Small Businesses that aren’t marketing firms tend to fall into a trap that wastes a lot of money and causes a huge failure in achieving results. You can spot the issue from a mile away when people making decisions notice Competitor A is doing this and then suggest doing the same thing. Sometimes they’re a little sneakier, and they exclude the 1st part about it being someone else’s idea, and they present the idea as their own.
The oft-quoted Oscar Wilde says, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” In the best-case scenario, copying a competitor will leave you with mediocre results. The worst-case scenario will make you, the imitator, look foolish and perhaps even improve your competitor’s results. If you’re in business to win and you’re the one doing the imitating, my guess is your intention was not to pay homage to, or flatter, your competitor. Your intention was likely to get some of what you believe they have – more business.
If you are imitating, mimicking, or emulating a competitor, you are also an “Also-Ran” in marketing terms.
Merriam Webster, of dictionary fame, defines Also-ran in these three ways:
1: a horse or dog that finishes out of the money in a race
2: a contestant that does not win
3: one that is of little importance especially competitively
Again, the most important point of all of this is – when you’re emulating a competitor, you’re simultaneously strengthening their position, and you’re losing your opportunity to stand out! By the way, standing out is the whole point of marketing and advertising! If you’re trying to fit in instead of standing out – maybe you should stop wasting your money on advertising and apply for a job with the competitor!!
Emulating or trying to be more like your competitor(s) is a textbook example of what not to do. You’re improving your competitor’s position and worsening your own. Ugh.
Here’s another punch to the groinal area – when emulating your competitor, you have no way of knowing if what you are emulating is even working for them. You could by copying a fantastic failure.
I probably don’t need to drive the point any harder, but I am going to. To survive the also-ran game, you have to advertise at least as frequently and in at least as many places as the competitor you are emulating and then advertise more just to cut through. Don’t be an also-ran!
Don’t get me wrong; paying attention to your competitors is necessary. How else will you know if you are standing out? For the love of God, avoid trying to look like a competitor, act like a competitor, or do what a competitor does.
Don’t be an also-ran!
Why does this happen, and how do you stop it from happening? OK. It’s time for tough love and brutal honesty. Companies fall into the also-ran trap when inept advertisers or marketers are making or influencing decisions. You can spot these bad influencers because they’re good at telling you what they like. They’re also great at telling you what’s wrong with something without offering alternative solutions or ideas to correct the issue. When people lacking marketing and advertising experience are making the call or influencing the decision, the only real frame of reference they can draw from is the pile of things already being done. That’s how you become an also-ran.
Companies also get sucked into the also-ran drain when the product or service they sell is commoditized. Products or services with lots of competition and few clear differentiators have a tough time standing out, so everyone feels like they are following the leader or each other. If you’re in the camp that you must follow suit, I would say you don’t know your customer well enough. Want proof? On my drive to work, I pass by, or I am near two different McDonalds. I stop at them with about the same frequency, but I have particular reasons for visiting one or the other.
You probably think they are not in competition with each other, but they are. One is corporate-owned and the other privately owned. Most people would not know or care about that difference, but they both want my business. So here is how I make my choice. One of the McDonald’s is nicer, it is faster to get in and out but costs about 7% more for the food I like. The other Mcdonald’s takes a good 2-3 longer to get to work but is less expensive. Sometimes speed and convenience trump price.
What I am saying is, there is always a reason people pick one product or service over another, even in a highly competitive field. Your job is to stand out from competitors for one reason or another. If they talk about price, you can talk about convenience or quality.
For the record, most companies believe price is the primary driver in decisions to buy. Consumers also initially say price is their primary driver in their choice. When you dig deeper, you’ll find that’s not accurate. In fact, the bigger the ticket, the less price matters. You’ll know you’ve hit a home run when you find a differentiator that will sway people your way, and they will pay more. Here are a few differentiators, other than price that might point you in the right direction: convenience, speed of service or delivery, expertise, quality of service, quality of product(s) or parts, safety, cleanliness, health, breadth of services or products, and the list goes on and on.
Now, do you want to know how you avoid becoming an also-ran? Those people always comparing you to other companies and pushing to be more like them are holding your company back. You should remove the offenders from the equation. Whether it’s a marketing company, an internal person, or team, even if it’s you – get some help! Find someone, hire a company, if you have time, become an expert yourself. And by the way, if you’re going to become an expert – don’t read up on a specific tactic or marketing platform like social media, digital, inbound, or what have you. You have to read about HOW TO MARKET!
Finding a solution or hiring a consultant or firm doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, with the proper help, I guarantee you will spend less money than you would have lost when doing things poorly and your result will be better!
If you need help, I highly recommend listening to two episodes, if you haven’t already. The first episode you must listen to is the E1 The One Thing and the episode titled “How to Find the Right Marketing Help”
If you’re looking for good reading on the topic, go to TotallyHyped.com, find this episode where I have listed several good reads to get you going.