Why I Remain on the Ad Age 150 Blogger Index

Tim Lincecum
Two-time Cy Young Award Winner Tim Lincecum is experiencing a horrible 2012 season

I made a joke about my Ad Age Power 150 ranking a while back, but when I found out how low my score was last Spring it seriously upset me.

I used to be a top-ranked blogger! What happened?

De-listing became a serious thought for a couple of days. After all, publicly quitting networks and such seems to be the fashionable thing to do amongst bloggers these days.

Continue reading “Why I Remain on the Ad Age 150 Blogger Index”

5 Common Actions Competitors Take

Marketing extends beyond stakeholders and organizations. Although companies and nonprofits like to pretend they operate alone in an industry, competition exists even if its just for the stakeholder’s time and money. If a marketer does their job well, and the product, service or solution is met with a warm reception, invariably the competition responds.

Moving forward, there are some common competitive responses that you can expect. Here are five of them:

1) Pretend You Don’t Exist

This out of all the responses is the most short sighted and foolish response. The ostrich approach — at least publicly (they certainly talk about you behind closed doors) — kids no one. Customers know there are alternatives, and so does the media and bloggers.

No one thinks the company or nonprofit operates in a vacuum, so when your competitor acts like that, it causes them look, like, well, marketers. It doesn’t mean anything other than people view communications from their organization to be completely transactional or brand related. Customers are less willing to trust them.

Further, it’s hard to develop industry leadership when a company doesn’t acknowledge the ecosystem, even in a general way. Apple rarely talks about HP or Dell, but it certainly acknowledges and talks about other PCs and smartphones. Car companies discuss industry accolades, which is smart, because it puts their product within a competitive context.

2) Copy Your Offering

When a company does really well, a common competitive response is to ape the product and offer the same product or service, often with less success. After Amazon launched the Kindle, Barnes & Noble offered the Nook. When Cirque du Soleil revolutionized big top entertainment, other circuses stole elements from their shows like the ribbon dance.

Holding first place is a very strong position for long-term success. In a strategic sense, first is the position of high ground. It’s always good to have established market share when this happens, but it can still be quite disconcerting.

There are instances when a company like Netflix or Google rises up and wrestles the market away, usually through some sort of technological innovation. Sometimes companies are caught in a price war.

The key here is to not necessarily over-react to the competition. Rather, to continue innovating on the product or service offering and extend market leadership. Don’t rest on your laurels.

3) Trash, Sue and Undercut

Smartphone bar.
Image by MJ/TR

Google recently purchased Motorola Mobility to acquire its patents in an effort to strengthen its case against Apple, who is suing the search giant for copying the iPhone iOS with Android. Other common hardball acts include talking poorly about the competition publicly, privately, stealing (er, hiring away) their talent, blocking distribution, and undercutting pricing to seize market share.

These are the tactics of war in the market. You have to be able to defend against them, not necessarily with direct engagement, but certainly by responding with value to your customers.

While these tactics are inevitable, they almost always make the market harder to work within, and can reduce customer trust sector-wide. These tactics do not grow the general market in any obvious way.

4) Go Toe to Toe

In an established market like car insurance where offerings are very similar from company to company, it is not uncommon to see advertising that directly positions a company against its competitors. This is a common tactic that Sprint takes with Verizon and AT&T with its data and service plans.

There’s not much you can do here other than to clearly state why your product is better than their’s and to engage in customer service and loyalty programs. This is about avoiding customer churn by bettering your total experience.

In the competitive wireless market, Sprint is a distant third currently, a gap that has increased over the past decade in large part because of the customer service issues the company experienced after acquiring Nextel. Having resolved many of these issues, it is now struggling to rebuild that marketshare. In a highly commoditized market, non product specific points like service can make a great difference.

5) Leapfrog Your Offering

Honda Civic
Late 1970s Honda Civic by dave_7

Last, but not least is when a competitor responds by offering a product or service that is significantly higher quality, more cost effective or easier to use than yours. While you might have the higher ground, this type of innovation in a new offering creates green fields for your competitors. Customers flock to them.

Consider how Japanese companies beat their U.S. counterparts in the electronics and the automotive sector in the 70s and 80s by offering higher quality products for lower costs. The result was incredible losses of marketshare and reputation. Google beat Yahoo by offering a superior search algorithm.

In this instance, speed is critical. Loyal customers will stick with your brand, but only if you are able to match or better the offering quickly. Unfortunately, when faced with a paradigm shift, most leading companies fail to respond, comfortable in their way of doing business. And thus new brands seize market leadership.

What are some common responses you see from competitors?

