Glass houses

It's tempting to poke holes in our competitors’ work. Perhaps they’re a digital marketing firm and their social presence is next to zero. Or their blog hasn’t been updated since October 2016. Or the stock photography in their brochure looks like it was shot in 1998.

It’s easy to think of all the ways you could do what they do better.

If you asked them why they hadn’t fixed that broken link or that go-no-where-form or attended to that bad grammar on their About page they might say ‘yeah, we know we need to work on that’, or ‘we wish we could afford to hire a copywriter to help us with our messaging’.

Putting our energy into criticizing others is a dangerous game. It lets us off the hook from investing in making our own processes better. Meanwhile, our competitors are out there having a go, doing their best.

What if you looked at your competitors’ work as a chance to learn and grow?

Your competitors are not who you think they are

If you search online for how to write a marketing plan, the essential elements of a marketing plan or how to write a business plan online I guarantee, you will always find a section devoted to analyzing your competition.

For brick-and-mortar stores and product manufacturers, it’s super important to know who else is on your street or which brands your product will sit next to on the shelf.

When shopping for a product, a customer can easily compare one list of features to the next. They can line up their options side by side and easily determine which item will best suit their needs.

But when seeking a service provider, things get more fuzzy. Services are based on experiences. It’s difficult for a client to objectively determine (even after they have paid for a service) whether it was the best option for them.

In his book Selling the Invisible, Harry Beckwith says service businesses have three main competitors and if you’re a massage therapist, a financial planner or an architect, two of them are certainly not who you think they are.

When searching for a service provider, clients are deciding between

1. Doing it themselves.

2. Not doing it at all.

3. Others in the same space. 

So when you’re creating your marketing plan, it pays not simply to think about what others are doing, but what barriers you can remove between you and your clients either doing the work themselves or not doing it at all.

You’re selling a relationship, an experience. Not necessarily just features and benefits.

What are you really up against?

If your business didn’t exist, what solutions would be available to your ideal clients to solve their problems?

This may sound like just another throwaway though experiment, but trust me, your answers to this question make an incredible difference to creating services that matter.

At this point, chances are you already have lots of potential solutions swimming around in your head so let’s write them down.

What have your audience personas tried in the past? What triggered them to try these things and what new problems did these solutions create?

How did each of these solutions make your personas feel?

The reason we spend time getting all the possible solutions on the table is not to dwell on what we’re up against (though understanding what we’re pushing against is super important), but to reveal hidden opportunities and to give us insight into how we might go about communicating with our target audience about the solutions we offer.

Examining all potential solutions reveals the territory that our solution occupies, the sandbox we play in. It helps us understand how we are different, not just from our perspective, but through the eyes of our ideal clients.

So go ahead and get everything on the table.