Competitors are bastards (and other revelations)

 It’s not often that you feel sorry for McDonald's, it’s true.  But last month a very carefully planned and no doubt pricy Monopoly game sales promotion was hijacked by rival Hungry Jacks with their own ‘Flame their McOpoly’ campaign. Offering prizes for those who chose to redeem their winning vouchers with them instead, Hungry Jack’s made the most of the opportunity (and a whole heap of PR):

Real flame-grilled taste, like air, is vital to life. No one should be denied it – our friends, our family and all Australians...everyone deserves a better flame-grilled burger.

Ooh, bitchy. (And also just a little histrionic; I mean really, a flame-grilled burger is a basic human right?)

Marketing critique aside, if you’ve been in business more than say, a month, you’ll no doubt be familiar with your competitors and some of the games they play in the name of competition.

It can feel particularly unfair when like McDonald's you’ve spent good money on a campaign only to have it ambushed by another. And this is not a rare occurrence. Spare a moment for the sponsors of major events like the Olympics, the World Cup and the Grand Final, who are  having to contend with the new business of ambush marketing which is all about trying to to shoehorn other brands into the limelight while avoiding the admittedly massive sponsorship costs.

But even as a smaller business competition can bite. It can be hard enough to find and win customers, without having to defend your flanks against tactics like guerrilla marketing, comparative advertising, competing locations, pricing wars, and all the other myriad of ways that your competitors are fighting to get an inch ahead.

At times we can get a bit obsessed by it. I’ve even been guilty of it myself; manoeuvring around the room at a networking function to make sure I’m always the maximum distance away from Marketing This or Marketing That, all the while judging our business against theirs.

But in the end it’s important to realise that competition comes with the territory. There isn’t a single successful business that doesn’t have either a direct competitor or the risk of a substitute, and that in itself won’t break you.

What you DO need to do is:

Focus on your game. There is a time and a place to analyse what your competition is doing, and it makes sense to do that when you do your marketing planning for the year. If you’ve taken the time to plan your activity ahead, you don’t need to be overly distracted by what others are doing.

Know your strengths and weaknesses. Exploit the things that make you different and where you have an advantage, whether it’s on service, attention to detail, responsiveness or knowledge. Build your brand position around these, and hammer that message home through every customer touchpoint.

Stay light on your feet. There are going to be times when you need to respond quickly. Keep a small financial reserve, don’t rely too much on any one customer and be ready to pivot if the market moves in a way you couldn’t have predicted.

Continually think about how you can innovate and improve on what you’re doing and what you offer (after all no matter what, you can be assured you competitors are doing the same). There is no room for complacency.

Don’t focus on your competitors – focus on your customers. Keep them happy and make sure you provide what they value which means keeping in constant contact (by which we mean listening to them, and not talking at them).

Nerissa Atkinson is co-director of The Revery, a marketing consultancy for growing businesses wanting to remain lean. Curious about everything, her personal ethos is to have nothing in her house that is not useful or beautiful. With two small children life is weighted towards the first, but she spends plenty of time on Pinterest and other social media platforms planning for the future.

Image via Flickr CC/jfchenier