The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Whose Really Got Their Eye On You …
April 26, 2011, 6:12 am
Filed under: Comment

I am astounded at how many planners, agencies and clients think their competitors are only the ones who operate within their category – and then regard one above all others.

Coke vs Pepsi.

Microsoft vs Apple.

McDonalds vs Burger King.

Now of course I can understand why they would do this, hell, I can even understand the benefits of creating a war – both from a creative and a ‘get the masses attention like a Blur vs Oasis’ standpoint – however in my experience, the best thing to do is not look at who you view as a competitor, but identify who looks at you as a competitor.

Now on first impression you might think they’re one and the same … but they’re not … you see, if you categorise a competitor as anyone who wishes to either take away your revenue or replace your purpose it opens up the options to a whole new level.

A real life example.

Listerine – the mouthwash specialists – were the gods of mouthwash.

For years they regarded other mouthwash brands as the key ones to watch … however they were also conscious that the major oral care brands [ie: Colgate, Macleans, Oral B etc] could easily go into their space so they always ensured they knew what was going on, just in case.

Then one day – out of nowhere – Wrigley’s repositioned their chewing gum from ‘taste/fresh breath’ to ‘dental hygiene’ and almost overnight, the Listerine brand suffered sales decline.

Now I appreciate that back then, a chewing gum brand might have been viewed as an unlikely competitor, however Wrigley’s obviously didn’t think that way and so whilst it might be easy to disregard certain categories from your competitive focus, if you understand the deeper motivations and needs of your clients audience, you might understand that a used car could be as big a competitor to Lonely Planet and their desire to get young guys to go backpacking as a cheap airline or a competitive travel guide and the latest edition of Call Of Duty could be more of a threat to Macca’s quarterly revenue as Burger King and Subway combined.

So next time you are asked to do a competitive review, don’t look at who your client views as a competitor, turn it on it’s head.

57 Comments so far
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This sounds such a simple premise that you can’t believe people haven’t always looked at competitor groups like this, but they haven’t and they don’t which is why I remember it sounded such a revelation when you told me to look at things this way.

That comment may say more about my abilities than I’d care to normally admit, but turning competitive analysis on its head has opened up a great deal more issues and opportunities for the clients I’ve worked with over the years and I regard it much more valuable than simply tracking their advertising campaigns and media burst activities.

Comment by Pete

Fuck fuck. Blah Blah.

Comment by Billy Whizz

I agree with Pete that when you read this post, your initial impression is that you are stating the obvious, but experiences has told me that is not the case which is why this is one of the best bits of business advice you will ever read.
It appears you have suffered a rare bout of humility Robert, because I would have bet my daughters savings you’d of regaled your Al Pacino style speech at McDonalds where you proudly stated, “You’re looking in the wrong direction because Burger King aren’t your competitor, Top Shop is.”
Very dramatic and far more worthy of applause than it received at the time.
Wonderful post.

Comment by George

Maybe he’s forgotten about it George, I did until you jogged my memory. It was a rather grand statement wasn’t it, followed by the longest pause in history if I remember correctly.

Didn’t they then say they thought he was involved in the making of the movie Super Size Me and if he was, they’d sue?

When advertising was still exciting as Andy would say.

Comment by Pete

Robert rarely forgets situations like that, it’s what he lives for, however I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this occasion. I am pleased to inform you Pete that your memory appears to be in perfect working condition, because the two consequences you raise are indeed what happened, but without context, they sound much more dramatic than they were and who am I to ruin the myth.

Comment by George

That was a fun meeting wasn’t it. I was getting thrown out by a higher class of client back then … my mother was proud.

Comment by Rob

More fuck fuck, blah blah.

Comment by Billy Whizz


Comment by George

Should be.

Comment by Billy Whizz

If you can identify all your competitors you’re not looking properly.

Comment by Chris

Or you’re not very successful.

Comment by Pete

or doing something willfully obscure.

Comment by Chris

Or a dictator.

Comment by Billy Whizz

It’s like being at my first day at cynic again.

“This is how we do shit and we don’t care how you fucking did it before”.

Then that might not be true, because I was drunk at the time.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Actually I think that’s pretty much a word-for-word repeat of our ‘welcome to new colleagues’ speech.

