We always force our clients to look at competitive sets differently. We’ve got lots of tools to help them do that. The one thing all the tools have in common is that they force a consumer point-of-view.
Consumers categorize products or services very differently if you look below the surface. Here are some ways to look at the competition:
— By goal/motive/desire. Ask yourself, “What cultural artifacts or other brands satisfy the same motive?” If your brand is strongly associated with satisfying a particular desire, your strongest competition may not be who you thought it was. Amusement parks traditionally been a great way to feel a little bit of danger and risk. A good roller coaster can get the blood pumping. Video games can do the same thing at a fraction of the cost (and lots of the fun social part of it). Six Flags may be competing with Medal of Honor more than they think.
— By role/identity: Ask yourself, “What cultural artifacts or other brands help your audience assume the same role or satisfy the same identity need?” Imagine you are in charge of NFL merchandise in the New York area. It is 2000. Your job is to promote hats and jerseys and jackets for the New York Giants and New York Jets. New York football fans love “smash mouth” football. They like tough teams. Wearing a Jets or Giants jersey or hat says they are tough too. Then 9/11 happens. New York’s finest and bravest act as expected and their heroism and sacrifice is revered worldwide. The toughest heroes in NY are the cops and firemen. Suddenly people want to start wearing NYPD and NYFD hats and jerseys. Jets and Giants jersey sales slow down. You turn on the TV and even the Jets and Giant staffs are wearing NYPD and NYFD gear. You are now competing (for a while) with the police and fire departments.
— By experience: Ask yourself, “What cultural events or other brands deliver the same experience?” Let’s say you run a local bar/restaurant that caters to people in their 30s and 40s. Your place is loud and fun, and a great place for parents to get babysitters and relive a little of their drinking youth. Your biggest night is Friday because you feature karaoke. Friends get together and drink and sing. It is good sloppy fun. Then the video game Rock Band comes out on every video game system. Now those same people can stay in, make cocktails and butcher their favorite hits from the 90s at a fraction of the cost. Even though you don’t make video games, you are now competing with one.
— By scene: Ask yourself, “What cultural artifacts or other brands fit within a particular setting or ritual?” We helped out on a project to help bring Coca-Cola to dinner tables in traditional cultures in Russia, the Middle East and in Africa. Moms in these cultures didn’t think that Coke fit (or should ever fit) at their dinner tables. In essence, Coke was competing against tradition — the foods and plates “said” one thing and Coke “said” another. Our recommendation was to bring Coke into these scenes by turning Coke into a hybrid symbol. We recommended that designers and communicators position Coke as a brand that has one foot in traditional culture and one in modern culture.
These are only some of the ways in which to think about competitors. We have tools that help you look in more ways too. The key is to shift to a consumer point-of-view. How is your brand really being categorized by people? From there, free yourself of traditional definitions and really explore who competes within those consumer categories.