Focus on customers, not competitors

A while back, I overheard the following discussion in a meeting with a client in the networking industry:

 “[Competitor] claims they can do [x bandwidth] at [x-speed]. Let’s say that we can do [higher-bandwidth] at [higher speed].  Can we say that?” 

Always going one better than your competitor is not a good marketing strategy, for two reasons:

1.  “Feeds and speeds” make lousy marketing campaigns

In the hardware industry, this is called pitching “feeds and speeds” – or focusing on the raw capabilities of the hardware.

The software industry is has a similar problem of focusing on specific features.   It can affect not only the marketing, but product design.  We’ve all seen examples of “featuritis” in the software industry.  Competing companies keep adding  many more features to the software to keep up with each other. Eventually, a lean, nimble competitor comes along with something much less expensive and easier to use and eats everybody’s lunch.

2.  Your competitor is defining the conversation

By focusing completely on your competitor, you ignore your customer.

In this networking company’s case, their product had many attributes that made it more valuable to their customers than their competitor’s products.  By running a campaign based on “we’re a little bit better than those guys on the terms they define,” they were actually ignoring these essential attributes – underselling their capabilities.

The networking provider needed to look at what speeds the customers actually needed.  Customers don’t care who has the fastest thing on the market – they care who has the thing that will be fast enough, in their unique environment, for their unique needs, at a cost they can absorb. And they often have a raft of other needs as well.  Find the most important of those needs and talk about them – even if your competitors are talking about something else.

Keep competitors in your peripheral vision

Of course, you have to track what competitors are doing.  Competitive intelligence is critical – particularly if your customers are talking about your competitors’ features.

But customer intelligence is even more important.  Remember, the one that sets the context for the conversation has the upper hand. Don’t give it to your competitor by default.

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