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Surviving Your Competitors, Part 1

  |  May 9, 2008   |  Comments

Your competitors don't look like you, don't think like you, and don't behave like you. First of two parts.

    Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. --Michael Corleone in "The Godfather: Part II"

Excellent survival tip, but what do you do if you don't know who your enemies are?

Learn from Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the classic movie, "Predator," Schwarzenegger plays Dutch, leader of a team of commandos on a mission in the Central American jungle. His team comprises seasoned professionals ready to defeat any enemy, or so they think.. But they encounter an opponent they've never faced before: an extraterrestrial warrior. It can turn invisible, it possesses high-tech weapons, and it hunts them for sport. The commandoes, taken completely by surprise and unable to respond effectively, are killed one by one. Only Dutch survives. Once he realizes he's never faced an adversary like this before, he quickly and objectively assesses his enemy's strengths and weaknesses, then adapts his offensive strategy to embrace his environment and ultimately emerges victorious.

OK, clearly I had a film fest over the weekend. As online publishers, though, you're living in a digital jungle, where it's a battle for survival. This column, part of a series that discusses the 12 Cs for thriving in a digital world, examines competitors, including predators and hostiles, all of whom you've never faced before.

Before you lose more battles to this new competition, you've got to get into "Dutch" mode so you survive, nay thrive, in the digital jungle, and don't get crushed:

  • Quickly identify all your new competitors.

  • Understand what makes them tick.

  • Develop a new arsenal and offensive strategy.

  • Jettison legacy anchors that hold you back.

  • Respond in kind.

Surprise! Your Competitors Don't Look Like You

Sure, you've got to worry about your traditional direct competitors, the ones you've competed with over the years for audience mindshare and ad dollars. Think "Adweek" vs. "Ad Age," "Variety" vs. "Hollywood Reporter," "New York Post" vs. "New York Daily News." But you can't be obsessed with just these traditional competitors and focus solely on being better than them and beating them. You're facing a new breed of dangerous competitors; there are a lot of them, and new ones are being created every day. You've got to know who your new competitors are in the digital jungle before it's too late. Because they're already eating away at your business.

Here are a few realities about your new competitors:

  • They don't look like you.

  • They don't think like you.

  • They don't behave like you.

  • They don't play by your rules; they create their own.

  • They don't share your business goals.

  • Some aren't even out to maximize revenue.

In addition, many of these new competitors have a different DNA makeup than you. They fully embrace digital, community, Web 2.0, and new technologies. They act fast, and they don't have legacy anchors and overhead.

The new competitive landscape can be broken into four categories:

  • Nimble upstarts

  • Evolving blue chips

  • Citizen journalists and bloggers

  • Technology disruptors

Nimble Upstarts

Nimble upstarts are online pure-plays that deliver new value propositions, have laser-beam focus, have no legacy anchors, and approach the marketplace from different perspectives. Two such companies in the media and advertising space are MediaBistro and SmartBriefs. MediaBistro, recently acquired by Jupitermedia, is a hugely popular site for the media community and grew due to content aggregation, social get-togethers, and training classes. SmartBriefs partners with professional associations and trade groups, such as the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the American Advertising Federation, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau, to create vertically targeted e-newsletters for their membership. It's a great way to guarantee an audience and to reach college graduates entering the workforce.

Evolving Blue Chips

Evolving blue chips are established, well-known brands. Once generalists, they now deliver vertical solutions and niche products, thanks to technology, content categorization, and expanded content development sources. For example, "BusinessWeek" and "The New York Times" were generalists, but now "BusinessWeek" has a lifestyle product and "The New York Times" has an extremely deep, rich travel section.

Citizen Journalists and Bloggers

Bloggers and citizen journalists are a great resource and alternative to traditional mainstream media. TechCrunch is a fan favorite and moves the industry with its reporting. Deadline Hollywood provides an insider's view of Tinseltown. It picked up a lot of steam during the writers' strike, becoming an alternative to traditional entertainment news outlets, was linked to regularly by the Drudge Report, and was mentioned on the air by David Letterman.

Technology Disruptors

Technology disruptors are companies that leverage a superior technology infrastructure to significantly disrupt your business. Often, they don't do it on purpose and you're more like collateral damage. Google is probably the most cited example, but I also like to use Amazon. If you're an online publisher heavily dependent on product reviews for such things as films and electronics, Amazon is a competitor. The retailer arguably has one of the world's largest film and electronics review databases, plus it owns content sites like IMDb.

Customers have an unlimited set of options to choose from and you need to know how you stack up to differentiate yourselves in the marketplace.

Next, I'll examine how some rivals are more like termites than wrecking balls and how to effectively compete against them.

Shoot me your thoughts and feedback about competitors.

Regards,

Lee Huang

Lee is off this week. Today's column ran earlier on ClickZ. Be sure to check out part two of this series.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lee Huang

Lee Huang specializes in developing digital strategies that enable companies to monetize their digital assets, create innovative online products, and leverage emerging technologies to better serve their audience and advertisers. He is director of digital strategy and product development at NBC Universal. Before joining NBCU, he led the development of successful Internet strategies, Web sites, and interactive solutions for media and entertainment companies, including Billboard, Hearst, Scripps Networks, Hollywood Reporter, and Consumer Reports. Lee created The 12 Cs, a framework for thriving in the digital age that focuses on developing an integrated business and technology strategy, along with an adaptive infrastructure that enables rapid execution.

He serves on the board and leads the New York chapter of the Internet Strategy Forum, a professional association for executives who lead their company's Internet strategy and initiatives.

Lee lives in New York City. He can be reached at lhuang23@yahoo.com.

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