Comment by Rob

You can tell Andy’s away because all the planner boys are coming out the woodwork and making bigger, longer planner comments. That has to stop right away and I’m the man to do it.

There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Billy.

Comment by Billy Whizz

I think Andy would say you’re the deputy sheriff Billy.

Comment by Pete

I’m acting sheriff while he’s away.

Comment by Billy Whizz

using lowercase type makes me more fucking authentic.

Comment by billy whizz


Comment by Rob

Your competition is anything that causes your customers not to buy your product/service. It’s anything that erodes or explodes your competitive advantage. It may not even exist today, but it could mean you won’t exist tomorrow. It’s the answer to a what if question that too many incumbents refuse to contemplate.

Comment by John

That sounds like a religious sermon and not in a good way.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Very true John, but it has to have some context or you could argue literally every other brand, product or service is a competitor.

Comment by Pete

Which may be true, but not the most practical from a brand management perspective.

Comment by Pete

Tell that to every industry disrupted by internet-related change.

My point is that you need to focus on improving your product/service every day and ensure that your source of competitive advantage remains robust and relevant. If you focus on the “competition”, you may forget to focus on your customers and it is they who ultimately manage your brand.

Comment by John

I agree that too many companies focus on their competition not their audiences needs. It’s this attitude that saw the American car industry lose out to Toyota, but my point is that there should always be a key cross section of competitors that are under supervision because their actions can help you identify shifts in attitude, approach or audience and act accordingly.

Comment by Pete

I followed this advice to work out who was stopping me get the hot babe I had my eye on and discovered it wasn’t her steroid pumped meathead boyfriend, but pms, knitting and us weekly magazine. Made me feel better.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Her too.

Comment by John

Actually she cries at night dreaming of what could have been. Well she does in my mind.

Comment by Billy Whizz

If you want further proof Rob’s view is right, find someone from the record, consumer electronic and mobile phone industries and say the word “Apple”.

Comment by Bazza

Steve Jobs: destroyer of dreams and jobs.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Bang goes your iPad 2.

Comment by Rob

And from what I hear, there’s a couple of other industries who should be looking nervously around their domain.

Comment by Rob

Well I’d like to first congratulate Billy for doing his best Andy impression and bringing the tone of the post down – very good, Andy will be proud.

Secondly, I think John’s comment about too many companies focusing on their competitors, not their audience is incredibly important. There is a real issue that brands [and their agencies] are making choices that are more influenced by what their competitors are doing rather than what their customers want. Too many people regard ‘differentiation’ as being different from their competitors, but it’s not much use if in your quest to forge your own identity, you do things people don’t want, just because someone else has said something you would have preferred to say.

Billy says that with Andy away, the “planner mob” are up rising … well, if the comments we’re having cover off issues that I think need to be said, then let’s hope he adds another couple of weeks to his ‘holiday’s of the rich, famous & infamous’.

[Only joking Andy, we miss you already. Allegedly]

Comment by Rob

I’ve added a new dimension to this blog haven’t I. Do I get paid?

Comment by Billy Whizz

Yes, in M&M’s … and only the brown ones left over from the Van Halen tour rider,

Comment by Rob

i want to put this on record. i miss andy.

Comment by swati


Comment by Rob

Thanks for fucking nothing swati.

Comment by Billy Whizz

It’s always the ones you don’t see that hurt the most.

I was thinking the other day it wouldn’t be completely stupid for companies to have a division that’s dedicated to knocking them off their own perch. Not in terms of petty quarterly sale targets, but in changing the category altogether. Nice post.

Comment by Rafik

Good point Rafik … though they would say their marketing department do that, though I would say that it is almost impossible for a person charged with the perceptual management of a brand to be objective about their competitors, which is another reason why planners exist, even though some seem to think meekness is the best policy.

Comment by Rob

I think a lot of companies do look at competition or threat from other categories, but not on a daily workin basis or working, but rather for thier 3 / 5 year plan presentation, and leave at at that.

it’s left on slides, after big meetings 🙂

Comment by bhaskar

You think?

