I am the spirit of rivalry. Some fear me while others laugh in my face.
I create heroes and define enemies. I can be friendly or I can be fierce.
Without me, there is no road to glory.
What am I?
Thanks to competition, we have things like the Olympic Games, Democracy, and Simon Cowell. But one of the greatest examples of competition’s effect on society can be found by looking at the world of business.
Businesses are driven by competition. It’s what fuels them to improve their products and experiences-pushes their creativity and expands their horizons. We are constantly jockeying for position in this ever-changing business landscape.
In this competition, businesses win over loyal customers, grow their companies, and maximize profits. However, as a business owner, you know this is easier said than done.
The digital age has made the marketplace more competitive than ever. New technologies are allowing small businesses and start-ups with limited budgets take on some of the largest companies in the world, and win. So what does this mean?
It means if you’re not paying attention and staying current with your competitors, those small companies that you once laughed out the door may soon be stealing your crown and knocking you off your iron throne.
So what strategies are smaller companies using to grow and compete with your company?
They Create More Buzz
It’s a classic underdog story. Smaller companies can overthrow large companies more easily than ever simply by enlisting the voice of the customer. By building a following through engagement, small companies can steal mindshare from even the largest companies in their industry.
Remember Happy Gilmore? He didn’t win over the golf community with his superior golfing skills or establishment in the golf community. He did it by gaining a following with his foulmouthed attitude and crowd-pleasing antics. The people loved him, and by winning their attention he became impossible to ignore.
Just so we’re clear, we strongly advise against picking a fight with a celebrity game show host in attempt to gain attention. But you can achieve the same effect with a relentless marketing strategy.
When consumers share opinions of brands online through social media, this digital “word of mouth” carries a lot more weight than any flashy ad campaign. With millennials in particular. In fact, Adweek reported 68 percent [of Millennials] are completely unimpressed and unmoved by celebrity endorsements.
Good branding, great content, and word of mouth are what today’s consumer is using to determine where they will spend their money. In other words, your online presence is vital to staying competitive, and if you don’t have an online presence, you’re already falling way behind the pack.
SIDEBAR (AKA Soapbox) - As soon as I say, "word of mouth" people quickly nod and agree it is the best form of advertising. But what does this really mean? It doesn't mean don't spend anything and only rely on others talking about you. It means, that you have carefully created TRIGGERS (whether digital or on TV or in print, etc.) to remind them to open their mouth about you. Secondly, it means that your campaign has successfully loaded their lips with YOUR MARKETING MESSAGE so they can clearly communicate what you want repeated about your brand.
What Can You Do About It?
You need to start creating buzz. Stop thinking about what you’ve always done or what your competitors are doing and start giving your ideal client what they want. Instead of always selling, get to blogging, step up your social media game, start a podcast, or create interesting videos. Yes, you should stick to your brand voice (unless it puts people to sleep), but start thinking outside the box and create an experience too good to be ignored.
They Beat You to the Punch
Don’t underestimate the power of being fast. Quick execution is quite possibly the biggest advantage a small company has over a larger one.
Here’s what digital marketing rockstar, Neil Patel, had to say on the topic:
“What most people won’t tell you is big companies need to spend more to get the same results that you can for pennies on the dollar. They have way too many employees and lawyers in their organization to move fast and nimble. In other words, everything moves slowly.”
Because big companies have so many other things they have to consider, smaller companies have a HUGE opportunity to make their mark first. If you can’t move quickly, you will lose.
But being fast is only one part of the equation. It's easy to make quick decisions, but you must ask yourself if they are quality decisions. The reason small businesses are nipping at your is heels is because they’re both fast and are thinking outside of the box.
Being scrappy can really benefit someone who has yet to establish a name for themselves. For example, by enlisting the aid of well-known industry leaders, they can add instant credibility to their name. A guest blog, podcast feature, or social share from a prolific figure can be game changing for a small business. While this takes some tenacious networking, it’s this kind of thinking that allows small businesses to climb the ranks. Just remember that the industry leader you choose should be someone respected by your ideal audience - not just a personal choice of yours.
What Can You Do About It?
Get scrappy yourself. You’ve been in the industry longer, start using your resources. Call on some of the connections you’ve made over the years and partner up to boost your credibility. But it’s not just calling on experts within your field - you have expertise too. Start writing as a guest blogger and begin making appearances on industry podcasts. If the competition is doing a better job with less resources, then you simply aren’t using your resources properly.
You Underestimate Them
No matter the cause of growth, when a small business starts gaining momentum and begins to rival you, it means they are doing something right. One of the most common reasons small businesses are able to take on larger ones is because the larger company discredits their capabilities.
When I started my marketing agency, the local ad agencies and radio stations and TV sales reps laughed in her face saying, “no one is ever going to spend their marketing dollars on social media.” It was tense in this town for awhile.
They didn’t understand the degree to which the future was digital. They wanted to believe digital marketing was a fad so badly they completely discredited me and turned away any type of partnership. They were confident I would fizzle out and they would be safe where they were just as they always had been. They now send over proposals for digital integration into their packages. This isn't about vindication, but about embracing change and not being afraid of what is coming next. Mostly, it is about listening to changes in the market so you can serve your client better.
The lesson here? Stop assuming small companies or small changes in consumer behavior do not pose a threat. Uber took on the public transportation industry and won. Airbnb took on the hotel industry and won. If the little guys are doing the aforementioned (creating buzz and beating you to the punch) they are dangerous. You are really putting yourself at risk if you underestimate their abilities or the power of the consumer to change the course of your day to day.
What Can You Do About It?
Whether they are producing an amazing product, solving a new need, providing unmatched customer service, or just have a team of all-stars, you need to figure out what it is your competitors are doing to make them so great and take them seriously because of it. Take note of what they deliver better and innovate on the next best step. The way to stay competitive is to consider your brand relevance to prevent your competitors from taking the customers you've worked so hard to attain. The focus should be on innovating in a way that matters most to your most ideal client.
Big or small, quality is quality. Consumers know this and they expect it. We no longer live in a world where your name alone will keep you at the top. It can certainly help, but thanks to the world wide web, there is a ton of room for smaller businesses to rise up in the ranks quickly and become the next big thing.
Keep an eye on your competitors. Be aware of what they are doing well and where they lack. When they begin to grow, you won’t be caught off guard and will be able to stay ahead. More importantly, don't take your focus off your strategy and executing consistently toward those goals. New and smaller competitors are going to arise. People often ask me how I am doing at work and I often remark that "I'm enjoying the stunning discomfort of entrepreneurship." This is similar to the discomfort we face as we scale and grow companies even if we don't own them directly. In my humble opinion, the easy path is not a journey worth taking. And, of course, if it were easy everyone would be doing it!
The world of marketing is constantly changing. In order to win the marketing race and stay competitive you have to be aware of these changes. I'd love to share what I know at your next event!