Your True Competitors

Do you know the feeling of automatically swinging into action with a standard routine when you’re developing or executing your marketing plans? You know the guidelines, you have the manual, and all your indicators are pointing to the same result as last year: Market awareness of your brand is high, its share of the market is excellent, and its repurchase rate is stunning. You’re doing a pretty good job. But where is the inspiration your brand needs to reach even higher levels of success?

I’d like to introduce you to an alternative way of thinking. Forget everything about your current focus on competitors. Yes, I know. You probably live and breathe their marketing efforts. And, if you’re good, you know their marketing plans better than they do themselves. But, hang on. How on earth can you surpass your competitors when, in reality, you’re just following their tracks in the snow? Let’s forget the tracks and look at the disciplines they use to navigate across their marketing terrain.

I don’t think I can recall one single company that’s managed to be a leader in every marketing discipline. That’s why you should compare your work with all sorts of companies, not just with your competitors. And you should examine companies that demonstrate leadership in particular areas of expertise.

If you’re a retailer, you shouldn’t necessarily look to Saks Fifth Avenue, Westfield, or Woolworths. Perhaps you should focus on Disney, Hyatt, and Bang & Olufsen. Here’s why.

Let’s take Disney as an example. The company might be a good practitioner in the entertainment business, but it’s also excellent in a totally peripheral field: signage. Yep, branded signage. Visit Disney parks or cruise ships, and you’ll see signage that probably sets the world standard for excellence. Disney establishments’ expert signage not only tells you clearly where you are and points you to where you want to go, it constantly inspires you. It informs you about new and interesting venues and intriguing events in the parks. It constantly reinforces the Disney personality in a noninvasive but heavily branded (and expertly integrated) fashion.

Now, how do you handle your store’s signage? How do you cross-sell products? How many of your customers struggle every day to find what they’re looking for? How many of them give up and go next door? Would Disney be a good benchmark for your signage?

Let’s consider Hyatt. Your visit to any Hyatt establishment will reveal to you a company that handles infrastructure expertly. Hyatt’s procedures push guests from their point of arrival. They go through the main entrance, to reception, and up to their rooms in minutes. And it all happens with a smile. Do people wait in queues that cause major irritation, unleash impatience, and result in a fractious, unpleasant environment? Hardly. So, would Hyatt be a good benchmark for your in-store practices? What do you think you could learn from Hyatt’s infrastructure and procedures?

Or what about hi-fi manufacturer Bang & Olufsen? Here’s a company that manages to compress complex technology into extremely user-friendly designs. Does your company bamboozle itself and its clients with complex forms, difficult payment procedures, or convoluted complaints channels? What could you learn from a company that can provide you with a video recorder that you can operate without studying a 500-page instruction manual?

I’m really asking you to do some lateral thinking. Think outside the box, to use a clich&eacute. Pick the leaders in all the fields that make your business tick and examine their approaches. Retailers might need to look at infrastructure handling, space management, and just-in-time ordering, for example. Not that these disciplines are unique to retailing — they’re central to a whole bunch of business sectors.

Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands face similar challenges. What company offers the best example of one-to-one marketing, events organization, PR, and customer service?

Being the best doesn’t necessarily mean being the best within your brand’s product category. It could mean being the best of everyone within a marketing discipline. So, in reality, you might look for benchmarks for your brand in not one but in tens of companies across the globe. And this will enable you to get the absolutely best comparison possible when you’re assessing how well your marketing is doing.

Let me ask you two simple questions: Which 10 disciplines make your brand what it is today? And which 10 companies should you look to for comparison of your performance in these fields of practice? If you already know, I’m sorry to have taken five minutes of your time. If you don’t, start thinking sideways and identifying your true competitors.

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