Maybe they do – but I’d guess they spend an incredibly small amount of time doing it and focus more on the ‘obvious’ candidates than the broader groups. Of course that’s a mass generalisation because I know there are many who do, however in my experience, they’re individuals in companies rather than companies by themselves.

Comment by Rob

That goes for the actual work. I’m still mildy surpised when clients think that all they have to go is to get their ad to pass the link test (sorry for swearing) and people will lap it up, forgetting they’re competing for attention in the first place – against channel hopping, making the tea and that’s assuming the entertainment screen is a TV.
But so called ‘traditional’ agencies need to wise up too. They all looked the other way when brand consultancies and comms planning agencies stole the place at the ‘grand strategy’ table and STILL prattle on about the challenge for ‘integration’ while smaller, more nimble shops just get on with it.
And that’s before you get to ‘in-house’….

Comment by northern

Clients who think getting their ad past link is all that matters is still less mental than clients who think the public at large are sitting at home waiting patiently to watch the latest 30″ they are going to churn out. But I get the point … especially the whole integration thing, which in my experience works more because of people’s mindset rather than some bullshit process.

Comment by Rob

I wonder if Sony saw the iPod coming? Maybe if they had thought this way…

It’s so simple as to be remarkable that people don’t at least consider it. People have limited budgets and time, to think you are only in a direct battle with your direct competition is just plain silly.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

fantastic post. hilarious, insightful and inciteful. that mcdonalds vs topshop story is great and as usual doddsy reminds us to focus on the real competition: alienating your own customers.
billy, you’re doin’ a great job of trying to fill andy’s shoes. you’re not bitter, angry or rich enough to quite get there, but we love you anyway.

Comment by lauren

There’s a backhanded compliment if I ever saw one Lauren. Now, how is the ‘workshop queen’ going?

Comment by Rob

the workshop queen is going nicely, thank you. there will be tug of war, there’ll be complicated games involving maths and science, i’ve bought ‘danger zone’ from the top gun soundtrack to help us through the afternoon and i’m hoping that i’ll manage to wrangle it all into some semblance of usefulness by the end of the day. huzzah!

Comment by lauren

Hi Rob,
I agree with your post – one of my clients, a large furniture retailer is consistently worried about their number two competitor for declining foot traffic and sales. My view is that Australians are faced with some of the most inflated housing prices in the world are spending a higher proportion of their incomes on housing than ever, leaving little room for furnishing them. But where does this leave us practically? So they can’t afford your stuff.. will a campaign change that? Or will a campaign directed at convincing your competitors customers to switch to you have a greater impact? Agree with your theory, but want to know more ways to action it?

Comment by hayley

Create furniture that acknowledges the reality of the housing market and market it in that context – be that as a long-term investment akin to the house or as an intrinsic element of homeliness. Campbell would urge you to feature cats – that sort of recklessness is entirely up to you. Now where do I send the invoice?

Comment by John

hayley, isn’t your biggest competitor (outside mortgage interest rates) actually ebay? (second-hand furniture markets).

Comment by lauren

Cats solve anything – it’s marketing 2.0 and you know it John.

Hey Haley, I think there’s a bunch of competitive angles that you could/should look at – from ebay to DIY stores – however there is always the opportunity to tackle the whole ‘upsell/upmarket’ attitude that prevails across Australian house buyers and take the issue head on … be it talking about interiors vs exteriors or simply the make your house feel like a million dollars without it costing you a million dollars kind of thing.

Or buy a cat.

Let me have a think, or drop me an e and I’ll maybe be able to answer with 2 seconds of thought rather than this ranting rubbish.

Comment by Rob


what is stopping your client from acknowledging and acting on the issues you are seeing? that is the real brief. know why he keeps behaving like he does, and work back from that to allign with your ideas.

generic advice, sure, but in the end unless you know his real goals you can never really deliver something that will meet his short term and customers long term needs.

or cats..

Comment by niko

Or some babe with big tits.

Comment by Billy Whizz

stop drooling about pigs billy boy..

copyright andy 2011

(though the blog has not skipped many beats since you started patrolling.. Salud Billy)

Comment by niko

[…] broader and you might find out that the people your brand really needs to keep an eye on are the people who have nothing to do with your category at […]

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