Yes, it seems like a pipe dream. But knowing as much about your competitors as possible is absolutely essential to your success. A lack of it is a sure path to positioning that misses the mark, a frustrating sales process, wasted resources, and ultimately failure. Too dire a prediction? Absolutely not. You know that your product is the best thing out there, but don’t be egotistical enough to think people will take your word for it. You have to be prepared to prove it to the rest of the world.
We do a deep dive with all new clients. We interview executives, review existing research, and when feasible conduct primary research. We strive to understand our clients’ products, markets and the company as well as the internal team does. One of the essential areas we seek information on is our clients’ competitors. We won’t settle for – “We don’t have competitors” or “Our product is faster and cheaper than anything else on the market.” Your customers know you have competitors. When they seek to buy—especially when they’re investing significant amounts of time and/or money– they know exactly what their options are, how your features and benefits compare to the market leaders and/or innovators, the total cost of ownership, and a number of other factors. Potential investors will ask who your competitors are so they can undertake due diligence. Reporters will ask you in almost every interview. That coveted hire will be smart enough to research your competitors to ensure your company represents a smart career move. And if your competitors are smart, they’re crafting ways to differentiate themselves from you and attacking any real or perceived weakness. If they aren’t doing it now, they will when you launch and your PR results start pouring in.
There are several things we do to clarify differentiators and uncover potential positioning landmines. You should undertake these tasks or let Karbo Com take them off your plate prior to the positioning process:
These elements are absolutely essential. If you have the luxury of being able to take a top notch approach, consider customer audits conducted by your communications team. When I was at Regis McKenna, we required that our new clients undertake external audits. We would interview the key external stakeholders including analysts, customers, press, and other influencers. We crafted questions that were designed to get at real motivations, biases, requirements, purchase influences and processes, emotional triggers, perceptions of our clients’ and perceptions of their competitors. Invariably the audits exposed important information that had been hidden from the company’s teams.
These interviews are also helping your PR team more effectively speak for your customers when they develop content, pitch reporters, talk to market analysts, etc. Sure they can hear this from you secondhand, but it’s never as good as a direct conversation.
So take the time to possess the highest degree of market intelligence. You can choose to take short cuts, but are you willing to bet your company on a lack of competitive vision? Will your competitors take that chance?