I have been working on a Webinar about competing versus copying for a while now. I've been blocked to finish it - all I need to do is record it. Why I haven't, I'm not sure. Hopefully, I'll finish it soon.
But this blog post isn't about me complaining about my procrastination habit. I wanted to share my perspective about competing versus copying.
Let's start with women and fashion trends. To be hip, cool and sexy, women will flock to wear the latest. Me included. They want to wear their ideal size (which isn't larger than an 8) and look like all the other women in an effort to compete. They are competing with each other regarding fashion-sense and for male attention.
However, some of these women shouldn't wear a particular fashion trend because it may not be flattering for their body type or personal style. For example: low-cut jeans. Unless you are rail thin or have a flat tummy, or very unwilling to buy the appropriate size, low-cut jeans can be highly unflattering. "Muffin-top" comes to mind.
But how many women try - and fail - to look like everyone else?
The same is true for companies.
Often I'll see a very competitive market where the vendors actively compete in any way possible to get market share. Sadly, they employ a few practices that over time makes them far less competitive.
- Focus on the similarities rather than differences. To gain a competitor's market share, sometimes a company will claim that they are similar to make the customer think there will be no difference working with either company. Customers know there will be a difference - there always is. But if their attention is on price ONLY - they may switch.
- Forget to market the product and market a feature. For the airlines - this is marketing that they will get you from Point A to Point B rather than the experience on the airline. Or for clothing, its marketing specific trends and pieces of clothing rather than the entire shop experience or style being sold. Again, it is leveling the playing field to show there is no difference between companies - they are clones who simply want your business.
- Where it all goes to hell - Focus on price and resort to price reductions to show "superiority." Over time, this turns great products into commodities. The airline industry is a great example of this. As are petroleum and energy companies. They aren't selling a product or experience - they are selling something you need that you could get anywhere. They aren't selling value. They are selling something cheap.
Companies forget that people buy experiences - they are buying the experience of using the product, the support, the sales process.
This is why copying doesn't work.
In my webinar I use an analogy about dating and how suitors will sometimes not be themselves to "win" someone. In the end, by copying behavior, a competitor/suitor won't win over a date. A date wants to see who you are through your actions, what you wear, what you talk about, what you like to do. Dating is learning about someone else's uniqueness and experiencing them.
A woman won't go after a clone for the long term - they want to see the personality.
Let's return to the jeans example...Women will sport a muffin-top in an effort to compete. The jeans obviously don't suit her but in her desperate attempt to "compete" - i.e. copy - she wears them. And tries hard to make them work to get attention and compete with other women.
Any fashion consultant will tell you - never wear a trend just to copy the herd. Wear what works for your body type and personal style. Be unique.
Companies need to take that advice and "wear" messaging appropriate for themselves. By copying others, a company shows that it lacks confidence and doesn't value the experience it already offers. It thinks it needs to be like another company to get attention.
Customers sense this and are frankly turned off by it. Rather than see what you are offering/selling, they see how you compare to your competition. And if your are copying, they see the same entity and will only buy from you if you offer a discount.
I think the fashion consultants are spot on - be yourself and be unique. Stop copying to compete. It doesn't get you attention - only a muffin-top. Respect who you are by being unique and dressing suitably. Companies are no different.