind of service that you offer, or something similar. And, of course, you can tell us all about how you’re better, faster, newer, cheaper, whatever, but in the ultimate analysis you are both offering essentially the same range of services for the same targets to solve similar pain points or needs. You are competitors with each other. You’re Coke, and they are Pepsi and RC Cola, and all those other colas.

COMPETITION is actually a very different animal. Competition is an ALTERNATIVE to the services (or products) that you offer that takes business away from you but can’t or doesn’t provide the same service that you do.

Let’s Break This Down Simply

Your COMPETITION is your targets’ alternative option to buying or using your services or product at all. Let’s say you’re McDonald’s. It’s easy to think that your competition is Burger King. But NO! Your competition is a trip to the grocery store and making lunch or dinner at home. Your competition is ordering in pizza. Your competition is going out to a nice restaurant. Your competition gives your targets an entirely different choice, even if it fulfills the same underlying need (in this example, food).

Your COMPETITORS in this example would be Burger King, or Wendy’s. Competitors provide almost the same exact product or service. And even more they offer the same general consumer experience. Competitors are playing IN your category; the competition is in ANOTHER category that your target consumers can turn to to fulfill a general need.

Fast food chain vs fast food chain: These are COMPETITORS.

Fast food chain vs supermarket: These are COMPETITION.

In the end, the premise and promise of brand positioning is that it enables you to compel your target consumers or clients IN FAVOR of your brand and AWAY FROM YOUR COMPETITORS’ brands.

Since of course you are better than your competition, that’s what your marketing should be conveying: why it’s healthier to buy and prepare food at home, rather than run to the nearest fast food chain. Fundamental marketing is about differentiating the benefits your service provides and de-positioning the ALTERNATIVES to you (competition). Your positioning platform is about setting your brand apart from SIMILAR OPTIONS to you (competitors) and compelling your targets to believe that YOUR BRAND is the only option that will give them what they need.

In sales jargon, when you pitch a new prospect, you pitch yourself as a better alternative than the competition. In your marketing messages you want to focus on positioning your brand as the best option for that kind of service or product.

We all know that when done right, marketing works, SEO works, advertising works, and social media works… every marketing channel works when you execute it well. But what does NOT work is a marketing program in any channel that is based completely on how amazing your brand, product or services are. You know you are amazing. I know you are amazing. Now it’s time to make sure your targets know not only that you are amazing, but that your competitors just aren’t as amazing as you are. Being amazing is, well, amazing. But it’s not enough to win consistently. You win when your targets come to believe that their other options (your competitors, not your competition) is just not in the same league as you are.

Competition is great, frankly. It stimulates innovation, the global economy, and overall it keeps things pretty fair and level on a larger scale. It’s those pesky competitors you need to worry about. But don’t sweat it, that’s what I’m here for.