Bigger, faster, smarter, and stronger can be advantages in competitive sports and in business. Teamwork can give you the advantage necessary to win in both arenas. The key to long-term success lies in knowing how you stack up against the competition, how you can stay ahead consistently, and what the competition is doing to catch you.
The current trend among consumers is to ask companies what differentiates them from their competitors. What the customer is asking, in essence, is why they should buy from you instead of your competition. The Internet and search engines have made consumers more aware of all the companies out there that can provide the product or service they are looking to purchase.
Your company must, therefore, have an easy-to-find presence on the world wide web and, more importantly, a well-defined statement of why your company, your product, and/or your service is different from and better than the competition. These are essential tools for marketing your business today. Without them, your advantage is that you are playing on a different field than your competitors and every other business, and probably without an audience.
An example: Exceptional customer service is now an expectation and ruled out as a competitive edge. It must be delivered consistently or your doors will close. Consumers can, and will, find alternatives if they believe they have been mistreated or are dissatisfied. Gone are the days when a poorly treated customer simply goes away. Social media can severely damage a company’s reputation if a negative impression goes viral, and today’s savvy consumer spends scads of time sending tweets and text messages.
We digress from the topic of your competitive advantage. You need to know your competition. What do they do that’s different from what your company does? As you study the competition, avoid trying to emulate what they do and focus on what you could do better, more efficiently, or at less cost to the consumer. If you try to match what the competition does, you can easily become your own competition.
When we worked with a company that built websites in the early days of the Internet, we could build them faster than any other company, with better graphics and greater functionality than the competition. We knew how long it took our company to grasp those techniques and how long we could hold the advantage until a competitor figured it out and caught up to us. Time, in that case, was our competitive advantage.
As you study the competition in your business or industry, and evaluate how well you compete, focus more on what got you to where you are and less on what your competition is doing. Maintain that difference, for that is what gives you the edge and makes you palatable to the broad consumer market.