Cause Competitiveness: Keep Your Eye On The Prize

Who's Getting Off First?

by Estrella Rosenberg & Geoff Livingston

If the last two marathon weeks of cause-related conferences are any indication, competition isn’t just something the for profit sector is thinking about – the cause community is too. How do we compete for market share? How do we compete for visibility? How do we compete for more money? Much has been said about competitiveness in the for profit sector, but what is the right role of competition in causes? Is there a right role?

Some would have full on competition, while others would have singular causes or coalitions within each sector. Are either of these right? They both are in a way. Competitive spirit definitely has its place: Finding the fastest, most efficient, most impactful way to resolve the problem the cause addresses.

Non-profits are not in business to make money. They are a business to be sure, but unlike a for-profit, which seeks to dominate markets and yield profits, a cause or social enterprise seeks to provide a solution. When a for-profit business is successful, it keeps its doors open for years and expands and keeps looking for more market share. When a non-profit is successful it should close its doors because its business – or mission – has been completed.

Are you competing just to raise the most money? Competing in the sense that a cause seeks to beat out its competition helps no one. It actually hurts the cause space by creating distractions and wasted resources.

Consider Komen for the Cure’s use of $1 million spent to legally enforce its rights to term “for the Cure.” How does that help anyone resolve health or larger issues? Worse, last year during The Cause Marketing Forum, Komen for the Cure proclaimed that it was their mission to reclaim the pink ribbon from other non-profits in the breast cancer space – organizations that they themselves support with grants! Imagine if that money and energy went towards finding the most innovative way to discover the most impactful solutions in breast cancer?

Competing to be the first to the finish line with the same approach as ten other organizations in your cause space isn’t the right kind of competition either. Wealthy founders and well meaning activists who think they can do it better without any unique theory of change are creating distractions too and just making more choices for donors, often paralyzing them. Yet another voice with nothing new to add creates a longer path to the answer.

The ability to see the problem and a unique answer to it (or a part of it) is at the heart of social entrepreneurship. Innovation means finding better faster ways to provide answers. In essence, this is the Ashoka model of social entrepreneurship where a changemaker seizes on a unique approach to a problem and deploys ambitious actions for wide-scale change.

For these social entrepreneurs, and for forward thinking non-profits, competition means cooperating with other organizations within the same space when they have to because they have their eye on the prize: an answer to whatever problem they’re trying to solve. That doesn’t necessarily mean sharing resources, but it does acknowledge that everyone is trying to reach the same end goal. Forming coalitions and cause verticals can have great impact if each organization is working on their own piece of the puzzle.

Ultimately, causes should want to end their business by resolving their problem. They shouldn’t want to be the organization who uses social media the most cleverly. They shouldn’t want to be the organization that raised the most money at their annual event. They should want to shutter their doors. Period.

What kind of cause are you? Are you competing to make change or just competing?

Kick Your Competitor’s Ass

DC United at the DC Auto Show

Yes, you did read the headline correctly. One of the most annoying flavors of kumbaya in social media circles remains the idea that we should all get along. These voices leave no room for public competition. Meanwhile most of the folks singing this tune don’t run businesses, and are bloggers and their fans. They are clueless about winning market share.

Ignore them. As a marketer, your job is to outperform your competitor.

Growing the pie bigger and helping the industry makes sense. That’s just part of being a good community member. Acknowledging when a competitor does good things makes sense, too. Facts are facts, and everyone appreciates best practices. You probably like some of your competitors. Hey, sometimes it even makes sense to team together for larger purposes.

The cause space could stand for less competition and more cooperation since nonprofits seek to resolve the world’s ills rather than compete. Still, nonprofits have different ideas and approaches towards change, and compete. Thank goodness because some approaches don’t work, like Komen’s suing other causes over the phrase “for the Cure.”

When it comes to direct one to one market competition and position, your job is to win. “Me, too” platitudes and nicety will cause your organization to fall behind more often than not.

If a competitor launches a winning service, innovate and offer customers a better offering. When the competion catches up and betters you, focus and compete on quality, price, timeliness, distribution and services. Look how Radiohead competes in all of these areas compared to traditional recording artists.

When competitors have weaknesses or hurt the market with bad practices, position against them and seize the market. See Google Android versus iPhone (open versus closed operating systems). When competitors make poor decisions that distract them from your customers, let them fall down. Who cares if they like it or cry about it? Are you in business or in a popularity contest?

Whether its your phone operating system, selling music and tickets, ideas via blog content, a better answer to social crisis, or a marketing firm, competition exists. Kick ass, and don’t look back.