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The illusion of competition

May 14, 2021

In business, the concept of competition is ingrained in everything. The idea of competitors is permanently whizzing around everybody’s head, day in day out. Usually described as other businesses who want to ‘steal’ your ideas or launch better products. Simply they are somebody you are fighting with over control of the same thing. This almost always means the market share, paying customers and ultimately money.

Competitors are imaginary.

As a concept they're real, but this concept only becomes active after being decided and strategically self-imposed. Understanding the definition of competition will help uncover how to deactivate this concept.

Competition – the activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others.

The fundamental goal of a competition is to achieve to the point you are considered to be better than any other. Put into business terms, the key criteria to define a victor are as follows:

You are the only company who can offer your product or service

Your product or service is the best of everybody in your sector

Both of these points are quite lofty in terms of a goal. Either hoping you can come up with an original idea nobody has ever tried before or spend a lifetime gradually improving your offering, only to be beaten by a competitor’s advancements each year - and the cycle continues. You can work outside of this cycle altogether, by setting yourself apart from those who want to blindly compete.

Understanding what makes your company unique will help set you apart, but to really escape the cycle you must drastically expand on this uniqueness. In doing this your company becomes very appealing to a super-specific subset audience within the market known as a niche.

What is a market niche?

The principle of a niche is to gain a bigger share of a smaller hyper-focused market as opposed to having a tiny share of a generalist market. It’s the choice between sharing 1% of an apathetic market with many companies or your company in its separate market with a resolute following of consumers loyal to your company’s offering.
Let’s say you are one of three clothing stores in your area. Both of the other companies provide reasonable quality clothes at a fair price. However, neither offer clothes which are made using environmentally friendly processes, in this example this will be your niche. Your company will frame itself as the leading retailer who only uses environmentally friendly processes, which soon becomes the primary reason why the consumer would only choose you. Neither of the other two companies provides what your company is offering. This makes your company the consumer’s best and only option for environmentally friendly clothing in your area.
This example works great for a small business starting out or a huge company wanting to disrupt their industry. But what about other businesses who can't differentiate by what they sell? It then can only become a matter of how & why they sell.

Using audience perception to define a niche

We’re back at your clothing store but this time the other companies sell clothes created using environmentally friendly processes. To seperate yourself from this market will require a much more expanded uniqueness.

Looking at your core audience you can define their reasons for choosing to shop ethically, building an in-depth view of the shared values between them and your company. Cast your net wide and identify a varied selection of their values to create a list of shared values. Being able to mix and match these values generates many concepts which allows for more unique directions. As you work out which concepts feel right for your brand you can wittle the ideas down to the most suitable and those which add the most value.

For instance you may see a trend between ethical shoppers and environmental sustainability, wildlife conservation or fairtrade advocacy. Each of these broad categories lead to a myriad of potential concepts for your brand strategy. Basing your marketing campaigns on the connection between your shared values will build your reputation as a trusted voice on the issues your audience cares about most. Your products become symbiotic with your values, growing a genuine connection with your audience as it matches their values.

With some creative foresight you can try to anticipate your audience’s needs by introducing them to new ideas adjacent to their current values, which they may not have thought of before. The perception your audience has is no longer just another clothing retailer but a trusted ally, an organisation who supports the causes dear to them.

Swim in your own lane

We live under the illusion that the business world is a cutthroat ocean of sharks, and through that fear we act defensively to compare ourselves rather than focusing on what makes us unique. Once you identify and expand your uniqueness you’ll gradually find your own lane. You’ll see other businesses not as competition, but an incomparable service who can’t compete with your unique business and it’s unique offering. Besides, sharks don’t eat success anyway!

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