In our business, we spend a lot of time helping companies determine what their competitive differentiators are.  What are their competitive advantages?   How do they position themselves as being different and better than other businesses in their space?  And how do they package that differentiated positioning in a way that matters to their customers and buyers?

An in-depth understanding of this is critical to be able to grow and thrive in a world of unprecedented innovation and constant new product introduction.  Rare is the business that “owns” its space these days. There is always a better mousetrap about to hit the market.  So, carving out your niche and making sure your potential customers resonate to it and are motivated by it is at the very core of effective marketing.

In an environment of relentlessly chasing market share (which is where most businesses exist), when is competition actually a good thing?

For one, viable competition forces us to be better.  If we have a competitor nipping at our heels, it drives us to be at the top of our game.  The positive way to look at competitors is to view them as motivators of our business innovation.  The corporate landscape is littered with once-dominant companies who are either gone or who currently exist as a mere shadow of their former selves.  These are the companies whose marketplace dominance caused them to become complacent, and a feisty newcomer swooped in and grabbed a big chuck of their customer base – by offering a new twist on a product, a new solution to a problem, or sometimes, just a superior way to deliver service.

We often tell our clients that if they are not growing, they are probably declining.  Businesses don’t really stand still.  And sometimes being in a highly competitive situation forces them to address a dynamic market shift sooner and more aggressively than they otherwise would have.

Another positive aspect of competition is that sometimes it presents interesting and lucrative opportunities for collaboration.  If your competitors offer a product or service that is complementary to your portfolio, it could make sense to work together in a way that increases visibility and market penetration for both of you.

Partnering with like-minded companies has come into its own in recent years as a legitimate growth strategy, especially when a company’s cost of adding a competing product represents a significant and/or risky investment.  Knowing what your “sweet spot” is, sticking to it, and adding ancillary services through a smart partnering strategy can be an affordable way to meet your customers’ evolving needs.

Sometimes close collaboration with a compatible partner (otherwise known as a competitor) can even lead to a merger or acquisition, whereby “one plus one equals five.”  Several years ago, when our firm decided to amp up our growth in our Dallas office, we acquired a competitive firm which had a defined market niche in an area in which we were interested.  This move immediately leap-frogged us into a niche that would otherwise have taken us years to penetrate on our own.

So, in summary, be aware of the competitive forces in your industry, watch them and learn from them, and allow this marketplace dynamic to be a driver for your own growth and innovation.  Also, be open to smart partnering and collaborative opportunities.  And, don’t have a “scarcity mentality” – there‘s usually enough business to go around for everyone who’s really good at what they do!

Cathy Ackermann, founder and president of Ackermann Marketed & PR, may be reached at cackermann@thinkackermann.com.

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